This weekly feature offers questions answered by newsworthy business leaders. Jerome Doubroff, manager of public affairs for Eastalco Aluminum Co., is chairman of the Partnership for Workforce Quality Advisory Board. He also is a member of the Governor's Employment and Training Council.
Q. How would you assess the quality of Maryland's workforce and what needs to be done to upgrade the skills of available workers?
A. Business is only as flexible as its employees. And too often employees' skills are neglected in planning business investments. In the long run, a company with state-of-the-art equipment and a workforce without state-of-the-art skills is not going to succeed. Therefore, the workforce skills, in my opinion, are critical to the success of any business, particularly Maryland businesses and the economy as a whole.
Q. Could you outline the history of the Partnership for Workforce Quality program and explain how it works.
A. The program was enacted by the 1989 [Maryland] legislature and became effective July 1, 1989. The partnership is a program to encourage businesses to invest in upgrading the skills of the ++ Maryland workforce. It's a cooperative effort of business, labor, education and government, and it's operated by the Department of Economic and Employment Development. The program was established to improve the competitiveness and productivity of Maryland's workforce. It also assists in promoting employment stability. It is designed to upgrade employee skills for new technologies and new production processes within an existing business, as well as upgrading employee skills in new business requirements. For example, within the program employees would take a specific piece of equipment and be trained to work on or operate the equipment or process.
Q. What is the role of the advisory board and how does it complement the work of the Office of Employment Training in administering the program?
A. The program is administered by staff members of the Department of Economic and Employment Development. The advisory board is charged with submitting recommendations to the secretary on overall program policy, recommending the system for evaluating requests and developing criteria to assess and evaluate program performance.
Q. How many workers have been served by the program and what are the projections for 1991?
A. In the year 1990, 119 training grants were issued and that covered, essentially, 7,766 employees overall. Our forecast for 1991 is at the same level as the 1990 fiscal year. In 1990 there were more requests than there were grants issued.
Q. In other words, you don't have trouble in getting companies to participate?
A. Absolutely not.
Q. How are companies selected to receive job-training grants?
A. The companies must be a Maryland employer, covered by Maryland unemployment insurance law. They have to request the assistance in training for a specific job skill to be upgraded. They request the training for Maryland-based employees, and it must be for existing employees, not new hires. And priority is given to employers with fewer than 100 employees.
Q. Who pays for the program -- the state or private business?
A. The money is enacted by the legislature as part of the budget process and in the year 1989, or fiscal year 1990, $1 million was appropriated. Out of the $1 million that was appropriated, $972,000 was actually committed in grants and then $972,000 was matched by participating companies. Additionally, the participating companies were required to pay additional monies for materials, supplies, and training release time and that amounted to $4.2 million.
Q. Are there any additional services that you solicit from the private sector for the program?
A. None. The program is a cooperative network that includes the private community colleges, joint apprenticeship committees and other training agencies. The partnership draws on these areas of special expertise and resources to assist in providing optimum training at least cost.
Q. How will the slowing economy affect the job training program?
A. It will make the job training program more valuable. Remember that this is a three-pronged sword, essentially, for the employee, as well as the employer. When the training is completed, the productivity gains are immediately realized. Secondly, the individuals receiving the training are better able to compete for advancement opportunities. And, thirdly, the training under this program renders employees more employable others in the event that they are displaced as a result of a business downturn.