Tri-State area short on trades workers

February 27, 1998


Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - A shortage of well-trained trades workers in the Tri-State area is so severe that some contractors are forced to turn down work, a Maryland General Assembly committee was told Thursday.

"We have a serious problem right now in Western Maryland," Joan L. Warner, executive director of the Cumberland Valley chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, told the House Economic Matters Committee.

Warner was speaking in support of legislation under which the state would pay for potential plumbers, electricians and other crafts people to go through on-the-job apprenticeship training.


Several contractors told the committee that the legislation is needed because too few young people are choosing careers in the trades.

"It's extremely difficult to hire and retain young people who are interested in the construction industry," said John Barr, owner of Ellsworth Electric Co. in Hagerstown.

The state used to pay for an apprenticeship program, but it was cut during the recession of the early 1990s. Since then, enrollment in a Tri-State area apprenticeship program sponsored by Associated Builders and Contractors has dropped from 372 students to 130, Warner said.

Without enough trained workers, some contractors must turn down work, she said.

"We need to get more people in the field," Warner said.

The legislation sponsored by Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington, would award $1,000 grants for each apprentice to trade organizations, unions and other private-sector groups that offer apprenticeship programs.

"The goal is pretty simple. What we are trying to do is get as many blue-collar jobs at a good wage as possible," Poole said.

Poole and others noted that there are programs and legislation aimed at college and other types of training, but nothing for trades.

"Unfortunately, we seem to have a lot of money to give out for a lot of areas, just not for blue-collar people," he said.

The legislation could face some opposition because of its cost. It is estimated the program would cost state taxpayers $1.86 million during its first year, according to the Department of Legislative Services.

That price tag led to the bill's defeat last year, but Poole said he is trying to work with budget officials to see if an agreement can be reached.

The legislation also faces opposition from some union officials. At Thursday's hearing, Jerry Lozupone, legislative representative for the Maryland State and D.C. Building and Construction Trades Council, told the committee that the plan is "corporate welfare."

"If you want to give $1,000 to somebody, give it to the student," Lozupone said.

The Herald-Mail Articles