CSM and Tri-County Council Partner to Launch ‘Getting Southern Maryland Back to Work’ Initiative in Response to COVID-19 and Rising Unemployment Numbers

Town Hall Meetings with Region’s Businesses Underway

The College of Southern Maryland (CSM) and the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland (TCCSMD) announce a new regional workforce development collaboration set to immediately respond to the economic catastrophe caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. TCCSMD’s Workforce Development Division and CSM’s Continuing Education & Workforce Development Division have partnered to launch the Getting Southern Maryland Back to Work initiative – a joint effort that creates a transparent, accessible and coordinated pathway to skills upgrade training and re-employment for individuals who are unemployed or underemployed as a result of the crisis.

The initiative will also create new opportunities and training at a time when career change is a likely avenue for many affected workers.

“Regional unemployment has risen to 8.4% according to recently released data from the Maryland Department of Labor with the greatest impact seen in the retail, healthcare and construction industries,” shared Tri-County Council Director of Regional Workforce and Business Development Ruthy Davis. “Underemployment is an ongoing challenge in our region and this alignment of workforce development resources will provide targeted responses to critical needs for employers, employees and the unemployed, and prepare us for a future in which the workforce will be redefined.”

“The Getting Southern Maryland Back to Work initiative has one objective: To provide skill development and assist in the re-employment of our citizens,” said CSM Associate Vice President of Continuing Education and Workforce Development Ellen Flowers-Fields. “Our communities have suffered and are facing further economic risk. We are compelled to act now before people relocate to seek work thus making it harder for local industries to rebound.  We plan to deliver real solutions that keep our neighbors working, keep our businesses open and create an employment ecosystem for new businesses to begin. This is the challenge we face; this is our why.”

Town Hall Meetings: “Enlightening Experience”

“We are also aware that when our economy starts to awaken, employers may be cautious in their re-hiring and this is where we can play a critical role in protecting the equity of our workforce development response,” said Flowers-Fields.

To begin the conversations, the first of four virtual town halls with Southern Maryland’s healthcare leaders was held July 8. Fifty-two participants including health care employers and community leaders joined CalvertHealth President and CEO Dean Teague and Elaine Hardee, director of Human Resources at Charlotte Hall Veterans Home for a moderated, one-hour discussion that tackled topics such as employee burnout; staff re-deployment and mission-forward planning.

“Participation in the Healthcare Industry Town Hall Meeting was an enlightening experience for neighboring healthcare providers,” shared Hardee. “One of the universal issues our healthcare businesses face is the challenge of keeping employees engaged during the pandemic. Some of the themes we heard tackled re-deployment of administrative personnel whose primary job responsibilities may have decreased or stopped entirely.

“Overall, our mitigation strategies utilized to reduce the spread of this virus is a testament to the diligence of our leadership and front-line staff practicing superior infection control protocols,” Hardee continued. “We understand the fear and anxiety that this virus has produced and we cannot thank our employees, community stakeholders and state leaders enough for continuing to deliver great support and care to the patients and residents we serve.”

The next three town hall meetings will occur each Wednesday in July from 8:30 – 9:30 a.m. on the following topics:

  • Wednesday, July 15, Retail/Hospitality Industry
  • Wednesday, July 22, Construction Industry
  • Wednesday, July 29, IT and Professional Services Industry

“We got vital intel on the industry’s needs,” said Flowers-Fields, of the first town hall. “There is great interest in our providing more career readiness certifications; structured work-based learning programs and sharing best practices.”

Davis added that if the next few town halls are anything like the first, the initiative will be validated. “We are not just living through an economic crisis,” Davis shared. “We are experiencing a community crisis, in real time.”

‘Getting Southern Maryland Back to Work:’ A Threefold Approach

The key objectives of this project are separated into three goals: Investing in emerging skills needs; responding to business needs; and reshaping workforce development needs for the region’s future.

The immediate and long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the knowledge and skills of workers across industries. According to Flowers-Fields, existing industry training at CSM has already been enhanced to include learning modules on COVID-19 awareness, safe worker and safe workplace protocols. In addition, new certificate programs are being developed for Infectious Control and Barrier Protection, Community Health Liaison, Contract Tracing Proficiency, Medical Assisting, Communication and Customer Service skills and others in direct response to the pandemic.

The TCCSMD is investing in SkillUP, an online platform designed to help the Southern Maryland region build a workforce ecosystem that supports positive economic development. The platform will be available to all Southern Maryland citizens explore career pathways, assess career interests and aptitudes and develop basic skills. SkillUP is a bridge program that helps prepare individuals for employment or secondary education, and is the on-ramp to workforce development response.

For eligible job seekers, the Federal Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act will be leveraged. The act funds employment and training activities that ensure the region produces a skilled workforce to meet the needs of businesses and strengthen the local economy.

The business services team of TCCSMD & CSM consist of six individuals with more than 100 years of combined experience in supporting business needs through consultative inquiry. This boots on the ground intelligence will guide the workforce training response efforts of this initiative. The region’s 25-member Workforce Development Board has 13 private sector members representing the retail, hospitality, construction, healthcare and information technology industries. Additionally, guidance from regional chambers of commerce, county economic development departments and industry associations will aid in determining priorities and program development.

“The Getting Southern Maryland Back to Work initiative will engage key partners and stakeholders to inform coordinated next steps toward providing critical incumbent and new worker training, and the reshaping of curriculum both in its core content and in its delivery modes,” said Flowers-Fields. “Throughout the coming months, we are going to identify new innovations to ensure there is an available pipeline of workers needed during and post COVID-19.”

“Strategically, we are poised to deliver this response,” added Davis.

For more information about the Getting Southern Maryland Back to Work Initiative, or to participate in one of the July Town Halls, visit online at https://somdworkforceboard.org/job-seekers/  and https://tccsmd.org/backtowork/.

For more information about the College of Southern Maryland’s workforce training programs visit  https://www.csmd.edu/programs-courses/non-credit/career-development/

For more information about the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland’s Workforce Division visit  https://tccsmd.org/workforce-development/.