Maryland Puts Millions Toward Expanding Its Tech Workforce

Gov. Larry Hogan has invested $6.5 million into strategic partnerships through an employment program aimed at boosting information technology, cybersecurity and green jobs training.

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In May 2021, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced $6.5 million in state funding for industry partnerships through the Employment Advancement Right Now (EARN) grant program.

The funding was awarded to 33 strategic partnerships throughout the state, programs like the Maryland Cyber Skills Alliance and the Western Maryland IT Center of Excellence.

As the number of unemployed Americans increased rapidly during the pandemic, governments looked to adapt by investing in workforce programs. EARN Maryland is one such program that targets cybersecurity, information technology, opportunity zones and green jobs training.

The program, which is administered by the Maryland Department of Labor through the Division of Workforce Development and Adult Learning (DWDAL), commenced in 2014, according to EARN Maryland’s Special Grants Administrator Mary Keller.

Keller described the program’s purpose as connecting employers and job seekers, not only by supporting individuals in developing skills for in-demand jobs but also by setting them up directly for employment post-training.

The program does this by funding consortiums, each with at least five employer partners and two diverse entities, such as a nonprofit organization or community college, Keller described.

At the end of the training period, the trainee is equipped with a skill set previously identified by an employer and the individual can immediately enter the workforce. The program also aims to remove certain barriers, as Keller noted, because the entities can provide child care or help job seekers obtain GEDs.

The return on investment (ROI) has made this program a national model, and it is an important component in justifying program investments to the legislature, as James Rzepkowski, DWDAL’s assistant secretary, explained.

Keller specified that while the national average for similar programs is $3.41 in economic impact for every dollar invested, EARN Maryland’s ROI was most recently calculated at $17.32. The ROI is determined by a third-party vendor, Salisbury University, to reinforce objectivity.

Since taking office, Hogan has doubled the program’s funding. Rzepkowski attributed this to Hogan’s vision of making Maryland a “cyber capital.”

“The governor has used this workforce development program, not only just to do generic workforce development to enhance Maryland’s labor force, but to really partner with his policy initiatives and develop the workforce corresponding with those policy initiatives,” Rzepkowski said.

The program’s flexibility comes in part from its origin as a joint initiative under the Maryland General Assembly, he noted.

Keller said that the long-term goal for partnerships is that they will become self-sustaining, or their financial needs will be met. When they no longer need EARN Maryland’s support, the program has an opportunity to involve new partners — beginning a competitive evaluation process.

Grant amounts vary based on the needs of each consortium, Keller explained. Grantees can request additional funding through a letter of intent after spending at least 75 percent of their current award.

She underlined that industry needs and economic trends heavily impact EARN Maryland’s determination of where funds should be allocated.

“Needs of industries change, and we recognize that a program that applied for funding five years ago might look a whole lot different than it looks now,” Keller stated. “We’re trying to be very cognizant that we’re changing with industry and that industry is still driving the train.”

One such example is the way EARN Maryland partners reacted to challenges that the pandemic produced in 2020.

As Keller described, existing partnerships were able to shift training to match the state’s economic and public health needs, for example, training people to work as contact tracers. Another example was a manufacturing partner shifting production to make face shields; those were ultimately donated to the Maryland State Department of Education.

Rzepkowski emphasized the benefit of having this relationship in place at a critical time, as it allowed the state to leverage the program to provide necessary training and diversify a manufacturer’s base as needed.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.
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