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Maryland apprenticeships move beyond the trades to technology

Op-ed: Maryland apprenticeships are now open to people seeking professions in technology-based fields.

From the Industrial Age to the Information Age, Maryland's men and women have brought their best to businesses in America. Our waterways have employed shipbuilders, fishermen and conservationists. Our farms have sourced food brands, local markets, cooks and servers. Our factories turn the ideas of engineers, apparel designers and artists into goods valued around the world. Our hospitals and research facilities sit on the cutting edge of innovation. Our cities are epicenters of defense, administration, finance, tourism and technology.

The business of Maryland cannot be defined by one industry alone. And the same can be said for the education of Marylanders — there is no one path we all must take to succeed.

That is why I am proud to highlight a new investment in the future of the state's workforce through the expansion of apprenticeships. For years, Maryland's apprenticeship programs have been limited to trade workers in industries such as plumbing, electric and construction. Now, apprenticeships are open to people seeking professions in technology-based fields.

As a testament to our potential in advancing apprenticeship opportunities nationwide, the U.S. Department of Labor awarded Maryland a $2 million grant to develop high-quality apprenticeship programs. Maryland is currently working toward a goal of 9,500 registered apprenticeships in 2016, a 17 percent increase over the 8,136 apprenticeships in 2014.

Working alongside the administration of Gov. Larry Hogan, TranZed Apprenticeship Services is introducing Maryland's first registered non-traditional apprenticeship program in IT, social media and cyber security. Serving as a viable education option for those seeking an option to college, TranZed's apprenticeships provide a combination of classroom instruction and on-the-job training experience with a Maryland business — plus a salary. Students will literally be able to earn while they learn and complete their program with a credential on par with a college degree.

To understand the power of apprenticeships, we needn't look further than Europe. For years, businesses based in Germany and the U.K. have incorporated apprenticeships into hiring practices, and the results have been astounding. On top of training future candidates to have the required skill sets for their positions, businesses have noticed that apprenticeships support higher productivity levels, and increased employee morale and retention throughout their operation.

TranZed's program is based on a proven U.K. model, but will be customizable to meet the needs of Maryland's businesses that choose to participate. Its broader approach will have a focus on STEM skills, giving our state's employers the opportunity to create a pipeline of world-class talent in some of the most in-demand fields.

Already, TranZed is teaming up with higher education providers and knowledgeable business practitioners to develop the course curriculum, including University of Maryland University College and Alliance Technology Group for advanced-level cyber security offerings. Large and small businesses alike, such as Lockheed Martin and NL Tech are actively preparing for their first apprentices through TranZed's services. We applaud their early investment in Maryland's future tech workers, and we are confident that they will ultimately experience a rewarding return in their apprentices' performance record.

Governor Hogan has laid out a strategic vision to make Maryland "open for business." Today, I challenge Maryland's businesses to be open to apprenticeships. Likewise, we encourage more high school students and their families to consider apprenticeships in their decisions about pursuing higher education and preparing for their career. With the help of organizations like TranZed, we can all join in the apprenticeship movement spreading across the U.S. and make the most of the talent that's available right here in our region.

Let's commit to the future of Maryland by ensuring that our businesses have the skilled workforce they need to compete in the regional and global economy, that our up-and-coming workers have the skills they need to enjoy successful careers and that our communities will continue to thrive into the next age ahead.

Kimberly H. Neal is president of TranZed Apprenticeship Ventures and director of business development for TranZed Apprenticeship Services. Her email address is NealK@tranzed.org.

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