The progress made by the regional effort aimed at ‘Getting Southern Maryland Back to Work’ is the latest topic of “Inside Your County Government,” a podcast that brings an inside look at the people and events that shape Charles County and the Southern Maryland Region.
During the podcast, host Brent Huber was joined by College of Southern Maryland (CSM) Associate Vice-President of Continuing Education and Workforce Development Ellen Flowers-Fields and Ruthy Davis, director of Regional Workforce and Business Development for the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland (TCCSMD) to discuss the significant headway being made to create transparent, accessible and coordinated pathways to skills upgrade training and re-employment for individuals who became unemployed or underemployed as a result of the pandemic.
The CSM and TCCSMD partnered to launch the Getting Southern Maryland Back to Work effort one year ago when the nation’s business shutdowns began.
“This all started with a compelling conversation between Ruthy and I immediately following the shutdowns back in March of 2020,” said Flowers-Fields of her and Davis’ partnership. “We talked about the very important role that we play in supporting our regional economy in terms of connecting people with jobs and providing skills training.” Recognizing the foreshadowing impact of prolonged shutdowns, the pair moved quickly “to align the federal, state and local resources that we each receive so that we could respond to business needs, help individuals being laid off and get in front of some of the emerging trends,” she added, “and from that conversation, the Getting Southern Maryland Back to Work initiative was launched.”
Davis pointed out that she and Flowers-Fields had long been partners in local workforce development and they knew early on that every business and citizen in Southern Maryland would become a stakeholder in the effort.
“Our local businesses … immediately needed help to sustain and continue to operate and grow and thrive in the midst of the pandemic shutdowns,” Davis said. “Second [were] our citizens. Now there are citizens who are unemployed or under-employed as a result of the pandemic. There are citizens – who data shows us from previous economic upheavals – are going to want to be career changers at this point. We saw this after 9/11, when some first responders wanted to get out of that business and people who weren’t first responders said “I want in [that career].”
Another compelling issue, according to Flowers-Fields, is that many resources are available but very often to businesses and individuals within the community are either unaware of them, or uncertain as to whether the services are actually available for them.
“So being able to communicate to the community and through the community about the availability of the resources, and to make sure the services we are providing, actually respond to immediate pain points was very important,” according to Flowers-Fields. “It was important for us to engage as many individuals as possible to ask the question, first and foremost, ‘what do you need?’ Second [was] to educate them about the capacity we have to respond to workforce needs. Also engaging our K through 12 and our economic development partners in those conversations so that we are ensuring that the full spectrum of people entering the workforce – whether you’re just coming out of high school, or whether you are in a GED program or whether, as Ruthy said, you’re are a career changer – that the conversations were happening across the full spectrum of the workforce. More importantly was having the conversations that we are here to help this economy reposition itself. That is the work we have been doing.”
“Our road to recovery actually moves through CSM and the Tri-County Council at bringing together the businesses and then training the people to help recover us economically,” said Huber as he heard details of the many results already accomplished by the initiative.
To identify issues and leverage progress, Flowers-Fields and Davis held virtual Town Halls meetings with leaders from healthcare, retail/hospitality, construction and IT/professional services industries – all considered essential trades during the pandemic and all largely reshaped by COVID-19. A snapshot of results include:
Equity & Access in Instructional Delivery
- During the pandemic, more than 90 percent of CSM instructional learning was switched to web based, Real Time Technology or hybrid learning modalities allowing existing students to continue their studies and providing new students access.
- Aligned workforce training efforts with those of the Workforce Development Board with the goal of meeting the needs of disadvantaged populations in the community. From March – December 2020, 28 individuals were awarded nearly $106,000 in federal Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act (WIOA) funding to support their education and attainment of an industry recognized credential.
- In 2020, CSM conferred 1,426 certificates and associate degree graduates
- CSM delivered workforce and continuing education training to 4,298 individuals. Of those, 3,458 enrolled in courses leading to an industry recognized certification or credential. While many are still enrolled, 290 students completed workforce training certificates by the end of December 2020. The highest number of completers were in Electrical Helper and Certified Nursing Assistant/Geriatric Nursing Assistant providing a skilled and readily available workforce.
- SkillUp© Southern Maryland was procured providing an online training platform to upskill our local workforce and increase the pool of qualified candidates to support our existing and potential local businesses. Accessible 24/7 from anywhere with internet access, SkillUp® Southern Maryland can help workers who plan to return to their former employer as well as those who are looking to change careers by offering free and unlimited access to more than 5,000 high-quality online training courses for 180 days. Whether they are looking for a first job, a new job or to advance in their chosen field, residents can take advantage of this service to reach their career goals. The platform also offers business services to assist with recruitment, hiring and internal training.
- Approximately 7,500 unemployed Southern Maryland residents receive weekly outreach providing relevant information and useful resources.
- To date, more than 240 industry and community leaders have convened through this initiative to discuss solutions to COVID impacts on existing and future workforce needs (in collaboration with TCCSMD).
- Getting Southern Maryland Back to Work delivered customized employer-specific workforce and professional development training for 26 regional employers, supporting 734 incumbent workers gaining skills upgrade training in areas from leadership development, technology skills, COVID safety to employee wellness and more.
- A regional virtual hiring event held in September 2020 connected 64 hiring employers with 952 individuals seeking employment and resulted in 52 confirmed hires.
- Fifty customized recruitments were held for 44 employers and 127 individuals were hired as a result.
Meeting the needs of the construction industry
In response to the regional needs of the construction industry and to assist the K-12 public school CTE programs, CSM entered into an agreement with Independent Electrical Contractors (IEC) last fall, according to Flowers-Fields. This agreement focuses on early entry into formal apprenticeships through the delivery of an Electrical Pre-Apprenticeship training program. This 200-hour Pre-Apprenticeship Electrical Helper Hybrid training program provides classroom, skill lab and online instruction preparing participants to enter full-time employment as an electrical helper and entry into formal apprenticeship training to become an electrician.
In addition, Flowers-Fields said the first cohort with Charles County Public Schools is scheduled to begin training in early 2021. Ten individuals were awarded federal Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act (WIOA) funding to support their education and attainment of an industry recognized credential in the construction industry.
Meeting the needs of the healthcare community
“One of the hardest hit industries during this pandemic has been our healthcare providers, specifically our local/regional Developmental Disability Administration (DDA) providers,” said Flowers-Fields. “CSM and representatives of local DDA providers have been meeting to discuss the development of a standardized training program and professional development pathway which would assist our local employers with recruitment and retention of valuable frontline caregivers by relieving the burden of new employee training and existing employee professional development from the employer and moving it to the college.”
Additionally, CSM added COVID-19-specific educational materials and skills to all its allied health course content to prepare students with the information and skills necessary to safely deliver patient care in the community.
In the fall of 2020, CSM also launched educational/career pathways in several healthcare areas. Continuing Education students completing CSM’s Certified Clinical Medical Assistant can earn credit for courses in the academic certificate/degree program – allowing an individual to earn an entry-level industry credential in a condensed period of time, gain employment, and continue an educational pathway (while working in the industry) to earn an academic certificate/degree that will increase earning potential on the job.
Nine individuals were awarded federal Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act (WIOA) funding to support their education and attainment of an industry recognized credential in the healthcare industry.
Meeting the needs of the retail/hospitality community
As part of a unique CARES Act collaboration between the CSM and the Charles County Department of Health, CSM delivered COVID-19 training to Community Health Outreach workers and volunteers who fanned out across Charles County to deliver information and onsite help to businesses in all industry-related sectors. During the fall, the trainees did a major outreach project with the St. Charles Towne Center mall and focused on education rather than enforcement to make sure hospitality and retail sectors had adequate access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and appropriate signage. Informational flyers with COVID-19 guidance by industry were produced by CSM in printable formats and given to hospitality and retail businesses.
“In addition, CSM held a workshop with leaders in these sectors to discuss their COVID-19 challenges and creative solutions,” added Flowers-Fields. “CSM has also begun the new year with a COVID-19 awareness course that will be available free to businesses in Charles County and will include interactive learning about COVID-19 for participants in all industry sectors including hospitality and retail.”
Meeting the needs of the IT/Professional services community
The needs of the IT community are being met at CSM through offering multiple different scheduling options; daytime, week-long accelerated courses and evening, multi-week exam prep courses for the most in-demand certifications. Courses include computer systems support (A+), networking (Network+) (CCNA), security (Security+) (CEH) (CISSP), cloud security (CCSP), and software development security (CSSLP).
The needs of the professional services community are being met through offering both contract training and open enrollment courses in leadership, supervision and management, soft skills, and project management.
To help students realize their education and career potential, CSM has developed Guided Pathways to also provide its students with academic credit for continuing education courses and recognized industry credentials.
“For example, a student completing the workforce course CIT 5020 A+ Exam Prep and earning the CompTIA certification can receive academic credit for the academic ITS 1050 Computing Essentials course in the AAS degree program,” Flowers-Fields explained.
In addition, nine individuals were awarded federal Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act (WIOA) funding to support their education and attainment of an industry recognized credential in the IT/Professional Services industry.
To listen to the March 13 podcast about Getting Southern Maryland Back to Work, visit https://podcast.charlescountymd.gov/209287/8133055-getting-southern-maryland-back-to-work.
For more information about the Getting Southern Maryland Back to Work Initiative, or to listen/view the Town Hall meetings, visit online at https://tccsmd.org/backtowork/.
For more information about the College of Southern Maryland’s workforce training programs visit https://www.csmd.edu/programs-courses/non-credit/career-development/
For more information about the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland’s Workforce Division visit https://tccsmd.org/workforce-development/.