(Feb. 5, 2021) Heating units are seizing up across the Eastern Shore while snow falls through the air, and Worcester County Commissioner Theodore Elder sits at home waiting and hoping a HVAC technician will soon have time to fix the broken heating system.
Elder’s chilly house and week-long wait for service is one of the realities the county’s economic development department is facing, as it prepares to reconfigure its workforce training programs.
Tom Perlozzo, Worcester County’s Director of Recreation and Parks, Tourism & Economic Development, hopes to take a proactive approach to developing the local workforce with the addition of a new “workforce engagement specialist” position to his department.
The county commissioners on Tuesday agreed that the town of Ocean City and local businesses have struggled to fill skilled trade and advanced technology (STAT) positions.
Perlozzo also cited the disparity between local employment opportunities in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields and STAT, noting that “the local job market skews 70 percent-plus towards STAT.”
As part of the department’s workforce training efforts, the county had invested about $110,000 per year into STEM, with about $70,000 of that going to the contractor handling the program, Perlozzo told the commissioners.
STEM programs, however, were hamstrung in 2020 because of covid-19. To that end, Perlozzo told the commissioners he wanted to reduce the STEM program budget by 64 percent to fund the new position.
Elder was supportive of Perlozzo’s appeal, but unsure of the effect on STEM programs.
“STAT is very important in this county and the jobs are out there right now if you train them … the work is there and we need them in the county. I’m leaning towards supporting this, but I’m afraid. I have the fear that you’re going to take away from STEM too much to put to STAT,” Elder said.
“Other than that, I think it’s a good idea.”
“This position is much bigger than STEM or STAT,” said Melanie Pursel, director of the Office of Tourism & Economic Development. She articulated the job responsibilities, saying it will be a countywide effort not only to facilitate training and to coordinate job placement, but to also attract businesses and connect them with a trained workforce.
“We can really draw businesses to invest in ‘Maryland’s Coast’ because it’s a great place to raise a family, we have great health care, attractions like our great school system, beautiful natural resources, and the food!” Pursel said.
“It’s really the arrow in the quiver to be able to say, ‘We have a trained, ready workforce’ here in Worcester County,” she said.
Commissioner Chip Bertino told Pursel, “At the six-month mark that you have this person, you come back and you give us an update to what we’re doing, where we are...because you articulated it in a short period of time, and I could see it. I’m going to vote for this.”
When Chief Administrative Officer Harold Higgins indicated that he will be looking for results, Pursel confirmed she will put metrics in place to benchmark the success of the role. The commissioners then voted unanimously to add the workforce engagement specialist position with hopes for a better return on their investment in connecting jobs and people.