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State grant program reaches for hire ground

Maryland’s new grant program for workforce development took its first big step Tuesday in addressing the need for skilled workers in the state.

Elisabeth Sachs, who is running the EARN program, says: ‘Part of this is understanding where Maryland’s economy is going to grow.’

EARN (Employment Advancement Right Now) Maryland opened its planning grant applications Tuesday at 2 p.m. Applications are due Nov. 12, and planning grants will be awarded by the end of December.

All EARN grant applicants must be a group of organizations that includes two employers from a particular target industry and two other relevant partners, such as educational institutions, nonprofits, local workforce boards, labor unions or other training providers.

Funding the planning process will allow the applicants to “have a full-blown plan that would include the skills needs, the coursework [and] the other plans that we will fund to fill that skills gap,” said Elisabeth Sachs, who is running the program under the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

While workforce development is the driving force behind EARN, she said, the program will also help the state to understand the needs and challenges of its businesses.

Entering a partnership could allow employers to provide training more efficiently, said Sachs. For example, if each of multiple companies needs to train one or two workers in a particular skill, the best solution could be to hold one training session for the entire handful of workers with a single expert instructor.

“Part of this is understanding where Maryland’s economy is going to grow,” said Sachs. “Any one business probably will benefit from collaborating on joint needs.”

Other states, such as Pennsylvania, Colorado and Wisconsin, have implemented industry-led partnerships to address workforce issues, and some organizations in Maryland have already taken the lead in doing so.

The Baltimore Workforce Funders Collaborative, for example, works with unemployed and underemployed people to remove barriers to employment, while collaborating with businesses to address the skills needed and how to better train the workforce.

“For employers that are having trouble finding quality workers … or have some other type of labor market problem, this is an opportunity to access resources that will help them,” said Linda Dworak, director of the Baltimore Workforce Funders Collaborative.

Even the planning process will yield some important results, she said, by allowing the state to see where the problem areas are. From there, they can formulate a plan to equip workers with the training for high-demand jobs.

“Part of the problem is that we have a lot of people that are anxious and willing to work but are lacking the skills that are required by employers,” said Dworak.

Mark Rice, president of Baltimore’s Maritime Applied Physics Corp., has seen this issue first hand. His company has struggled to find enough employees with training in advanced manufacturing skills, a problem he said is holding back the manufacturing sector.

“As we looked at growing the manufacturing base here, the training of those people is really critical,” said Rice, who is already part of a training collaboration under a federal grant and hopes to pursue an EARN grant as well.

By connecting with training institutions and workforce development organizations, he hopes to communicate his industry’s need for skilled workers.

“If you offered those courses,” Rice said, “you would find that employers gobbled up those graduates.”