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Jobs pipeline low on skilled workers, panelists say at Baltimore County forum

Baltimore County Public Library and the League of Women Voters of Baltimore County, as part of its joint “Baltimore County Discusses” series, hosted a talk titled “Jobs: Where Are They Now? Where Will They Be Tomorrow?” Wednesday, May 31. Local representatives from five political parties spoke about their thoughts on job growth.
Baltimore County Public Library and the League of Women Voters of Baltimore County, as part of its joint “Baltimore County Discusses” series, hosted a talk titled “Jobs: Where Are They Now? Where Will They Be Tomorrow?” Wednesday, May 31. Local representatives from five political parties spoke about their thoughts on job growth.(Jon Bleiweis/BSMG Staff)

While the state has added nearly 100,000 jobs since January 2015, the head of Gov. Larry Hogan's Workforce Development Board says there are not enough people to fill the supply of skilled trade jobs.

Michael DiGiacomo, executive director of the board, the chief policymaking body for workforce development in Maryland, said skilled trade jobs are in demand, but one problem is a lack of connection between those seeking jobs and businesses seeking employees.

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"We're not putting enough through the system to come out the other end," he said.

DiGiacomo was among the speakers at a Wednesday night forum in Arbutus examining job trends and economic issues, with perspectives offered from different political parties. The "Baltimore County Discusses" series is presented by the county library system and League of Women Voters.

A job forecast developed in April by the Towson University Division of Innovation and Applied Research shows there will be an annual average growth of 306 construction manager jobs, 869 maintenance and repair workers, 814 first-line supervisors of construction trades and extraction workers, 558 electricians, 553 plumbers, and 1,289 construction laborers in central Maryland — defined as Baltimore, Howard, Harford and Anne Arundel counties and Baltimore City — between this year and 2019.

DiGiacomo said construction firms are requiring workers be skilled in electrical, plumbing and heating and air conditioning systems.

After nearly four years working at a pizzeria, Reagan Huber said it was time to put her education to use.

The state unemployment rate, as of April, is 4.3 percent, while for Baltimore County, it's 4.2 percent, according to state data. Both rates are lower than the national 4.4 percent unemployment rate, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Mike Russell said as automation becomes more prevalent, there is a need to train workers on how to work with it.

"These jobs are in abundance and we're not training our workforce to utilize these jobs properly," said Russell, a panelist representing the Baltimore County Republican Party.

Kyle Wagner, Baltimore County chair for the Libertarian Party said lowering taxes, cutting government spending and shifting production jobs to the private sector would create more jobs in the state.

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Ian Schlakman, co-chair of the Maryland Green Party, said the job market has turned into a "gig economy," where people need to take multiple jobs to sustain themselves. He said single-payer health care and government-guaranteed income programs are needed so people don't have to rely on employment to have health care and the ability to pay bills.

"Jobs today are precarious," he said. "They don't afford the same opportunity as they once did."

Michael Bertocchi, chairman of the Constitution Party of Maryland, said it's possible for economic growth to occur, but the government is "strangling" the economy and resources are being "squandered on petty political programs."

State Del. Eric Ebersole, a Catonsville Democrat, said the state needs to provide incentives, education and job quality — such as transportation access — in order to make Maryland competitive with nearby states.

"You can create 98,000 jobs if you want to, but if they're not livable jobs and not jobs that make it so people can support a family, it's too clumsy a statistic to say we created a certain number of jobs," he said.

DiGiacomo, from the governor's workforce development board, said businesses need to be more involved with middle and high schools to let students know at a younger age about potential opportunities.

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"We have enough programs," he said. "The real problem is we don't have enough of a pipeline of people that we're making them aware of what's out there and we don't have businesses connected to when they come out so they can have a job."



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