Some Maryland businesses are having problems finding qualified employees and are turning to local nonprofits for help.
Foulger-Pratt Cos. has to recruit engineers and other workers from Virginia Tech and other out-of-state colleges, according to Bryant Foulger, principal of the Rockville development and property management company.
“Even after the last three or four years [of slow economic times], we have a difficult time finding qualified people,” Foulger said at a forum this week at the Silver Spring headquarters of media giant Discovery Communications.
Meeting the private sector’s labor needs was among the issues discussed at the gathering, which involved about 125 private, public and nonprofit leaders and was organized by Nonprofit Montgomery, an affiliate of the Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington.
The group has just issued a report, “Beyond Charity: Nonprofit Business in Montgomery County,” highlighting the role that nonprofits play in the county’s economy. The county’s nonprofit sector’s employment grew 9 percent from 2007 to 2011 to some 43,000 employees, even as overall county employment declined 2.5 percent.
That trend mirrors statewide job growth among nonprofits, which saw a 10 percent increase in the sector from 2005 to 2010 to about 260,000, according to Maryland Nonprofits, which focuses on such organizations across the state. Meanwhile, overall employment dropped by 5 percent in that same time.
Something is missing when local companies can’t find Maryland job-seekers to match openings, said Ronnie Galvin, executive director of community nonprofit Impact Silver Spring.
“What we have here is a failure to communicate and collaborate and innovate,” Galvin said.
Nonprofit, government and business leaders agreed that more partnerships and collaborations are needed.
“Nonprofits need to put their resources together where that is appropriate,” said Lawrence A. Shulman, founding partner of Potomac law firm Shulman Rogers.
Collaborations are needed not just between nonprofits themselves but among schools, nonprofits, government and businesses, said Christopher S. Barclay of Takoma Park, president of the Montgomery County Board of Education. He noted that school board members have met with board members of Montgomery College and the Universities at Shady Grove in Rockville to discuss how to work together to better prepare students for the job market.
Older workers also need more skills training, Foulger said. “Oftentimes, we have to choose between someone with no experience and the technical skills, and someone with experience but not the technical skills we need,” he said.
Nonprofit Montgomery conducted the study to “better understand how nonprofits contribute to the economy” and how nonprofits can work better with each other, as well as with government and businesses, said Sharon Friedman, principal of Friedman Strategies and a consultant to the organization.
The report, funded by the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development and Department of Health and Human Services, underscores the importance of the nonprofit sector and makes a case for nonprofits to have a “seat at the county’s economic development table,” she said.
A key factor for nonprofit jobs in Montgomery County growing during the Great Recession — even while most private sectors saw declines — stemmed from governments outsourcing more work to nonprofits, said Hope Gleicher, director of Nonprofit Montgomery.
“Nonprofits can provide services at a lower cost,” she said.
In fiscal 2012, Montgomery County had some 500 contracts valued at almost $97 million with nonprofits, according to the county.
Some of the largest nonprofits in the county are hospitals, but they didn’t account for all of the job growth, Gleicher said.
The report shows that Montgomery’s nonprofit sector accounts for about 10 percent of the county’s labor force, which is about the same percentage statewide and nationally, Gleicher said. County nonprofits have nearly $4 billion in purchasing power, the report said.
Organizations must be more aggressive in helping link job-seekers with jobs, and companies and nonprofits can help by making purchases with local companies when they can, said Steven A. Silverman, director of the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development.
Many services and products purchased by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association come from local businesses and organizations, said CEO Arlene Pietranton. The Rockville nonprofit has a $50 million annual operating budget, she said.
Montgomery County’s jobless rate in December was 4.9 percent, second lowest among counties in Maryland to Howard’s 4.7 percent and well below the state and national rates, according to state figures. Montgomery’s rate is about the same as a year ago, but well above the 2.5 percent level of five years ago.
Another recent report by the National Conference on Citizenship found that the odds of people joining the jobless ranks are cut in half if they live in an area with many nonprofits rather than one with few nonprofits.
“There is a strong link between the nonprofit sector and economic vitality and lower unemployment,” said Ilir Zherka, executive director of the Washington, D.C., organization.