LARGO – It’s been a busy summer for the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), as staff developed and ran programs tailored to the workforce development needs of specific populations.
From the Latino population to returning veterans, to young adults and high school students, the EDC has worked to make sure county residents have the skills they need for a career, whether it be in IT, industrial painting, entrepreneurship, science or something else entirely.
One of their main tools has been job fairs, to the tune of two per week. Recent fairs have focused on careers at Dimensions Health Care System- which resulted in 14 conditional offers on the day, said Walter Simmons, director of workforce services at the EDC- IT industries, and the EDC’s first bilingual job fair. Simmons said the August event, which attracted about 25 employers, is an expansion of the one-stop shop’s workshops in Spanish.
“It is out way of introducing our services and who we are to the Latino community of Prince George’s County,” Simmons said. “Moving forward, we will be learning the needs of the community.”
For veterans, the EDC offers the military Career Corps Connections (C3) program, which is designed to help recently-transitioning military members find a civilian job.
“Our goal is to help these veterans. If we can get someone a job within 30 days, that’s a success story,” Simmons said. And the EDC has, helping a military member who left Joint Base Andrews translate his IT skills into a civilian certification which qualified him for a job almost immediately.
Aside from IT, Simmons said the veterans have unique skills that qualify them for other jobs, such as industrial painting, which includes tasks such as painting bridges like the DC Memorial Bridge.
“Not everyone wants to hang 30 feet in the air, but service members have that experience. They jumped out of planes,” Simmons said.
The EDC’s veterans program is unique because it is tailored to the post-9/11 world, Simmons said. The county is also unique in holding Maryland’s first apprenticeship job fair, with more than 15 organizations participating and 150 potential apprentices in attendance.
Another of the EDC’s programs is achieving unique success among peers. During the Obama Administration, Prince George’s County was awarded a $7 million grant from the Department of Labor for the Youth Career Connect program. Other communities in New York state, Illinois, California and Texas were also chosen for YCC, which works to build youth’s skills and prepare them for a career. But this county’s location makes it ideally suited to the task, according to Brian Walker, mentorship/special projects manager for YCC.
“Prince George’s County is unique because we are surrounded by the federal government. In other states that have the Youth Career Connect program, they don’t have a lot of the advantages we have,” he said.
Currently, the program is in Potomac, Bladensburg, Fairmont Heights and, as of February, Parkdale high schools, targeting students in IT, cybersecurity and biology programs at the schools. A total of 204 students were placed in summer internships or capstone projects this year.
“With our capstone program, it’s basically a project that a student is given over a 6-week term,” Walker said.
Simmons added, “In traditional summer programs, they sit somebody at the court house or they sit somebody in the County Administration Building. What we try to do is listen to the career goals of the young adults to align their career path with the summer internship.”
After the summer program is complete, the employers stay on as mentors for the students through the school year, helping the student build contacts and relationships with people currently working in the industry, gaining skills along the way.
Through YCC, 13 graduating seniors also received $1,500 scholarships. Program alumni are headed to institutions such as Howard University, Bowie State University, Stevenson University, Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland- and doing so with a clearer sense of their career path.
“One of our students, he wants to be a scientist. The great thing about it is when he came into high school, he did not know what he wanted to do. But in working with NASA he learned what he wanted to do,” Walker said. “It’s amazing what these young kids are doing.”
And the EDC’s work is continuing. They are planning another veteran-focused job fair for November and continued outreach to the Latino community, as well as a focus on apprenticeships for women and minorities, especially in the field of sustainable energy. Simmons said the corporation has recently launched a website to help residents find out about the opportunities it has available.
“All of our hiring events and programs are now listed on the web so that people can take advantage,” he said.
EDC is also preparing to launch a new program called Educational Partnership for IT Careers (EPIC), with a kick-off information session held Aug. 29. Partnering with ByteBack, a D.C.-based company, the public school system and community college and private partners like Blackboard, the EDC hopes to connect low-skilled and disadvantaged workers with 1,000 IT jobs available in the area through training tailored to what the employers say they need workers’ skillsets to be.
Walker said Blackboard is so committed to the concept that it has donated 100 laptops for program participants.
“Every student who graduates from the program and goes onto IT job, they get to keep their laptop,” he said.