Maryland Eyes Legislative Work Force Remedy

Maryland Eyes Legislative Work Force Remedy

By Andrea Novotny
Staff Writer

Legislation that would provide college scholarships to students who pursue high-technology degrees in Maryland and work for local companies after they graduate could be approved by state legislators as early as April.

The legislation, which is designed to ease the state's shortage of high-tech workers, was introduced in the Maryland House and Senate in January. The bills have garnered strong support from lawmakers and throughout industry, state and industry officials said.

The legislation would create a Science and Technology Scholarship Program, which is a part of Gov. Parris Glendening's four-year, $634.5 million funding package for higher education. His plan, unveiled in early January, aims to strengthen Maryland campuses, control tuition costs and encourage economic development in the state.

Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening

"The biggest problem in the technology industry today is work force development," said state delegate Kumar Barve, a Democrat from Montgomery County. "The purpose of this initiative is to try to make Maryland more attractive as a location for business by assuring technology companies that if they come to Maryland they'll have a work force they can hire."

There are now an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 unfilled computer science, engineering and technology positions in Maryland, said Kathy Manning, chief operating officer of the High Technology Council of Mary- land, an advocacy group of 570 companies.

Under the proposed legislation, eligible students must graduate from a Maryland high school with a B average or better and attend an institution in the state. Students who enroll full-time in a degree or certificate program in computer science, engineering or technology could receive $1,000 annually to attend a two-year college and $3,000 annually to attend a four-year college. In return, the students must agree to work in the state one year for every year of assistance they receive.

The scholarship program would create more graduates from Maryland colleges and universities with the skills businesses in Maryland say they need, said David Iannucci, Glendening's deputy chief of staff. Glendening envisions a scholarship program that would award $10 million to more than 4,000 students by fiscal 2003.

Bills Designed to Boost Maryland's High-Tech Sector
House Bill 5
    Would redefine manufacturing to include high-technologycompanies, making them eligible for certain tax breaks.

House Bill 7

    Would create a corporation similar to the Maryland Economic Development Corp. to deal with funding high-tech businesses in the state.

House Bill 249 and Senate Bill 174

    Would establish a Maryland Science and Technology Scholarship Program for students who enroll in the high-tech field and agree to work at a Maryland firm.
More than two-thirds of Maryland businesses that hire computer engineers, technicians or operators report difficulty in finding qualified workers, according to a report released last October by the Maryland Business Research Partnership at the University of Baltimore. Thirty-eight percent of those businesses reported that the skilled worker shortage has negatively impacted their ability to do business in the state, according to the report.

"The No. 1 issue of concern for information technology companies is finding skilled workers to meet the growing demand," said Manning of the High Technology Council of Maryland.

"This [legislation] is not going to solve the work force problem tomorrow. What it will do is increase the number of students coming out of [science and technology] disciplines to meet the needs businesses are going to continue to have in the future" for highly skilled workers.

Virtually every industry sector, including banking, insurance and retail, uses information technology applications and will need qualified workers, Manning said.

Nearly six of every 10 job openings in Maryland through 2005 will require applicants with an education or training beyond high school, according to a survey by the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

Rockville, Md.-based Tracor Systems Technologies employs more than 1,500 people in and around Maryland and has close to 200 openings, said Tom Mitchell, director of human resources. About 150 of those openings are for engineers, computer scientists and other information technology personnel, he said.

"Every Monday morning we'll see a group of new hires going through orientation. ... By Friday, we've probably lost a comparable number of people to other [technology] firms," Mitchell said. "All we're doing is taking our resources and rotating them around the Beltway."

Mitchell said the company will lose close to $1 million in annual revenues if those 150 positions remain unfilled all year. "We support [the scholarship legislation as a way] to keep our talent in our back yard," he said.

James Hollister, employment director for Computer Data Systems Inc. of Rockville, said his company also supports the scholarship legislation. The subsidiary of Affiliated Computer Services Inc., Dallas, currently has about 65 local vacancies for skilled high-tech workers, he said.

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