Workforce development partners and stakeholders from around the state highlight programs to employ underserved populations.
Businesses and higher education institutions throughout Maryland are committed to creating diverse and inclusive workplaces. Many have created new programs and initiatives that bring often-overlooked populations into the mix.
Over 200 leaders in business, workforce, and education from around the region came to campus on Wednesday, May 17, for the Maryland Workforce Outlook Forum. Attendees had in-depth conversations on how to integrate opportunity youth and neuro-diverse individuals into Maryland’s workforce.
Three panels highlighted new initiatives and partnerships that businesses and higher education institutions are taking to provide educational opportunities and prepare individuals for careers.
“Many of the companies featured today focus on the skills of the individuals. The employee’s background or disability is secondary,” said Daraius Irani, vice president of Innovation and Applied Research at Towson University. “This type of thinking is working to bring more people into the workforce throughout our region.”
Welcome speakers included TU President Kim Schatzel; Kelly M. Schulz, Secretary, Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation; Louis Dubin, Chair, Governor's Workforce Development Board; and Carol Beatty, Secretary, Maryland Department of Disabilities.
Community groups, schools and businesses throughout Greater Baltimore are working together to strengthen neighborhoods and the people that call them home. Kurt Sommer, director of Baltimore Integration Partnership, noted that these partnerships take all levels of support from a diverse set of partners.
“No one group is going to be able to do everything to address these workforce needs,” Irani said. “It takes partnerships and organizations and people working together, across industry, to get these individuals into the workforce.”
IBM is working throughout the state to create programs that address skills gaps in high-technology. According to IBM’s Corporate Affairs Program Manager Sally Scott Marietta, IBM is prioritizing capabilities over credentials.
Through a program with Baltimore City schools, the tech giant is creating pathways to careers at IBM. IBM provides no-cost associates degrees to students. In turn, the students receive a paid internship at IBM and are first in line for full-time positions upon completion of their degree.
Nearly 18,000 individuals (aged 16 to 24) who are neither enrolled in school nor participating in the labor market call Baltimore City home. In Baltimore County, the number is nearly 12,000, according to analysis by Julie Knight, Ph.D., managing director of TU’s Regional Economic Studies Institute. Many of these ‘opportunity youth’ are eager to further their education, gain work experience, and help their communities. However, they often don’t have the support structures, documents, or resources needed to succeed.
In a panel moderated by Jason Perkins-Cohen, director of Mayor's Office of Employment Development, panelists showcased organizations and programs that create pathways to educational and workforce opportunities for young men and women around the state. Panelists included representatives from The Choice Program at UMBC, Maryland Division of Labor, Licensing & Regulation, Community College of Baltimore County – Cybersecurity Institute, and the Woodstock Job Corps Center
The Choice Program at UMBC works to empower youth and engage families through a multitude of services. Rae Gallagher, deputy director of The Choice Program, said that many of the individuals he serves have been disconnected from school for three or four years and deal with personal instability, including incarceration and a history of trauma that hasn't been addressed.
The Choice Program uses intensive outreach to build relationships with these individuals to persist through the challenges. Gallagher added that opportunity youth are very motivated. “It starts with small wins, such as a first paycheck, and building on those small wins that sets them on a pathway to success.”
Although Maryland’s unemployment rate is steady at 4.2 percent, the unemployment rate for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder is nearly 80 percent, according to analysis by Mike Siers, Senior Economist at TU’s Regional Economic Studies Institute. Yet, neuro-diverse individuals have skills businesses are looking for.
Jeff Richardson, president and chief executive officer of Mosaic Community Services, moderated a panel that included representatives from the National Security Agency, the Maryland State Department of Education, T. Rowe Price, and Chouquette, a chocolatier based in Bethesda, MD, who are successfully integrating neuro-diverse individuals into their workplaces.
Many people with Autism Spectrum Disorder have higher-than-average abilities and research studies have found they often have special skills in pattern recognition, memory, and math.
Panelists noted that in the past, hiring neuro-diverse individuals was the "nice thing to do." Today, businesses are being tactical about their hiring practices.
Pamela Butler said the National Security Agency works to help its neuro-diverse employees identify their skills sets and make necessary accommodations for them.
“The National Security Agency doesn’t offer [fidget] spinners. We offer cyber challenges,” said Butler. “The employees stay focused, help us identify problems, and help us defend the nation.”
The Maryland Workforce Outlook Forum is an annual event hosted at Towson University and supported in partnership between the Governor’s Workforce Development Board, Baltimore Integration Partnership, and TU’s Regional Economic Studies Institute. The forum focuses on collaboration and finding creative solutions for the workforce and economic challenges facing our institutions and our state.
A complete list of speakers and event information can be found here.
This story is one of several related to President Kim Schatzel's priorities for Towson University: BTU: Partnerships at Work for Greater Baltimore and TU Matters to Maryland.