Labor shortage hurting production, survey finds; Maryland companies grapple with lack of qualified workers


Maryland companies are finding it ever harder to find qualified workers, and that is affecting the companies' ability to do business in the state, according to a work survey released yesterday.

Forty-five percent of the responding companies said the shortage affected their business, up from 38 percent in 1997, the last time the Maryland Workforce Needs survey was conducted.

The lack of enough qualified workers led to lower productivity, not meeting deadlines and lower quality of business products and services, among other issues, the companies said.

"We can't continue to turn out children without skills and have businesses with needs unfulfilled," said Raymond A. "Chip" Mason, chairman and chief executive officer of Legg Mason Inc.

Mason, who is chairman of the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education, one of the survey's sponsors, made his remarks during the release of the survey at a gathering of business leaders, educators and government officials yesterday in downtown Baltimore.

"We're all convinced of the issues before us," he said. "Whatever we do will be a positive step."

The survey was conducted by the Towson marketing firm Hollander Cohen & McBride. More than 8,000 questionnaires were sent, and 525 businesses responded. The survey found that:

83 percent that hire workers with bachelor's degrees in technical or professional fields such as business, computer science or engineering are having difficulties finding qualified applicants, compared with 55 percent in 1997.

76 percent that hire workers with graduate or professional degrees report difficulties in hiring, compared with 53 percent in 1997.

91 percent that hire computer engineers or analysts report having difficulties, compared with 73 percent in 1997.

90 percent of companies that hire manufacturing or skilled workers are having difficulties, compared with 79 percent in 1997.

"If I needed any more proof that school reform is absolutely necessary in the state of Maryland, this is it," said Nancy S. Grasmick, state superintendent of schools. "We have our work cut out for us."

The survey also found that 71 percent of companies are hiring employees with a recent high school diploma or GED certificate as the highest educational credential, compared with 63 percent in 1997.

Two-thirds of the respondents cited problems with poor attendance and punctuality, while more than half said workers lack adequate written communications, problem-solving and math skills.

While 18 percent of companies ranked public high schools above-average to excellent, nearly 50 percent gave public high schools average marks. Two-thirds of companies rated state colleges, universities and graduate programs as above-average to excellent, and 49 percent rated community colleges above average to excellent.

As part of the solution to filling the labor needs of Maryland companies, Grasmick urged the business community to support Maryland's movement to create rigorous high school exams that would be required for graduation.

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