Re-training Maryland's Workforce

March 08, 1992

We're not surprised Annapolis legislators are questioning the state's chief retraining effort, Partnership for Workforce Quality. It was set up two years ago to help companies stay ahead of the human resource development curve so crucial to success in an increasingly global marketplace. The idea was to identify and pay for retraining by matching corporate dollars with state grants. Trouble is, far too many of those grants have gone to the wrong beneficiaries.

State money went to Lever Brothers Co., a huge personal products manufacturer; to a five-store fast-food operation, and to a local investment banking firm. These aren't the types of companies the program was designed to assist.

Another problem has to do with accountability. After the retraining effort is completed, companies fill out a survey indicating, among other things, whether the program enhanced productivity, resulted in better quality products and represents a good use of tax dollars. A recent poll of these results boasts a 96 percent productivity improvement rate and a 100 percent tax-use approval rate. Was anyone surprised at these predictable responses? The survey is a waste of time and money. It proves nothing.

Yet the Partnership for Workforce Quality has considerable merit. The preponderance of the $1.87 million in grants handed out in the past two years -- about 65 percent -- went to the small and mid-sized manufacturers, as originally intended. The PWQ program represents a refreshingly energetic approach to economic development in a changing and increasingly competitive marketplace. The program has leveraged each dollar from the state with nearly $5 from private enterprise for workforce training. That's getting an excellent return for the state's investment.

Economic development secretary Mark I. Wasserman is asking the General Assembly for $900,000 and a permanent funding stream. State legislators should authorize both. With proper controls in place, this training effort is worthy of continued support.

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