Donald Fry: New report underscores Maryland’s workforce development challenges

By Donald C. Fry

A recent report on the education requirements projected for the nation’s work force in 2018 sends a compelling message to students, administrators and teachers in Maryland’s K-12 schools, as well as to our state’s higher education institutions.

The report issued on June 15 by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Work Force, cites a “growing disconnect” between the types of jobs employers need to fill and the number of prospective employees who have the education and training to fill them.

The report projects that between 2008 and 2018, Maryland will create 908,000 job vacancies both from new jobs and from job openings due to retirement. Approximately 569,000 of these job vacancies will require postsecondary academic credentials, while 250,000 will be for high school graduates and only 88,000 could be filled by workers without a high school degree.

In 2018, Maryland will rank 11th in the nation for the number of jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree and will rank 3rd in the number of jobs requiring a graduate degree, according to the report.

To students, the report reinforces the need to get a college degree to enhance your chances of getting a job.

To educators, it underscores the need to take aggressive steps to ensure that our secondary and higher education systems are aligned with business requirements for an increasingly knowledge-rich work force.

The report also touches on a key challenge facing Maryland’s higher education institutions – finding a way to produce more graduates with math, science and technology-related degrees.

In the 2008-09 school year, Maryland colleges produced more than 18,000 graduates with bachelor’s or advanced degrees in business, social science or general studies, compared to 1,100 with degrees in math or physics. Maryland colleges also produced 2,300 graduates each with degrees in engineering and computer sciences and 2,500 graduates in biological sciences, according to state data.

For a state that ranks second in the nation in attracting federal research expenditures and first in attracting bioscience research funding, Maryland lags behind competing states when it comes to work force development in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), a Governor’s task force on STEM-related issues recently reported.

Maryland also faces another major challenge that relates to the quality of the secondary education. According to state data for the 2006-07 school year, 32 percent of students in Maryland who completed the high school college prep track needed remedial math in college and 49 percent of non-college prep students who enrolled in college needed math remediation.

The same year, 11 and 13 percent of college prep high school graduates needed remedial English and reading courses in college and 22 and 25 percent of non-college prep students also needed remedial English and reading courses.

This is an education quality concern that must be seriously and expeditiously addressed. It impedes our work force development and can even discourage some students from further pursuing a college degree.

Maryland’s STEM task force has developed a plan for addressing these and other challenges. The plan includes recommendations to better align elementary and secondary school curriculum with college and workplace requirements, triple the number of science and math teachers educated in Maryland, increase the rate of teacher retention, and strengthen our pipeline of college graduates majoring in science, math, technology or engineering.

With the STEM task force and many other education leaders working on these issues, there is an abundance of plans and recommendations out there to prepare Maryland students who are now in middle schools for the knowledge-based work requirements that they will face when entering the work force.

For the sake of Maryland’s future economy, we must ensure that we convert these plans into action rather than collecting dust on a shelf.

States that aggressively and effectively meet the emerging work force challenges will be the states that thrive in the post-recession economy.

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