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Editorial - Business partner needed

December 03, 1997

Editorial - Business partner needed

On the heels of a Washington Post report about an extensive shortage of Washington-area candidates for high-tech jobs, Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening proposed giving students who agree to work in areas where expertise is short a free ride through college. He's on the right track, but for this idea to work, business must join the effort as well.

The Post report noted that candidates for high-tech jobs are in such short supply in the metro area that some employers are paying what amounts to signing bonuses for candidates with the proper credentials. The pay-for-talent approach isn't without precedent. When BMW brought its new auto plant to Spartansburg,. S.C. in the early 1990s, the state not only paid for most of the workers' training, it also built a school to train them in.

Under Glendening's plan, students at four-year schools would receive $3,000 a year, while those at community colleges would get $1,000. Administration officials told The Associated Press that combining the grants with new federal tax credits would mean students would not have to pay for their college education. In return, those who got a free ride would pledge to work for Maryland companies for three years.

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The key difference between that and what happened in South Carolina is that in return for the state's outlays, BMW promised to provide jobs for people local suppliers and pump an estimated $6 billion in South Carolina's economy in 10 years' time.

That's the sort of partnership we'd like to see with the businesses now affected by the shortage of technical help. Companies which benefit ought to agree to repay some of their new workers' tuition to the state, and more important, guarantee them jobs for a set amount of time.

Yes, there would have to be escape clauses of some sort in the legislation to provide for those situations where employer and employee aren't a good match, and where business downturns prevent an employer from keeping the work force intact. But if Maryland taxpayers can pledge their money to ensure the state's future prosperity, those employers who benefit can make some promises, too.

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