Gov. Larry Hogan made waves in Annapolis last week when he announced that Maryland will drop its four-year degree requirement for thousands of state jobs. The state's Department of Labor and Department of Budget and Management spearheaded the program, helping the state recruit and hire job-seekers who are "Skilled Through Alternative Routes."
Job seekers aged 25 or older, with a high school diploma or equivalent and vigorous experience (either through community college education, apprenticeships, military service and boot camps, and on-the-job training) are eligible for this initiative.
Maryland's DOL and DBM have teamed up with employment advocacy organization Opportunity@Work to identify eligible participants. Opportunity@Work and Maryland's labor initiative share the goal of closing the opportunity gap.
Opportunity@Work began as an incubator program for New America and was designed to support co-founder Byron Auguste's launch of TechHire, a White House initiative connecting underrepresented talent with open tech roles. Since becoming a 501(c)(3) in 2017, the organization aims to solve the opportunity gap with "tech-enabled solutions," and "rewire the labor market" to be more inclusive and equitable.
Concurrently, the Hogan administration has invested in several statewide career development initiatives, particularly those for young professionals. Through the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) initiative, co-created by IBM, students at 10 Maryland high schools can acquire their diploma, an associate degree at no cost and work experience. "The program … gives young Marylanders who may otherwise not have much hope for a better future the opportunity to engage in an integrated education in the critical areas of science, technology, engineering, and math," Hogan said at a 2018 event announcing the initiative's expansion.
Likewise, with a focus on innovation, EARN Maryland, a product of the state's DOL, aims to help regional businesses cultivate a skilled and competitive local workforce. Program coordinators designed EARN "to address skills gap and personnel shortages" plaguing the current labor market, according to the state.
By the state department of labor's count, EARN has trained more than 8,200 unemployed or underemployed Marylanders and helped about 80% of them secure a job, while aiding more than 17,000 Maryland residents in obtaining a new certification, credential or skill.
Maryland's government currently employs more than 38,000 people, and the Department of Budget and Management estimates that more than half of those jobs can substitute a four-year degree for a candidate's relevant experience, training or a community college education. As of March 15, more than 300 eligible, open roles with the Maryland state government were listed on Stellarworx, Opportunity@Work's talent platform.
About 1.3 million or 47% of workers in Maryland are skilled through alternative routes, the state estimates. And while Hogan's program is driven by the desire to bolster his state's economy and leave no skilled worker behind, the state's press release does nod to the diversity, equity and inclusion thread: 61% of Black workers, 55% of Hispanic workers, 66% of rural workers of all races and 61% of veterans nationally are STARs.
Correction: An earlier version of this article included an incorrect date for Hogan's announcement. The governor made the plan public March 15.