FROSTBURG — Several regional business leaders, educators and area politicians gathered at Frostburg State University Tuesday to emphasize the importance of partnerships between business and education for the good of economic development.
"Without workforce development, you do not have the possibility of economic development and economic growth," said Kelly Schulz, Maryland’s secretary of labor, licensing and regulation.
Schulz was one of several speakers at the event held at FSU's Gira Center for Communications and Information Technology.
Other speakers included Michael Gill, Maryland's commerce secretary; J. Thomas Sadowski, vice chancellor of economic development for the University System of Maryland; and Frostburg State University President Ronald Nowaczyk.
Schulz said placing high school students in local businesses through an apprenticeship is one way to enhance economic development and expand specific industries.
She said the experience will introduce students to a career instead of simply "finding them a job." She also highlighted a successful pilot initiative that began in 2016 in Washington and Frederick counties.
Apprenticeship Maryland allows high school juniors and seniors a chance to earn industry-based skills, such as biotech equipment repair, while they secure a high school diploma. Upon completion, students will receive a state skills certificate.
"I'm happy to say that the state of Maryland has been the leader, the front-runner in the entire nation, in looking at ways to incorporate our youth into job opportunities," Schulz said.
The program is a partnership between the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, the Department of Commerce, Frederick County Public Schools, community educational and business partners and many area employers. Frederick County Public Schools leads the initiative by placing students in local businesses.
"This is the way that we will be doing business in the state of Maryland," she said, "when we are looking at how to train our workforce and being able to attract industries."
Schulz hopes to make the program a statewide initiative.
Nowaczyk said talking to kids about a potential career path should start in middle school.
"I talked with some colleagues — some (college) presidents — last week, who are now recruiting, believe it or not, at the seventh- and eighth-grade levels because waiting until they are juniors in high school is too late," he said.
Nowaczyk was awarded a secretary citation by the Maryland Department of Commerce for his work on building strong community partnerships during his first year at Frostburg State University.
Follow staff writer Heather Wolford on Twitter @heatherbwolford.