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Having trouble finding skilled employees? EARN it.

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By Christine Collins

(BALTIMORE, Md. – Sept. 22, 2017) -- In a climate that’s all about having an edge, how do you get competitors to work together toward a greater good?

When the greater good is better employee training, it’s not a hard sell. That’s the premise behind the EARN Maryland Initiative.

EARN stands for Employee Advancement Right Now. It’s a state-guided, grant-funded way of partnering industry organizations with training entities so that the pool of potential and continuing workers has a better sense of what they need to do to succeed, individually and as a business. The Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation manages the initiative.

“It allows our workforce that may be just entering into a certain type of career pathway the necessary skills… to grow financially and create an economic backbone for their families,” said DLLR Sec. Kelly Schulz. “Equally important: it allows the industry to address the skills gaps for the workforce they’re looking for to create a good, productive workforce.”

The EARN program began in 2013 to respond to concerns from the business community about finding qualified employees. Schulz said DLLR took a holistic approach to what workforce development really means to workers and industries, then created specifically targeted programs that let industries guide what they needed rather than relying on others to identify the training that would work.

The ultimate goal is to foster economic growth and development across the state. But while that seems very business-as-usual, today’s labor force needs broader awareness. Soft skills and preparation, Schulz says, must now be part of the training mix. Add that to the need to attract new and expanding business, and you have a high demand for what EARN does.

“Because the unemployment rate is so low and the desire for employees is so high, we have to help those businesses determine where those workers are going to come from and the type of skills we’re going to offer them in order to have that transition,” Schulz explained. “The more we can put people to work in positions as opposed to relying on state service, the better off the whole state will be.”

It’s working. According to DLLR, 82 percent of trainees under the EARN Maryland program are hired, and the 90-day retention rate is higher than the national average. And it makes sense for the state’s bottom line, too: BEACON at Salisbury University reported to DLLR that EARN’s average ROI per trained employee is $15 – nearly quadruple the national average. To ensure maximum efficiency, no fewer than five businesses can be associated with any EARN grant; there are currently 700 businesses working under 42 grants, for an average of nearly 17 businesses per grant.

The reason for the success, Schulz says, is that the EARN Maryland program puts employers in direct contact with trainers, so that they can work together with the trainees on exactly what skills those employers need. Rather than a one-size-fits-all training program, each potential employee learns exactly what he or she needs to know in order to succeed with that employer. 

“It’s interesting what happens when you put the importance of the workforce into the hands of the employers,” Schulz said. “I just makes sense.”

Businesses like Chamber member W.R. Grace have partnered with other organizations in its industry to address training needs under the EARN program, which is funded through the state. Grace’s approach resulted in the Curtis Bay Industrial Training Partnership, working in an area known for its declines in employment after companies and factories shut down or moved out. Instead of working against each other to find the workers with existing skills that qualify, the partnership works together through EARN to train potential workers with the skills they would need in the industry.

“Everybody should remain focused on the key word, which is ‘partnership,’” Schulz said. “It’s really no risk for the industry. It’s no risk for those who are looking for a new, better way to define and mold what their workforce is.”

Business leaders interested in the EARN Maryland Initiative may contact Mary Keller at DLLR.