The nine mostly rural counties on Maryland’s Eastern Shore have benefited from their relative isolation from East Coast urbanization: natural beauty, low population density, enviable way of life, first class boating, hunting and fishing and the best crab in the US. The downside is that a number of younger people born here, leave to find training and job opportunities, elsewhere; often in large cities or their environs. A number of their population replacements are retirees or seasonal visitors or wealthy families with second or third homes on the Shore.
But, what happens to those from low/middle income families not destined for college (2/3 of Americans don’t go)? This has been a mounting problem on the Eastern Shore for decades as agriculture needs fewer people and large companies closed or relocated. The pandemic has led to even more closures particularly smaller service firms tied to tourism..
The last 20 years of the Cyber Revolution and its multiplying business applications has further impacted local and commuter job opportunities. Good career, family supporting jobs offered by 21st Century employers often require a level of tech capacity many don’t have.
However, there is evidence slow changes are beginning to take place in corporate hiring practices and in the breadth of advanced tech training. They have already made noticeable positive changes in the lives of non-college graduates. But, it’s time they reached the Eastern Shore.
Historically, the US Government, until very recently, spent a lower share of its budgets than other industrialized countries, on job training and support for workers. And the private sector has generally perceived paying for in-house training as detracting from their principal mission, i.e. generating high profit margins
However, the pandemic has produced tight American labor markets and pressed corporations to look beyond college graduates to expand their available labor pool. They’ve begun reaching many more applicants by including apprenticeships and additional on-the-job training in their recruitment. Some recent research shows larger American firms have started reducing the old hiring priority, once a prerequisite, for degrees. This traditional practice of screening for college grads, had eliminated 76% of African American and 83% of Latino adults.
The Cyber world of the 21st Century makes liberal arts degrees alone, largely irrelevant; a fact more, but not enough, employers are accepting.
The Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan legislation appropriated $500 Million in grants for its Good Jobs Challenge programs to be dispersed by the US Economic Development Administration (EDA). The principal mission of the Challenge is to raise the work force skill levels that are the keys to career jobs and economic growth. More specifically, the Challenge goal is to create 50,000 good-paying jobs, defined as more than the regional prevailing wage for an occupation.
In August 2022 EDA awarded grants to 32 industry-led, worker centered training in 31 states. One was given to the Maryland Department of Labor to develop Industry Energy and Resilience.
The Eastern Shore should consider applying for grants, perhaps through Chesapeake College or the two Workforce Investment Boards..
One of the few nonprofit job training organizations to have achieved a good record of lifting lower income workers into jobs that serve as a bridge to the middle class, is called the “Year Up.” Their approach is a whole-life plan aimed at preparing individuals for and then getting, a well-paid job. They not only provide training in high tech skills, but also address human needs, e.g. subsidized child care, medical insurance, food assistance and even car repair to enable individuals to continue learning..
Year Up develops close relationships with employers and offers training for local in-demand “hard tech skills” together with coaching in important “soft skills”, communications, team work, interviews etc. Year Up like others, can only reach a few thousand people per year.
About two years ago I started talking to a training firm called Interapt, Inc. from Louisville, Ky. Its motto had attracted me: “We empower people through technology.” The company provides hi-tech training to individuals across the country, that is matched to local private/public sector technical needs. Often, the process includes post training paid internships. They were very interested in organizing classes on the Eastern Shore. Unfortunately, the Pandemic arrived and our discussions ended.
Often, discussions of “education” focus solely on K-12 public schools and college deliverables, measured in “future earnings”. The usual comment is that those with college degrees will over a life time earn considerably more than those that who don’t. This has always struck me as outdated, but particularly in the Cyber Era.
The Western Europeans for more than a century recognized there is another approach to preparing for good family incomes and comfortable lives, i.e. high skilled, always in demand, professional trades. For over a century, the European technical high schools have graduated individuals with post secondary certifications, considered the equivalent our bachelors.
Unfortunately in America, this dichotomy between college and non-college educated people has continued to skew the way we consider successful careers and the decisions many young Americans make. However, in 2022 and moving forward, it is essential parents and governments, particularly local, strongly support and create more easily accessible opportunities for Cyber Tech training.
Eastern Shore high schools do offer hi tech training and today’s teenagers have been using it since they were five or younger. However, specialization has occurred in this career path as it has across all other employment.
The Upper Shore counties’ public high schools definitely offer hi-tech courses. And these students also have the possibility of dual enrollment at Chesapeake Community College where they can find useful collateral courses and more advanced tech training. The Upper Shore Workforce Investment Board also offers support for job enhancing classes.
The five County Governments support Chesapeake College, but my hope is that they will also fund the dual enrollment tuition and stipend, Chesapeake professors need to teach locally. However, for my part, I’m going to reconnect with Interapt, Inc. and once again solicit support from prospective hi-tech employers on the Upper Shore to partner with Interapt and offer paid internships following their training.
We are in a very new and expanding work world and our children and grandchildren on the Eastern Shore should be able easily to obtain the type if cyber training that interests them, e.g. cyber security is a current high priority. And we need to catch up and create these no or very low cost options.
Tom Timberman is an Army vet, lawyer, former senior Foreign Service officer, adjunct professor at GWU, and economic development team leader or foreign government advisor in war zones. He is the author of four books, lectures locally and at US and European universities. He and his wife are 24 year residents of Kent County.