It's back to school again for about 350 employees of Martin Marietta Corp.'s Aero and Naval Systems division operations in Middle River and Glen Burnie.
Martin Koshar, president of Aero and Naval Systems, announced yesterday the formation of a partnership with Essex Community College to upgrade the workplace literacy of employees at the company's Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County locations.
The program, which is expected to serve as a model for other businesses, is funded by a $278,000 grant from the U.S.Department of Education.
It is designed to enhance the skills of a wide variety of workers, ranging from those lacking elementary reading and writing skills to employees with college degrees who may need to sharpen their communications skills, according to representatives of Martin and the community college.
Mr. Koshar said as a result of a testing program the company learned that 18 percent of its workers could not make the grade in workplace literacy.
When the company was shifting some workers from one program to another, he said, it learned that 25 percent of the employees involved were unable to meet the minimum literacy requirements.
"Shame on us," Mr. Koshar declared, "for having employees that long and not recognizing the problem. Shame on our education system" for not having students properly prepared for a changing workplace.
But Mr. Koshar said that workers at the two Martin locations are more literate than those at most other industrial plants.
The classes are to be held in both the Glen Burnie and Middle River plants.
Classes are being arranged so that workers come at the end of one shift or at the beginning of another.
Workers participating in the program can either stay an hour late to take a class or come in an hour early, according to Nathaniel S. Tatum, a senior personnel specialist for the Aero and Naval Systems division.
Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-2nd, who assisted in obtaining federal funding for the 18-month program, said illiteracy is one of the major stumbling blocks to making U.S. companies more competitive in the global marketplace.
"This is why the workplace needs 3,000 people to get 100 workers who can properly fill out an employment form," Mrs. Bentley said. "Something needs to be done about this."
Donald J. Slowinski, president of Essex Community College, said that the school had to be aligned with a corporate partner to qualify for the federal funding.
Martin is hoping that the program, which has the support of Local 738 of the United Auto Workers Union, will improve its competitive position in vying for new contracts.
The two plants produce rocket launchers used aboard ships, parts for the Patriot anti-missile missile, fan reversers for jet engines and underwater listening devices used to locate and track submarines and surface ships.