Without Education, Work Force Will Dwindle In County

Aacc Study Shows Critical Shortages In Clerical, Technical Areas

March 01, 1991|By Elise Armacost | Elise Armacost,Staff writer

A shortage of skilled labor will be a critical problem for Anne Arundel businesses throughout the decade, a county-authorized survey shows.

Entry-level and clerical workers and specialized technical/professional positions will be in particularly short supply unless more workers pursue additional education, said the survey, prepared by AnneArundel Community College and released yesterday.

"We're going to have to train this work force," AACC President Thomas Florestano said at a press conference yesterday with County Executive Robert R. Neall and members of the business community.

The survey was conducted last fall by the college's Center for the Study of Local Issues and a Washington, D.C., real estate advisory firm in conjunction with the Anne Arundel Trade Council and the county Department of Economic Development.

Economic development officials authorized the survey as a meansof assessing the health of the business community and how well county government is supporting the economy.

Based on responses from 577 area companies and comments from two "focus groups" of local executives, the survey paints an optimistic picture of Anne Arundel's business climate. "The business people who responded say this is where they want to be . . . and that they have a great deal of faith in the future of the local economy," Neall said.

Sixty-seven percent of the respondents said they were satisfied with county government services.

But the survey identified three major concerns: the shortage of skilled labor; continued growth that strainsthe county's infrastructure and leads to impact fees, reduced zoningdensities and cumbersome local regulations; and burdensome federal and state regulations.

A labor shortage will be the major threat tobusinesses throughout the mid-Atlantic region in the 1990s, the survey concluded. Anne Arundel already is suffering from "some severe gaps" in entry-level and technical positions, said Charles A. Hewlett, director of marketing for Robert Charles Lesser and Co. of Washington,D.C., a real estate advisory firm.

The problem is likely to worsen during the 1990s, the survey says, because fewer people will be entering the work force. Also, the kinds of business the county needs toattract to remain competitive require "highly skilled workers trained in . . . engineering and science, international trade, finance and law, computer science and information systems. Employers report growing labor and skill shortages in these areas."

Whether businesses can fill these positions depends on how well educators improve the overall quality of education and develop students' specialized and technical skills, and how vigorously employers encourage continual retraining of their workers, the survey says.

The outcome of the labor crisis also depends on how well the county addresses major social concerns such as a lack of affordable housing and child-care facilities, Neall said. Getting skilled people to work in Anne Arundel would be easier if they could afford to live here, he said.

Creation of new child-care facilities also is critical, since the survey shows that women are expected to make up the bulk of the work force during the 1990s. More than nine out of 10 companies responding to the survey provide no child-care benefits.

Addressing the social problems that affect business "is a process that probably will last a generation but we can start to make some steps," Neall said. Even if his fiscal 1992 budget does not include more money for affordable housing or child care, Neall said there will be policy changes designed to address this need.

The executive said he is considering creating an Office of Housing and Community Redevelopment, which would oversee urban renewal, the county housing authority and other housing agencies.

Neall has arranged for a workshop with members of the business community to be conducted at Anne Arundel Community College on March 28 -- in timefor recommendations to be included in the fiscal 1992 budget. Business people will be asked for suggestions about how county government can help solve the problems outlined in the survey.

The survey costthe county $2,000 -- most surveys of this type cost at least $100,000, Hewlett said -- because the researchers donated their time.

Twenty-nine percent of the 2,020 businesses who were sent surveys returned them. About one-third of the respondents represented service-oriented professions, such as education, health and engineering. Fifteen percent of the surveys came from retail trade; 14 percent from finance, insurance and real estate; and 10 percent from construction.

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