BRAC Brings Burgeoning Numbers of High-Skill, High-Pay Jobs

By PATRICIA M.MURRET, Capital News Service

WASHINGTON - The 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process will soon bring so many highly skilled, highly paid jobs to Maryland that the state won't have enough qualified workers to fill them, an economist told the State Board of Education Wednesday.

The majority of the estimated 30,000 to 60,000 new jobs expected in the state by 2011, he said, will bring an average wage of $70,000, and require more than a bachelor's degree.

"I wish my 13 grandkids were here to see this," said Board Member Lelia Thompson Allen, after hearing the news.

Maryland will gain approximately 16,000 Department of Defense military and civilian jobs as a result of the BRAC process, said Darius Irani, assistant director of economic and work force development and director of applied economics at Towson University's Regional Economic Studies Institute.

He projected another 45,000 new BRAC-related positions throughout the state, as businesses arrive or grow to support the military.

The average annual wages of all BRAC and BRAC-related jobs are over $70,000, Irani said.

And, only 30 percent of those new positions will be filled when located to the state, Irani said. The rest could be filled by qualified Marylanders.

Some 50 percent of filled positions will be held by someone between the ages of 50 and 60. These baby boomers, part of a nationwide "silver tsunami" of 35 million boomers expected to retire by 2012, may soon retire or decide not to stay in the state, which would free up more positions.

The situation is both a boon and a challenge to the state, Irani said.

BRAC occupations range from electronics engineering, telecommunications, computer science and financial management to data transcription, technical writing and editing, equipment operation, and administration, Irani said.

The new Defense Department jobs, which will be primarily located at Harford County's Aberdeen Proving Ground, Anne Arundel County's Fort Meade, and the new Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Bethesda, will, for the most part, be GS-5 positions demanding a four-year college degree or higher.

And, Irani's presentation showed, 83 percent of the BRAC-related occupations, which include retail, education, health care and construction, will also require a bachelor's degree.

The Defense Department positions also require security clearance, Irani said, cautioning educators and families not only about criminal records, but about bad debts, which can prevent or hold up a clearance.

"That is the actual ruin for many people not getting security clearances," Irani said.

Education about the security clearance process needs to be developed for secondary and post-secondary students in Maryland, Irani said.

Defense Department jobs are not only high-paying, Irani said, they are unlikely to be outsourced, especially overseas.

Though Defense Department jobs are going primarily to Harford and Anne Arundel Counties, eight counties will see job growth related to the BRAC process, Irani's presentation showed.

More than 15,000 positions will be in information, professional, scientific and technical services.

The economist's predictions appeared to please and challenge the education board.

Board chairman Nancy S. Grasmick highlighted "Project Lead the Way," a high-school engineering program, and $10,000 scholarship opportunities from Northrup-Drummond that could help prepare current high school students for the work force.

Most saw the news as a caution to both educators and lawmakers.

"These jobs won't be outsourced . . . But if we can't supply the prepared workforce, BRAC will go elsewhere," said Dunbar Brooks, board vice president. "BRACs come and go . . . That would be a travesty."

"When politicians run for office, people always ask, 'What jobs are you going to get for us?'" said Board Member David F. Tofaro. "Let the word go out: We have jobs. Education is the key."

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