Workforce preparedness continues to be a major concern for employers in the Fort Meade region and a top priority for the Fort Meade Alliance (FMA).

In an effort to help identify and provide solutions to workforce issues, the FMA brought together leaders from industry, government and academia in April at the fifth Education & Workforce Development Forum at the Community College of Baltimore County’s Catonsville Campus.

“We convene these forums to bring together leaders to collaborate and create new initiatives that will help the region meet its future workforce needs,” said FMA President Deon Viergutz. “Ultimately, we are working on outcomes. We are looking for solutions and ideas that our alliance can take on that will have an enduring effect on the region, across all industries.”

The Multi-Gen Workforce

One panel discussion focused on best practices for managing multi-generational teams of technically skilled employees. Many baby boomers are staying in the workforce longer, working side by side with millennials. Companies can gain a competitive advantage by creating a corporate culture that embraces different work styles and fosters communication, collaboration, decision making and knowledge transfer.

Anne Arundel Community College President Dawn Lindsay said that baby boomers and millennials often bring different characteristics to the team. Baby boomers are competitive, rooted in structure and focused on solutions that can be replicated; millennials are very tech savvy, used to having answers available at the touch of a button and wired to multi-task, rather than process in a linear fashion.

“When you bring these two leadership styles together and you bring these two work ethics together, you can see where there can be some interesting challenges,” Lindsay said.

It is important that leaders respect different perspectives within teams and leverage different points of view when working to solve problems. Joe Pacileo, vice president of TASC, said that the different work styles are frequently referred to in negative terms. Younger generations describe their older colleagues as inflexible, technologically challenged and unable to evolve; the older employees describe millennials as impatient, selfish and entitled.

“The more I get the players to understand that their differences aren’t negative, that their differences are actually positive, that’s when the group really starts to evolve,” Pacileo said. “If you can get it right, there is not a more powerful group that can be put on the field in my opinion.”

Relevance in Curriculum

Maryland is well positioned for economic growth, given its strengths in information technology, cybersecurity, life sciences, and aerospace and defense. In order to take advantage of its economic strengths, the state must address its workforce needs in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

To meet the workforce needs of the high growth technology industries in the region, we must find innovative ways to engage industry and government in higher education to ensure industry relevance, and ignite the passion of students studying STEM subjects.

One example of an innovative program designed to achieve these goals are the Signature Programs developed by Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS). These are workforce-related thematic programs co-owned by community, government, industry partners and the schools. The goal of the program is to connect educators with local business and community leaders to make classroom instruction relevant, interesting and challenging.

Deborah Bonanni, vice president of Intel Strategic Relations at Intelligent Decisions and former chief of staff for the National Security Agency, said that developing collaborative relationships between higher education, industry and government is crucial to ensuring the success of programs like this.

“We need to think about a way to integrate all these efforts and also build trust so we can have some discussion and some candor and better relationships, so that curriculum is both reflective of what industry and government want, but is also reflective of good academic principles,” Bonnani said.

Maureen McMahon, deputy superintendent for academics and strategic initiatives for AACPS, said that the time investment is well worth the effort, because relevance drives passion. She said that teachers do a wonderful job teaching students the subjects and skills they need when they enter the workforce, but industry professionals can help add relevance and explain why they need to learn these subjects.

“For us in Anne Arundel County Public Schools, I will tell you that there is not a curriculum that should go forward with students that doesn’t have the influence of business, community organizations and government,” McMahon said.

One area where industry can do more to ensure relevance in curriculum is outreach to teachers. Helping teachers understand the pace of change in industry and providing them real-world problems and experiments they can take back into the classroom can help them ignite the curiosity of their students.

“The same opportunities that we talk about for having partnerships for student exposure to industry, there is no reason why we can’t expand teacher opportunities for exposure, like summer programs, mentoring, job shadowing and more,” said Dean Ertwine, executive director of the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education.

In order to promote greater collaboration and strengthen the region’s workforce, the FMA is working to accomplish the following.

  • Establish funding zones that reward schools for establishing industry advisory panels, and provide funding for a staff position to facilitate programs that address critical skills and bring industry expertise into the classroom.
  • Create funding opportunities to develop innovative school programs to introduce students to STEM career fields and provide mentorship opportunities in areas that match regional workforce needs.
  • Create a pathway into K–12 teaching opportunities for industry experts and retiring and transitioning professionals to integrate the most up-to-date skills and changing industry needs into the curriculum.

Will Burns is marketing and communications director with The O’Ferrall Group, in Hanover, which represents the Fort Meade Alliance. He can be contacted at 410-850-4940 and [email protected].