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(The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Baltimore’s barriers: Job seekers face rough path, study finds

Study calls for more workforce development funds

Challenging commutes, low education levels, criminal records and insufficient training opportunities.

These are a few of the big problems facing jobs seekers in the Baltimore region, according to a new study from the Opportunity Collaborative, and they tend to come as a package deal.

“This is stuff that the training providers have known,” said Mike Kelly, director of the Opportunity Collaborative, an initiative of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council. “I don’t think this is news to anybody that does adult education.”

The study, prepared by RDA Global Inc., used a literature review, interviews with workforce development managers and a survey of 1,000 job seekers in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties, as well as the city.

“In talking to a lot of our nonprofit partners who were doing this, they were most excited about the survey because it would put on paper these things they’ve been seeing for a long time,” said Kelly.

In that survey, job seekers described the obstacles that have kept them out of work. Nearly half said they can’t afford education necessary for the jobs available. Others said they are limited by low access to public transportation, or their criminal record.

The results showed that these challenges pile up — 82 percent of those surveyed identified at least three barriers they face and 55 percent identified at least six.

“I’ve been in a workforce development profession for nearly 30 years now, and the information in (the study) was not surprising,” said Bruce England, executive director of the Susquehanna Workforce Network, which serves Harford and Cecil counties. “One of the big benefits of this is it pools all of this information together in a way that folks in and outside of the workforce system can look.”

Some of the problems identified can be addressed for job seekers one by one. For instance, giving an adult reading lessons or professional attire may help him or her to get a job. But other issues the report addresses are more complicated and long-term, like poor transit and housing options or structural racism within communities.

“This report looks at barriers that are faced by individuals and barriers that are systemic,” said Linda Dworak, director of the Baltimore Workforce Funders Collaborative. “It calls for a bigger response than just setting up training programs.”

The response it does call for includes both specific tasks and broad strategies.

“These are not easy solutions,” said Dworak. “They’re going to take a lot of resources. They’re going to take a lot of will on the part of the public.”

The study says that workforce development should focus on growing industry sectors, as one state program is already doing. It recommends that adult education be more available and calls for more workforce development funding.

But it also suggests that the region improve its public transportation and eliminate racial biases in workplaces and communities.

“Some of the education and the skills-training barriers can be resolved or at least improved immediately on the short term,” said England. “I think (the barriers) can all be positively impacted. I’m not sure we can solve them all.”

For instance, a lack of middle-skill jobs is not “an overnight issue,” he said, because it relies on greater economic conditions.

Kelly said that the study is a precursor to a greater workforce development plan, so solutions will be fleshed out in more detail later on.

“We don’t just want to release a study that’s going to sit on a shelf,” he said. “There’s not a simple solution. You need thoughtful analysis like this to help plan.”