Workforce development is a growing challenge in Maryland, whether from a business perspective or an educational perspective.
Baltimore County is no stranger to that, but it is unique in its difficulties, some of which were discussed at the Greater Baltimore Committee’s Baltimore County Business Advisory Council’s inaugural meeting held on Dec. 7 at the Hilton Garden in White Marsh.
Daniel Gundersen, director for the county’s Department of Economic Development, maintained that internal funding issues make it difficult to address workforce development and training initiatives.
Gundersen explained that the county’s Office of Workforce Development, now part of the Economic Development division, is entirely funded by the federal government, affecting the extent to which the division can be flexible in allocating funds to programs or initiatives not specifically designated by the funding terms of the grants.
In some counties, federal funding makes up less than 50 percent of total funds, Gundersen said. Those counties are better able to develop unique partnerships with higher education institutions, structure training to meet specific employer needs and develop public-private partnerships.
“They have all different kinds of ways to assist the workforce. If you’re reliant entirely on federal funds, which we are, then you have to use those funds in the manner the federal government designates,” Gundersen said.
In assessing workforce problems, Gundersen praised the work of higher education.
“If there’s a middle ground between economic development and workforce, I see it as the community college. If you look nationwide, that’s where the best practices are,” he said.
Gundersen highlighted what he feels are exceptional systems working in North Carolina and Texas, where community colleges are looked upon highly for their ability to generate workforce development.
“In North Carolina, every community college president has the same authority as the secretary of their business and commerce. They can cut deals themselves because they realize that workforce is the No. 1 most valuable asset to any business and it’s the No. 1 cost to the bottom line,” Gundersen said. “We’re not anywhere near that.”
It is challenging to juggle the many different needs county businesses have due to the wide range of companies in the county areas and their varying areas of interest, said Mike Carey from the Community College of Baltimore County and a member of the advisory council.
It can prove costly to fund specific programs for each of these industry sectors, which is partly why Gundersen stresses the need for an internal workforce training infrastructure shift away from total dependency on federal funding.
For more information on the GBC’s Baltimore County Business Advisory Council, contact Sara Bruszewski, 410-727-2820 x29.