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October 23rd, 2018

Workforce Development Summit addresses barriers to employment, education

Summit shines a light on the importance of collaborative partnerships across the state

Continuing Education & Workforce Development recently hosted a Workforce Development Employer Summit at Garrett College. Over 20 local and state partner agencies and organizations were represented at the event, sharing the same goal: to educate and provide employers with the resources available to attract, train and retain employees. More than 50 employers attended the event.

Identifying and recognizing the barriers to employment proved to be the underlying theme among key presenters.

Kelly Schulz, Maryland secretary of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, advocates for the state of Maryland to simply be the best in serving its people.

Sharon Markley

Sharon Markley, director of education and innovation at the Maryland Department of Commerce, was one of many presenters at the Workforce Development Summit held recently at Garrett College. Markley discussed the new Maryland Workforce Expressway online portal and the resources available to employers throughout the state.

"We want Maryland to be the best state, not so we can pat ourselves on the back," Schulz emphasized, "but because we know if we are the best, then we are helping individuals all across the state accomplish what their professional goals are."

Duane Yoder, president of Garrett County Community Action, identified housing, childcare, and transportation as three of many roadblocks residents in Garrett County face. These roadblocks are most often directly related to employment success.

"Housing is one of the biggest issues in Garrett County. We also do a lot of work centered on early childhood education and transportation," stated Yoder. "If you want to get to work in the county, you need transportation to help you get there." Yoder noted that more than 20-percent of transportation services provided by Community Action are utilized by residents getting to and from work.

"As an employer, if an employee is experiencing any of the three or parallel issues, we (Garrett County Community Action) will work directly with you to remove these barriers, Yoder said. "In many circumstances and situations, we collaborate with other agencies and partners in the community."

The summit also shined a light on how successful collaboration can be used to benefit the individuals served in the community.

Rick Dewitt, director of Garrett County Department of Social Services, shared how the department began integrating their own system, referred to as the ‘common customer', to address current and potential barriers customers may experience.

"There is a need to share data to better serve our customers and track the outcomes," DeWitt stated. "By doing so, this will increase effectiveness and efficiencies and most importantly, reduce duplication of efforts. This will also allow us to address any present concerns and hopefully avoid crises in the future."

Another potential key area for development involves the creation of stronger business linkages between partners, all while increasing the awareness of available resources on a state-wide level.

"Maryland has a vast array of workforce resources accessible to employers throughout the state," said Sharon Markley, director of education and innovation at the Maryland Department of Commerce. "Our goal is to connect workforce and education to business outcomes."

For the past year and a half, Markley was part of an instrumental taskforce that strategically designed and implemented the Maryland Workforce Expressway (www.maryland.gov/workforce) website. This valuable tool serves as the primary destination connecting employers with local and state resource partners and businesses.

"Businesses continue to come to western Maryland; as a result, they are expanding the ecosystem in Garrett County," Markley said. "The Maryland Workforce Expressway serves as portal providing employers with key resources and worthwhile information that can be utilized in addressing needs and meeting desired goals."

The online portal also includes customized training solutions in an effort to assist employers across the state with finding and providing training opportunities.

"All sixteen community colleges in the state of Maryland, have made a pledge to Maryland employers to be the premier resource for training solutions," stated Markley. "Additionally, community colleges aim to bridge the gap between students and employers."

Garrett College participated in a similar event this past May, which served as a value-added exchange among members of the local workforce system.

"In order for us to more effectively refer our clients to the best source(s) for assistance and services, knowing what each agency/organization does, including the sharing of such information, was crucial," noted Julie Yoder, dean of continuing education and workforce development at GC.

Yoder gave credit to the overall commitment of the group in support of workforce development, demonstrated by the programs and services shared at the summit.

"We've heard the pain points that employers are currently facing as they attempt to attract, hire, train, and retain employees in the workforce," she said. "The summit is about our commitment to the workforce system, and our desire to work with employers to solve as many of those issues as we can together. We want to be part of the solution."