Support for Md. workforce training program unites business and workers

By Ilana Kowarski

Mark Rice, CEO of Maritime Applied Physics

Mark Rice, CEO of Maritime Applied Physics

You might not expect a CEO and a person without a job to agree on legislation, but there are exceptions.  Marylanders Mark Rice and Paul Behler live in very different circumstances — Rice is the owner of a Baltimore City manufacturing plant and Behler is one of the city’s unemployed. But both support a new state program signed into law Tuesday, HB227, that will fund the training of Maryland’s workforce.

Behler has been struggling to find work since 2011, when he lost his job as a piano technician after 30 years in the music business. Until a few days ago, Behler was homeless, and he spent over 18 months without housing.

His hope is that the EARN program will allow him to get a technical certification in plumbing or construction, which he sees as his ticket out of poverty.

The program, which begins this June, is intended to give workers an opportunity to gain new skills and credentials. It will provide $4.5 million of grants annually and will distribute that money to organizations deemed most effective at preparing people to work in high-demand occupations. Sponsors of the program say that it is a win-win scenario for business and labor, providing workers with state-of-the-art training and filling voids in companies that require rare skills.

Endorsed by Chamber of Commerce and Alliance for Poor

It is one of the few government programs that is endorsed by both the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and the Maryland Alliance for the Poor.

This initiative was spearheaded by Gov.  Martin O’Malley, who introduced the Employment Advancement Right Now (EARN) Act, the bill that created this workforce development program.

O’Malley championed the legislation in testimony before the Senate Finance Committee, telling senators that there was a tragic disconnect between the skills that these Marylanders had and the high-tech training that employers wanted.

For Behler, these words hit home.

“I’m one of those fools with skills but no parchment on the wall,” Behler says.  He describes himself as self-educated and highly skilled but complains that many employers won’t give him a chance, because he does not have a guild membership or a degree.

Rice wants to train people like Behler and turn them into the “super-technicians” that his engineering business needs.

Frustrated at lack of technical workers

As head of the Maritime Applied Physics Corporation,  Rice has been frustrated by the scarcity of workers with the mathematical and computer knowledge necessary to manufacture military equipment.   He says that 10% of his positions are unfilled due to a lack of qualified applicants, but believes that the EARN program could provide the solution to this problem by subsidizing technical education.

The program particularly appeals to Rice because it is “industry driven,” he said.  Rice is fond of the provision of the EARN Act which says that grants will be preferentially distributed to training programs based on what hiring managers say that they want.
“It lets government and industry work together,” Rice says.

Jason Perkins-CohenTraining people for jobs that exist

Jason Perkins-Cohen, executive director of the Job Opportunities Task Force, says that the EARN program’s collaboration with industry will ensure its success.

“You don’t want to be training people for jobs that don’t exist,” Perkins-Cohen says.

There are some critics of the EARN program.  During floor debate in the House of Delegates, some Republicans voiced objections to the EARN Act, saying that the state already provided sufficient job training services. But the House bill ultimately passed overwhelmingly, 111-25.  There was no opposition in the Senate, which approved the legislation in a unanimous vote.

About The Author

Len Lazarick

Len Lazarick was the founding editor and publisher of and is currently the president of its nonprofit corporation and chairman of its board He was formerly the State House bureau chief of the daily Baltimore Examiner from its start in April 2006 to its demise in February 2009. He was a copy editor on the national desk of the Washington Post for eight years before that, and has spent decades covering Maryland politics and government.


  1. cwals99


    What this policy does is shift the costs of Human Resources on the job skills development to the public. What Third Way corporate democrats are doing is using taxpayer money to move the costs of job training from the business that hires to the people. For decades people were hired and either went through a union led apprenticeship in which the union and the business paid for the worker’s skill development or the company had an internal program that had a worker as ‘in training’ for a period of weeks.

    What Third Way corporate democrats as we have in Maryland want to do is maximize corporate profit by eliminating the costs of a business training its own people. We see that they have the public paying for R and D in the university ‘innovation’ centers and they have allowed corporations to skip the expense of paying taxes with numerous tax breaks all supplemented by higher taxes for the citizens of Maryland. All this and ever lower worker wages and benefits in Maryland make Maryland’s citizens one of the most heavily taxed in the country as a way to lessen corporate costs and boost profit. Take a lot at how your Third Way corporate democrat has moved all the costs of public administration to the middle/lower class:

    Please take a look at where tax collection
    has gone…..looking at Maryland in the 1970s… how tax
    revenue fell steeply and we are looking at numbers without inflation.

    I’m not sure
    where the $17 billion in state tax revenue comes in your article but a
    quick look at the national tax registry shows this about Maryland and

    Maryland taxes in 2013.

    Income Taxes $9.1 billion.
    Social Insurance Taxes $1.9 billion.
    Ad-valorem Taxes $18.1 billion.
    Fees and Charges $6.3 billion.

    Maryland Taxes in 1992.

    Income Taxes $5.2 billion.
    Social Insurance Taxes $1.0 billion.
    Ad-valorem Taxes $8.1 billion.
    Fees and Charges $2.5 billion.

    Maryland Taxes in 1970.

    Income Taxes $12.9 billion.
    Social Insurance Taxes $9.4 billion.
    Ad-valorem Taxes $35.0 billion.
    Fees and Charges $9.5 billion.

  2. hungrypirana

    The bill’s legislative history doesn’t contain any estimate of the number of folks expected to get credentialled, get jobs, and keep them, or how much of the $4.5 million must be spent on classroom-level training (as opposed to overhead & administration.) The law itself has no benchmarks for programmatic success or failure and nothing specific to evaluate grantees’ performance. Most of the above will be left up to DLLR, but the law should have set key, explicit, legislative expectations.

    This is well intentioned and will have a beneficial effect but the costs vs. benefits are not required to be captured. A good deal of the money likely will go to union training facilities. It will be vital to get accurate post-classroom employment information for a couple years to assess if the program is achieving anything.

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