WASHINGTON- Three Maryland counties were cited by a national association Thursday for programs that have offset local labor shortages, which are expected to get worse if the economy remains hot.
The National Association of Counties (NACo) said Howard, Prince George’s and Montgomery were among 25 counties across the country “which have been successful in reducing the shortages of qualified workers in their communities.”
California, Ohio and Florida were the only other states to have three counties cited for their programs.
The Maryland counties’ efforts range from training and transportation programs for would-be workers to publicly supported clearinghouses aimed at bringing together businesses and job-seekers.
Prince George’s County Executive Wayne Curry called the national recognition “bittersweet.”
“On the one hand, it says PG County and the region are doing very well,” said Curry, chairman of NACo’s Large Urban County Caucus. “But the report also kind of serves as a blinking light to warn us to slow down and look at the potential shortages.”
Montgomery County’s David Sutton agreed that there are worse problems for a local government to face.
“It’s a good problem to have in the sense that it’s growth that’s causing the problem,” said Sutton, spokesman for the Montgomery County Chamber/Work Force Corp. “But it’s a particular problem in the IT (information technology) field.”
NACo said 85 percent of large, urban counties it surveyed were suffering a shortage of highly skilled workers. The survey also said that 51 percent of the counties face a shortage of low-skilled and unskilled workers.
Officials in the three Maryland counties agreed that the labor market is tight at all levels.
“The reality is that all major communities around the country are facing this problem,” said Dick Story, chief executive officer of the Howard County Development Authority. “It’s a shortage of bodies here.
“Two-thirds of our workforce, that’s about 85,000 people, get up every morning and go to work someplace else,” Story said. “Technology companies are telling us that they’re turning business away because they don’t have the staff to handle it.”
Curry and others said the long-term solution is increased training and improved ties between business and education.
“There has to be a much more intimate collaboration,” Curry said. “The county is the ideal level for making these improvements.”
The Montgomery Works program is still in the early stages, but Sutton said it will eventually be a “one-stop employment and training center,” bringing employees of different professions and skill levels together under one roof so employers do not have to look far for workers.
In September, Howard County started howardjobs.com, a Web site designed to attract high-tech workers to the county and to get those who already live there to start working there, too. In its first month alone, the site got 14,000 hits, Story said.
In addition to the Web site for high-tech jobs and job-seekers, Howard County has programs, such as Bridges to Work and Reverse Commute, designed to bring in low-skilled and unskilled workers from surrounding areas with higher unemployment rates.
Prince George’s County is also aiming for workers of all skill levels with its Workforce Development Partnership, which NACo said matches potential employees from various fields with employers who are having a hard time finding new hires.
Many of Prince George’s services are free for local businesses that are trying to start up or expand. The Workforce Development Partnership will also train employees for a fee.
Sutton said the strategies pointed out in Thursday’s survey are only the start.
“This shortage of workers is an extremely important issue to business,” he said. “This will be the defining issue of the next decade.”