xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement

Skills training essential for Md. jobs act to succeed

Last month, Gov. Larry Hogan signed Senate Bill 317, The More Jobs for Marylanders Act of 2017. The act, among other things, includes "career apprenticeship opportunities" for Maryland's high school students enrolled in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs. The way the state and localities carry out the law will determine if youngsters actually obtain better opportunities.

Because of the efforts of Sen. Jim Rosapepe and Del. Cory McCray, Maryland will be the first state to set a goal for high school students to graduate with workforce skills. The state will develop a system to measure and analyze student engagement in CTE and apprenticeships and make occupational credentials equivalent to Advanced Placement (AP) courses in high school. (Disclosure: I was privileged to serve as the initial chair of the Governor's Youth Apprenticeship Task Force.)

Advertisement

The act will encourage employers' participation by providing them with a $1,000 tax credit for the first year of each new apprentice (capped at $500,000 over three years for each employer). It encourages students by establishing a new Workforce Development Sequence Scholarship. Sponsored by Sen. Kathy Klausmeier, these scholarships award up to $2,000 per year for students and apprentices taking non-credit skills training courses at a Maryland community college.

SB 317 is a courageous step given the challenges to work as currently imagined. Technology — robots and artificial intelligence; the growth of Uber-like arrangements, where employees become independent contractors — and the competition from overseas are already transforming jobs and will continue to do so. It will take creative effort to ensure that young apprentices acquire skills that survive the transformation. The old procedures will not suffice.

Advertisement

"Having academic and technical skills will get you on track to a profession, but if you really want to go the distance you need to be a good listener, manage your emotions and work well on a team," Wilbert James, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, said in March, speaking for the Council for a Strong America. The council quotes a new national survey conducted by Zogby Analytics; it shows that more than 60 percent of business decision-makers say it's more difficult to find job candidates with adequate social-emotional skills than candidates with adequate technical skills. Employees can't communicate well with coworkers or customers, can't collaborate to solve problems, and don't persevere to overcome challenges. The recent passenger-removal fiasco with United Airlines is a dramatic example of deficient skills extending up the line to the CEO.

Over the last 25 years and more, employers and economists have identified professionalism (showing up on time and ready to work), the ability to communicate orally and in writing, teamwork, creativity, listening, problem solving, planning and similar "soft" skills as important for success. Perhaps to postpone the hard work required to actually teach and assess them, organizations and school systems resurvey, redefine and rename the skills. Maryland defined their Skills for Success a generation ago; yet progress is limited in the classroom.

A recent article in Education Week blames teacher preparation for part of the problem, noting that "many teachers are coming into their jobs unprepared to develop students' skills in areas like self-awareness and navigating relationships." But the problem is deeper than that; school districts and individual schools throughout the state will have to be engaged and help teachers and mentors.

Maryland's Department of Education must step up to the plate and assign responsibilities and accountability for essential skills.

A first step would have CTE programs provide each student with a list of skills he or she acquired accompanied by a sentence of two describing the context. Here is an example from a small effort that I ran in Baltimore a few years ago. It took place in a summer jobs program at Johns Hopkins to encourage community members to adhere to a weight loss regime.

For the skill of "responsibility," the student: "Managed to make contact with 4 patients regarding weight loss program. Came to work on time, finished work on time." For "time management," he "Developed schedules for contacting participants." For "oral communication: he "Helped make four presentations to student groups about nutrition and exercise. Spoke to participants on the phone." This information is more useful than class grades to potential employers and college admissions officers.

The More Jobs for Marylanders legislation is an important first step, but only if it improves the learning experience of youngsters throughout Maryland. This requires trained mentors guiding student apprentices and trained CTE teachers imparting essential skills along with the traditional technical and academic skills. Otherwise it is just legislators' wishful thinking.

Arnold Packer was an assistant secretary of labor in the Carter Administration and executive director of the Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS). His email is His email is arnold.packer@gmail.com.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement