A Prime Opportunity
Employers and Job Seekers Win with Fast-Track Credentials
By Lisa Baldino
Feb 05, 2017
Job seekers may soon be able to add new credentials to their resumes that will make them more marketable in a shorter amount of time. Certification programs for jobs in the construction, logistics, manufacturing, information technology and primary health care industries are critical in creating a pipeline of “middle skilled” workers for area businesses.
A recent study commissioned by the Susquehanna Workforce Network (SWN) with support from the Harford County Office of Economic Development was conducted by Sage Policy Group, Inc. The report found that economic growth in the region continues to be strong, but the workforce pipeline for non-degreed jobs needs expansion.
Called “An Abundance of Opportunity Meets a Need for Additional Preparedness,” the study uses the cycle of economic development to make logical recommendations for both businesses and job seekers. Private sector enterprises are expanding employment opportunities that do not require degrees, but specialized training. “Businesses are sometimes being challenged to fill certain position openings, yet there are many people who are not working or are underemployed. There is a workforce out there, but they may not be aware of the opportunities that exist, or have mismatched skills,” says Anirban Basu, chairman and CEO of Sage Policy Group, Inc.
“Empowering our local workforce with skills that match the needs of area businesses is a win-win for Harford County’s economy and our communities,” says County Executive Barry Glassman. “In partnership with the Susquehanna Workforce Network, we can strengthen these ties through data-driven workforce development opportunities identified by this study.”
In the study, Basu says it’s unusual to find a marketplace where the largest employer is high paying, as is the case with Aberdeen Proving Ground. In 2015, APG employed approximately 22,800 people, which represents nearly 19 percent of the region’s employment. The Harford County OED joined SWN in this study to learn more about the trend toward cyber technology and manufacturing. “APG is experiencing a shortage in IT and cyber-tech workers,” Basu explains. “Accessing technical talent appears to be roughly as challenging in the Susquehanna region as elsewhere, however. People in IT appear quite happy to move here, in part because of proximity to major cities and because of a favorable cost of living relative to other tech hotspots.”
Basu says one of the other distinguishing features of the Susquehanna Region is that both Harford and Cecil counties are located at the outer boundaries of their respective metropolitan areas. This results in many residents commuting to jobs in the city, instead of working in the Susquehanna region. According to 2014 data used in the study, a little over 60 percent of employed residents of the Susquehanna region work outside of the region. About 60 percent of the people who work in the region also live in the region. “This information presents opportunities for regional businesses to supply more local job opportunities,” notes Basu.
Karen Holt, Director of the Harford County OED, says, “Some of Harford County’s strongest assets are its location and proximity to major metropolitan areas, its access to Interstate 95 and its growing vibrancy as a community where people can live, work and play. An emphasis on our greatest asset – human capital – will keep the region robust with opportunity both for businesses and residents. By focusing on both technical and non-technical workers, we can build a pipeline for businesses that draws the workforce they need.”
Collaborating with economic and workforce development partners, SWN assists area businesses to attract, retain and develop their current and future workforce. Bruce England, executive director of the SWN, says his organization is working to create additional awareness of growth industry needs in the region and the benefits that SWN and the region’s three Workforce Centers can provide to both companies and job candidates. Last year, the Workforce Centers assisted 20,000 people seeking new employment opportunities by providing necessary occupational skills, job readiness skills, job acquisition tactics, resume assistance and more. England says the Centers are staffed by experienced and credentialed workforce development professionals and are a resource for area residents who want to start or advance their job search efforts.
The Sage report for SWN identified the job growth areas in the region as logistics, primary health care, construction, manufacturing and information technology – mirroring those industries named in a 2012 study by the same group. The new report adds cybersecurity to the list. Because these industries require some additional preparation for the work force, the study recommends increased career and technical education at local high schools and credentialing strategies that match industry needs. “Developing these strategies will require continued employer engagement with SWN, as well as economic and workforce development to help grow the available pipeline of workers,” he says. Additionally, the study suggests partnerships with relevant organizations to develop the certificate programs, including Associated Builders and Contractors, the Maryland Motor Truck Association and Maryland Association of Health Care Recruitment.
The report recommends designing rapid credentialing and certification programs that will assist people in becoming more marketable. The goal is to complete credentials within three-to-six months, and no more than a year, because “many families simply cannot afford to have someone take time away from full-time work to obtain a credential.” Longer-term credentialing also presents transportation and child care challenges.
England says SWN will work with the education entities in the county, including the University Center, Harford Community College and Towson University, to create the certification and credentialing programs for the growth industry employment opportunities identified in the study. SWN has already collaborated with the region’s community colleges to create both a manufacturing and construction skills training program that will be available in early 2017.
In addition, SWN and OED have strong relationships with local businesses. “We’ve worked with Harford County Office of Economic Development and the Susquehanna Workforce Network on several start-up distribution and logistics projects and received professional and focused assistance to help attract and retain the workforce required for success in this highly competitive region,” says Ted Wasielewski, director, human resources, Gordon Food Service Mid-Atlantic Division.
Basu forecasts that many of the future employment opportunities will be in entry-level positions in the leisure and hospitality industry, service producing sectors, fast food restaurants and basic maintenance occupations. Jobs pertaining to the aging population will grow considerably in the next 10 years and include registered nurses and personal care aides. The study reported that the No. 1 skill demanded by employers is customer service, with problem-solving skills and interpersonal skills second and third.
Considering these facts, Basu recommends the development of a broad customer service certification that can be completed in a three-to-six-month period.
He describes it as more than retail and sales customer service. It is a demand skill set across many industries and occupations. “This customer service certification should mean something to industry participants. In other words, the certification effort must be a credible one,” Basu says. “For it to be credible, there has to be a certification test that is challenging to pass.”
Some of the traits and characteristics developed in a customer service certification include risk management, flexibility, decision-making, empathy with a customer, the ability to ask the right questions, and ability to address customer concerns. “We plan to investigate work that has been done in this arena nationally and locally, and most critically, work with area businesses to develop design standards and validate the credential,” says England. Customer service is the No. 1 detailed skill request amongst all job openings advertised online in this region.
The conclusion of the report notes that employment growth in Harford County promises to be brisk over the next five years. Positions will be a mix of high-wage to lower-wage jobs that can be pursued by those who would like to work, but just are not getting out there to find the path, those who want to change paths, and those who are simply looking for a path. Shorter training programs would be the norm and would be designed for all age groups – from Millennials to Baby Boomers – and with employee and employers needs in mind. I95
- Entry Level Manufacturing Training: Starts Tuesday, Feb. 14
- Highway Capital Construction Training:
- Heavy Equipment Operators: Starts Tuesday, March 7
- Core Construction & Introduction to the Trades: Starts Wednesday, March 1
- CDL& Tractor Trailer: On-going Training
- Veteran Re-Employment Opportunities: Starting February 2017
- Summer Youth Job Fair: SWN-Elkton Office Saturday, March 4
- Summer Youth Job Fair: SWN-University Center Office, Saturday March 18
- Cecil County Job Fair: Singerly Fire House, Thursday, May 11
- Entry Level Job Fair: SWN-University Center Office, Thursday, June 8
- Harford County Job Fair: Ripken Stadium, Thursday, October 12
For more information on these and other upcoming events, please contact:
Susquehanna Workforce Network, Inc.
410 Girard Street
Havre de Grace, MD 21078