The available manufacturing jobs require a high school diploma and years of hard work to achieve top pay. Machinists, for instance, must study not only vocational courses, but geometry, algebra and trigonometry. During a four-year apprenticeship, machinists earn $7 to $10 an hour, before getting up to the $15-an-hour range.
Basu, the economist, said such jobs go begging because a shrinking work force has focused its attention elsewhere.
"Maryland has become, over the past two decades, a very service-oriented regional economy," he said. "People have correspondingly invested in gaining skills for those kinds of jobs. It takes time for people to realize there are jobs in other parts of the economy requiring different sets of skills."
Gene Lawrence, principal of Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School, said the problem is deeper than that. "The resistance that I see is basically, 'I don't want my kid to get their hands dirty. I want them to go to college. I want them to make a decent living.' "
What parents don't understand, Lawrence said, is that many of the jobs are in front of computer consoles, in air-conditioned rooms. "These are not sweatshops," he said.
Lawrence said some students are making $10 an hour in summer jobs in machine tooling. "Imagine what they'll make when they get out," he said.
King, the former Mergenthaler student, said his job offers security. "If for some reason you lose your job, you'll have another one a couple of days later," he said.
Heath Miller, an apprentice machinist at Memtec, said he pursued that occupation because he likes working with his hands.
But Miller, 24, said it hasn't been easy. "It's hard to find an apprenticeship program. Companies aren't really too into training people. About a year ago, that was the biggest turnoff. Now companies are starting to come around."
Fultonberger, the union official, said she's noticed an increase in apprenticeship programs among companies. "Over the last five years, they've realized 'Hey, we have work to be done, and we don't have skilled people who can do it.' Hindsight is 20-20," she said.
The state will need a work force with people such as King and Miller to remain competitive, experts say.
Basu, the economist, said companies won't build a plant in a state unless it has a labor pool that can do the jobs. "We will have dramatic growth in high-technology manufacturing," Basu said. "To the extent that the labor force remains unprepared, that will remain a tremendous restraint on growth."
James Brady, Maryland's secretary for economic development, said the problem arises from two issues: The inevitable need for training to stay on top of fast-changing technology and society's devaluation of manufacturing.
"The greatest impediment are the parents of students who say, 'I don't care what you do. I just want you to go a four-year college,' " Brady said.
He said he favors expanding the state's roughly 20 technical high schools, which teach both advanced mathematics and a variety of skills. He also wants closer ties between industry and education.
In the shorter term, Brady said he favors expanding a state program that pays for half of a company's technology training. "We have $1 million committed to it. I would like to increase that several times," he said.
Manufacturers say the answer is to go beyond schools and workplaces, to parents and policy-makers. "We have jobs in manufacturing," Galiazzo said. "If we have people who are qualified, we can put them in there."
Pub Date: 7/13/97