Maryland has taken a big step toward refining its procurement process. Gov. Martin O’Malley on Monday signed an executive order that requires state agencies to consider contractors that participate in registered apprenticeship programs and encourage hiring in priority areas.
In other words, the rule could inspire more local hiring.
“In Maryland, our people are our greatest asset,” O’Malley said in a statement. “When investing in our State infrastructure, we must also seize the opportunity to develop critical job skills needed in construction, and to expand employment opportunities for Marylanders, particularly in areas with high unemployment.”
The executive order doesn’t force agencies to work with contractors that enroll employees in apprenticeship programs, but that they simply award credit during the procurement process. Everything will be handled on a case-by-case basis. For some projects — both big and small — contractors that work with the apprenticeship programs or hire local simply might not be the best fit or have the capacity to get the job done.
Nonetheless, the state wants to invest in its workforce. And by giving some preference to contractors that train employees through an apprenticeship program, it can prepare Maryland workers for the future and potentially higher-paying jobs. Giving preference to community hiring in high-unemployment areas can, in theory, help relieve some concentrated poverty by creating decent-paying jobs and stable work.
It’s the kind of procurement policy that might make big, free-market enthusiasts angry — just award the contract to the best bid, they’ll say — but it’s a sound investment in the workforce. If it’s state money for a state project, why not at least consider companies that are working to make a stronger, more skilled workforce?
What does this mean for Baltimore, the state’s largest city? I asked Karen Sitnick, director of the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, if this kind of order can work or if it is just window dressing.
“Governor O’Malley’s Executive Order to maximize the investment of public resources to support community hiring is right in line with Baltimore City’s workforce development priorities,” she wrote in an email. “Connecting qualified residents to job opportunities created by public-private projects not only helps employers grow successful businesses, it also produces long-term economic benefits for local communities by providing much needed stable employment.”
Smarter procurement is slowly creeping into more city guidelines, from the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority (they have a local hiring mandate for the new Crenshaw/LAX line) to New York City (the MTA commissioned a new fleet of buses from upstate New York). Taxpayers generally don’t pay attention to the procurement process — it tends to fly under the radar — but they should be pleased to know that their tax dollars for public projects are beginning to go toward better use.
The Equity Factor is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.
Bill Bradley is a writer and reporter living in Brooklyn. His work has appeared in Deadspin, GQ, and Vanity Fair, among others.