A jobs agenda for Maryland

It is time for a real jobs agenda for Maryland. Too many citizens in our state are unemployed or under-employed and are struggling to make ends meet. Notwithstanding recent job losses, we have a stronger economy than many states in the nation, which gives us incredible opportunities to change this. Maryland needs a clear jobs agenda that connects the dots between transportation, public works, housing and workforce development. This jobs agenda should focus on building clear employment pathways and expanding opportunity in Maryland's niche and growing sectors — from bioscience to information technology to transportation. If the governor, state and local officials, business leaders, nonprofit leaders and residents commit to working together and creating a real jobs agenda, we can seize the opportunity to make all Marylanders economically secure.

Setting this agenda now is timely, as Gov.Martin O'Malleyis about to appoint new secretaries of labor and transportation. These two yet-to-be-named secretaries should play a key role in developing and championing Maryland's jobs agenda. But it cannot be accomplished in silos; transportation and workforce efforts must be integrated in order to get the greatest bang for the buck. Linking transportation and jobs just makes sense. Transportation construction and operations create living wage jobs. Moreover, transportation projects ultimately create the infrastructure backbone that connects people to jobs.

During the past two years the Fair Development Coalition, a group of diverse organizations including BRIDGE, CASA de Maryland, the Job Opportunities Task Force, the Laborers' International Union of North America, the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute, the Safe and Sound Campaign, and Red Line Now PAC, worked closely with state leaders to begin the process. Under the leadership the former transportation and labor secretaries, Beverly Swaim-Staley and Alexander Sanchez, the state created a transportation-related job training program called BuildUp. This training program uses 0.5 percent of federal transportation money coming into the state to link struggling workers to jobs. BuildUp was announced at the end of 2011, and in the first two months of 2012, more than 1,300 Marylanders applied for the job training slots.

In May, Governor O'Malley signed legislation codifying the transportation training fund so that we can create stable pipelines connecting the unemployed and under-employed to transportation jobs now and into the future. This program will be a model for leveraging investment and getting Marylanders back to work, but it is only a first step. The new secretaries must make a jobs agenda one of their top priorities from the start and be willing to make bold change.

What will be the employment engines behind Maryland's jobs agenda? Many jobs will be found in the private sector — and we must align our workforce and education systems to make sure Marylanders have the skills needed by industry. Other jobs will be found in the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities now occurring in Maryland, including: Base Realignment and Closure; the building of the Red Line in Baltimore and the Purple Line in Prince George's and Montgomery counties; major infrastructure projects desperately needed in the older suburbs of the Baltimore and Washington D.C. regions; and bridge repairs needed around the state.

To close Maryland's persistent income and employment gaps, a jobs agenda must pay careful attention to strategies for connecting under-employed residents to these jobs. It will not be easy, and it will force us to do things in new ways. Accordingly, this jobs agenda must include components such as: fully funding infrastructure investments, such as the Red Line and Purple Line; creating clear pathways for disadvantaged workers to enter jobs and move up the career ladder; building a strong education and training infrastructure; and using tax dollars more efficiently by funding job-connecting programs that work (apprenticeships, job training and supportive services) rather than expensive custodial programs that often do more harm than good.

We look forward to working with the new transportation and labor secretaries to create and implement an interconnected jobs agenda for the state. If we make this real, Maryland will be recognized nationally as a state set a model for creating jobs and connecting its people to opportunity.

The Rev. David Carl Olson of the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore (davidcarlolson@mac.com) and the Rev. Hoffman Brown III of Wayland Baptist Church are members of the Fair Development Coalition.

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