Qualified workers said to be lacking State businesses report trouble finding skilled employees

1,000 companies surveyed

Reading and writing, communications seen as weaknesses

October 23, 1997|By Lorraine Mirabella and Liz Atwood | Lorraine Mirabella and Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

A shortage of qualified workers is hurting business in Maryland, stymieing growth of some technology firms and manufacturers, and forcing other companies to consider shutting down or moving, according to a work force skills survey released yesterday.

The survey of about 1,000 businesses showed the state work force ill-prepared to fill a growing demand for technical skills. Eighty percent of companies that rely on manufacturing or skilled trades jobs reported difficulty finding workers.

State economic development and education officials released the poll yesterday, calling it a first step in forcing the state to adapt training and education to meet employers' needs in an age of technological advances and intense global competition.

"This gives us the validation necessary to effectively launch the initiative creating a world-class work force in Maryland," said James T. Brady, Maryland's secretary of Business and Economic Development. "This survey says we have to raise the bar. In Maryland, that is not a wild and crazy concept; that is an objective that can work."

More than two-thirds of businesses that hire computer engineers or analysts, engineers and laboratory technicians said they face an especially tight labor crunch. Some 57 percent of firms that hire high school graduates of vocational programs had trouble finding qualified applicants, with 44 percent expecting their needs to increase in the next five years.

About 55 percent of the companies seeking college grads with scientific and technical backgrounds had similar difficulties.

Among the report's most startling statistics, from companies that hire workers with high school educations, 73 percent said applicants lack the communications skills to succeed, and 69 percent said applicants lack basic reading and writing skills.

Brady said he has heard grumblings from Maryland businesses in many fields for a couple of years about their inability to hire the workers who will keep them competitive.

"This was becoming clearer and louder," Brady said. "It was not a great surprise that businesses around the state indicated a real need to do things differently if they're going to have a work force in the 21st century."

He called upon companies to improve their involvement in education by visiting schools and talking with administrators, teachers and students. Core education, teaching basic skills, should be supplemented by special skills development, with educators and businesses working as partners, he said.

For years, Maryland has prepared students for positions that have rapidly become obsolete, said Nancy S. Grasmick, state school superintendent, who appeared yesterday with Brady. More can be done to encourage teachers to take business internships or work with companies to hone their skills, she said.

"We now have a new opportunity to revise and restructure our high schools to be responsive to what we're being told by the private sector community," Grasmick said.

She said the survey will support her recommendation to the state board of education next week that Maryland should establish standard final exams for its high school students. The board has been working on that issue for months.

The $20,000 survey, paid for by the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education, Department of Business and Economic Development and Maryland State Department of Education, was the first in a series that will measure progress every 1 1/2 years.

Pub Date: 10/23/97

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