Baltimore's Workforce System at Work

Speakers: Chris Thompson, Senior Research Associate, Johns Hopkins University Institute for Policy Studies; Bernard Antkowiak, Assistant Secretary, Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation; Marguerite Walsh, Dean of Intensive Training, Community College of Baltimore County.

Patrice Cromwell, Committee and Associate Director, Open Society Institute—Baltimore and Co-Chair, BWIB Workforce System Effectiveness Committee.

PowerPoint Presentation:
Baltimore's Workforce Sytem at Work: First Year Highlights (Chris Thompson)

Chris Thompson presented findings and recommendations of the new report, Baltimore’s Workforce System at Work, of which he is the lead author. Released by the Baltimore Workforce Investment Board (BWIB), this report is the first in-depth study of who is using Baltimore’s workforce training programs; the programs’ levels of success; and how they measure up against initiatives in other comparable cities. BWIB is the private sector-led group appointed by Mayor Martin O’Malley to oversee investment of federal workforce funds.

Much of the funding for workforce development programs in Baltimore falls under the federal Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA), which established Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs) at the state and local levels. The report defines “training” as WIA-subsidized customized training administered by the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development in partnership with employers in specific industries, or training available to workers with Individual Training Accounts (ITAs). An ITA is an occupational skills training voucher that can be used by a job seeker who has completed core and intensive employment services through their local Career One-Stop Network. ITAs are accepted by an eligible training provider approved by the state.

Baltimore’s Workforce System at Work shows that when evaluated against comparable cities, Baltimore’s WIA-funded workforce efforts score highly on nearly all federal performance measures, yet those measures only tell part of the story. Compared to cities of similar sizes, Baltimore places more people in jobs, but most of these workers have only gone through One-Stop Career Center core employment services, as opposed to customized training.

The report also shows that the city’s training programs are have a strong return on taxpayers’ investment after two years. Yet despite their success rate, these programs are severely under-funded as the federal grants used to support them continue to shrink even as the city’s unemployment rate remains high. More funds are needed so that Baltimore's workforce system can expand its menu of training options and increase the number of people who can access these opportunities and improve their earning potential.

Given that training produces positive results for job seekers and taxpayers, the report raises the question of how Baltimore can devote more resources to training. Baltimore’s Workforce System at Work calls on the city to solicit additional public and private funds to increase significantly the numbers of people trained as quickly as possible.

For more information about the findings and recommendations of the report, see the PowerPoint presentation above. To request a copy of Baltimore’s Workforce System at Work, contact Dr. Thompson at (410) 516-8740.

Bernard Antkowiak pointed out the difficulties in ascertaining the precise sources and uses of workforce funding coming to Baltimore and the state. He remarked that since the report only addresses WIA funds, it fails to address other types of federal funding (such as Wagner-Peyser]) that supports workforce programs in Baltimore.

Mr. Antkowiak said that Maryland experienced a $4.3 million decline in WIA funding, not because of federal rescissions, but because Maryland’s economy is improving, and therefore receives a smaller share of WIA allocations. Another factor affecting workforce funding to Baltimore is demographic shifts over the past several years; Baltimore has lost residents, while jurisdictions like Prince George’s County have expanded.

He also cautioned that training is not for everyone, saying that many employers are simply looking for a reliable employee who can be trained on the job to suit the specific business. Additionally, the choice between full-time training and immediate job placement is a difficult one for job seekers who require income in the short term. Mr. Antkowiak called for employers to exercise flexibility in employees’ schedules, so that workers are able to take time off for training.

Marguerite Walsh called for greater collaboration among all stakeholders in workforce development. Emphasizing that workforce development is entwined with economic development, she urged employers, trainers, and placement agencies to develop a regional perspective and to keep demographic information in mind when designing employment and training programs. Ms. Walsh cited the need for reform of the k-12 educational system, since elementary and secondary schools are not doing enough to prepare young people for the workforce.

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