Education a key element of BRAC

Officials urge enhanced academics to meet future work force needs

May 09, 2007|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,Sun reporter

From preschool to graduate school, Maryland needs to more strongly emphasize math, science and language to help produce the future mathematicians, engineers and linguists needed to meet the military's demand at Fort Meade, the National Security Agency and Aberdeen Proving Ground, state and defense industry leaders said yesterday.

Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown said that while he hoped local school systems will remain "true to the fundamentals of reading, writing and math," the forces of the base realignment and closure process "should be reflected in the curriculum."

"At the end of the day, how we prioritize our road projects, refocus in delivering education K-12 and manage our finite resources of water will have benefits beyond BRAC for generations to come," he said after speaking to more than 75 defense industry and government officials at the National Business Park near Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County.

The state is preparing for upward of 60,000 jobs that will come to military installations over the next several years. That could spawn further growth from government agencies and NSA contractors in the coming decades. That prospect raises questions about what seeds Maryland must sow now to develop a necessary high-tech work force.

Maryland possesses one of the best-trained work forces in the country, but representatives for defense contractors and government agencies expressed worry yesterday about how quality personnel can be recruited, given Maryland's relatively low unemployment rate, inability to outsource jobs in the national-security arena, a backlog of security clearances, a large number of government workers ready to retire and the possibility that many workers won't relocate with their jobs.

"It's disconcerting when we can't find the talent to keep up with the needs," said Michael Bristol, a senior vice president for TeleCommunications Systems. "There is no near-term solution for this talent gap."

The long-term solution, many said, is to think young.

John C. Inglis, deputy director for the National Security Agency, said encouraging children to pursue engineering "doesn't start at 17 or when you are a child. It starts at home. It's a culture."

"We need to imbue a sense of excitement" about trades such as engineering, he said. "NSA, like others, has to make an investment in future workers at ages 4, 5, 8, 10 years old."

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Baltimore County Democrat, spoke of creating specialized magnet schools at elementary, middle and high schools to promote languages and the sciences.

With demand already soaring for professionals seeking graduate degrees, higher education leaders across the state said they are revamping their curriculums, quickly adding courses and degree programs, and offering flexibility for workers seeking continuing education at night, on weekends or strictly online.

They said they are collaborating with private industry and government agencies, such as the NSA, to keep their course offerings relevant to a discerning clientele. The Johns Hopkins University is offering classes on information security and intelligence analysis, and the University of Maryland, College Park opened a research center last month on microorganisms in the fight against terrorism.

Some institutions, such as the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, are partnering with the NSA so math students can apply for and get through the tedious process of receiving a security clearance upon graduation.

Jack Penkoske, a senior official at the Defense Information Systems Agency, which is moving 4,000 workers from Northern Virginia to Fort Meade, said the agency has established a college internship program to keep pumping talent in.

He said the agency is offering incentives, such as allowing personnel to work from home, to keep older employees in their ranks longer.

Historically, between 25 percent and 40 percent of government employees relocate with their jobs because of BRAC, creating a burden on the state to come up with replacement employees.

Organizers said they will produce a report of ideas for building the future work force to serve the state's military centers.

Jim O'Neill, a corporate vice president for Northrop Grumman Corp., said of BRAC: "This is a great opportunity for this county and other counties to determine what the work force is going to look like."

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