Abell Foundation says community colleges must focus training on Baltimore's emerging jobs

How well are local community colleges preparing students for mid-level jobs?

Workforce analysts say more good-paying jobs are coming to the Baltimore region in health care, information technology, transportation and bioscience.

Yet area community colleges are not doing enough to Baltimore residents for those jobs, according to a new report released Thursday by the Abell Foundation.

According to the foundation, Baltimore is seeing growth in several categories of jobs that have “strong demand and modest educational requirements.” It recommended that community colleges offer more programs to train workers in those sectors — and do more to spread the word that training is available and affordable.

The foundation challenged Baltimore City Community College and Community College of Baltimore County to help city students get on paths to those jobs, many of which require an associate degree or less but pay more than $34,000 a year.

“High school graduates or people looking for a job do not have the information they need to know which training programs, which certificate programs and which post-high school technical programs are effective,” said Robert Embry, president of the Baltimore-based Abell Foundation.

The report states that one in five graduates of Baltimore City public schools matriculates to a four-year college after high school. Many don’t achieve degrees or certificates, and “instead … leave with no credentials, but with significant debt.”

Abell cites data from the Opportunity Collaborative, a Baltimore-based consortium affiliated with the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, that shows job growth is likely in fields that offer opportunities for low-skilled workers to move up to mid-level jobs: health care, construction, information technology, hospitality, transportation and warehousing, and business services.

The collaborative suggests Baltimore’s regional construction sector will add 17,000 job openings between 2012 and 2020, and business information service companies are projected to create 7,800 new jobs over the same period. The study notes health care is already one of the largest sectors in the region, employing 188,000 people in 2012.

Other categories were less certain. In manufacturing, the study said state and federal initiatives “might” bring a resurgence in manufacturing jobs after the loss of more than 25,000 since 2007.

The Abell report found Baltimore city and county community colleges already offer programs geared toward Abell’s “best prospect” jobs. The Community College of Baltimore County had more course offerings in 2012-2013 than Baltimore City Community College — CCBC had 82 and BCCC had 23.

But the report said there are “gaps” in both colleges, with little training available for certain medical, transportation, hospitality and manufacturing jobs, among others.

William Welsh, business manager for Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 486, said the union takes advantage of programs that exist at the college. He said the union has an apprenticeship path sponsored by CCBC that allows apprentices to finish with 30 credits toward an associate degree.

More construction aids the plumbing field, and Welsh said that while the job market is still tight, “it appears to be loosening up a little.”

CCBC president Sandra Kurtinitis said the college aims to enhance all courses and programs that prepare students for work throughout the job market. She said CCBC works with every hospital in the county and with trade professions to offer courses for carpenters, welders and plumbers.

“In a very real way, that’s part of the way we develop curriculum,” Kurtinitis said. “We’re not saying, ‘Here’s what we think you need.’ We’re listen for recommendations” from employers who are hiring.

BCCC spokesman Patrick Onley took issue with some of the Abell findings, saying its review of past course offerings is outdated and excludes information about new programs that have recently been developed.

Onley said last year BCCC implemented new certificate programs approved by the Maryland Higher Education Commission. The college also is launching programs based on the Opportunity Collective report and “has purposefully made the effort to keep tuition as low as possible” to encourage people to train for better jobs.

Jennie Hunter-Cevera, acting secretary for the higher education commission, said the report illustrates the need for colleges to take a hard look at where the job market is going in the next five years.

“It clearly sends a message that we need to connect the dots better in several areas to better serve our students with respect to workforce development and sustainable career jobs,” she said.

joseph.burris@baltsun.com

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