It was not too long ago that our national economy suffered from the greatest recession since the Great Depression. While I have always been mindful about ways in which the state can play a role in sustaining and growing jobs, the need to focus in this area has been especially acute in this time of recovery.
That is precisely why I am so happy to report that Gov. O’Malley has formally decided to make a proposal that I helped create a part of his 2013 legislative agenda. The legislation, which I crafted with the help of Sen. Kathy Klausmeier following a conference we attended on helping working families, seeks to create a system in which the state can collaborate with industry, local governments, and non-profits to establish industry partnerships that will advance the skills of our state’s workforce and grow Maryland’s economy.
The bill, entitled “EARN” (short for “Employment Advancement Right Now”), will utilize collaborative partnerships between private industry, community colleges, and other government units to provide a basis that will assist working families in obtaining jobs that offer family sustaining wages through specific skill training that will enable employment advancement in high-need employment fields.
EARN will allow employers to leverage state training dollars with private investment to train workers so that they can fill jobs where positions are available but gaps in training exist. The governor has included $2.5 million dollars in his budget to fund this program in Fiscal Year 2014, which begins during the summer. Specifically, the program will provide this funding as a competitive grant process that will be managed by the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation (DLLR). The state Department of Business and Economic Development will work collaboratively with DLLR to develop “sector strategies” based on regional labor needs. It is anticipated that EARN will focus primarily of the construction, traditional and advanced manufacturing, cyber, and healthcare sectors.
Helping working families access career ladders for employment advancement can result in long-term improvements in the economic well-being of working families reducing barriers to employment, and sustaining or growing middle class jobs. EARN has the potential to be a powerful program because it not only has the chance to propel incumbent workers from their current positions to more technical, better paid jobs, but because in doing so there will be additional employment opportunities for others who are currently unemployed or underemployed.
While the immediate goal of the EARN program is to put newly trained workers into jobs, it also helps to address longer term needs of our state. Indeed, Maryland’s ability to be more competitive in the world economy will require a working collaboration of public, private and non-profit partners of our State workforce development system. By providing skills training for rapid employment advancement for individuals while also meeting the workforce needs of employers, the EARN Program is expected to promote both the prosperity of working families and economic development in the State.