ASTON >> Members of the state House Democratic Policy Committee heard testimony Monday afternoon on how to connect commonwealth citizens with good jobs by matching workforce development efforts with jobs that need to be filled.

State Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky, D-161 of Nether Providence, hosted committee Chairman Rep. Mike Sturla, D-96 of Lancaster County, committee Vice Chairman Stephen Kinsey, D-201 of Philadelphia, and other representatives from across the state at Neumann University to hear from a handful of experts on their efforts to create employment opportunities in fields that need them.

Delaware County Community College President L. Joy Gates Black said in her testimony that there is a skilled labor shortage in the country and there are challenges to meet the demands between baby boomer retirements and skilled persons to make up for them.

“This mass exodus of skilled labor is exacerbated by the fact that many millennials are shunning factory work because they mistakenly view it as low-pay and dirty; but they are wrong,” said Black. “Today manufacturing is powered by high-tech equipment that requires a level of education beyond a high school diploma. Manufacturing jobs also pay good wages and offer good benefits, yet more than 80 percent of manufacturers cannot find the skilled workers that they need.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, there are 12.8 million people working in manufacturing throughout the country, with at least 441,000 job openings in the field as of May. Jobs in this field have an average hourly pay of $27 an hour.

Delaware County Community College has a number of partnerships with businesses in the fields of manufacturing, construction and other skill-intensive fields to foster the skills needed in these areas. With the addition of grants, the college has been able to enhance their workforce development programs.

“Delaware County Community College, like so many community colleges across the country, is instrumental in helping employers through these challenging times,” said Karen Kozachyn, dean for workforce development and community education at DCCC. “Employees are finding that business is strong, but growth is threatened by a lack of skilled workers.”

Of the questions asked by the committee members were finding the correct balance between the push for a four-year degree and encouraging students to consider a position in the trades.

“There is a stigma that comes in, or a misunderstanding that comes in on the need to redefine success,” said state Rep. Dan Miller, D-42 of Allegheny County. “When I talk to guidance counselors they say to me, ‘well I get measured by how many of my kids go on to a four-year college.’

“Do you have thoughts on what we could do to help foster a greater understanding of the skills, the opportunities that are needed for workforce and how we can work from an early age at broadening the vision of both kids and parents as to what they might be able to do to plan better for their children’s future?”

Kozachyn said there is a gap in dual enrollment opportunities for high school students and the college needs to work on more of the “applied” students, or those who may not know if they want to continue to a four-year education or one with technical training. To counter that, a short-term certificate program at the college allows rising high school juniors to enter a college curriculum at DCCC and earn 29 credits by the time they finish high school. They will have earned industry credentials and the opportunity to work in the field at that time, or they can continue to get an associate’s degree. After that they can continue on to a bachelor’s with a partnership at Drexel University, or go out and establish their careers.

Using these pathways to career and/or education benefits both the parents who want their children to get an education, and the students who want the skills and exposure to a certain career environment, said Kozachyn.

“It gives the workforce and employers a skilled workforce and an educated workforce to be able to meet their needs, so it was a win-win-win across the board,” she said. “We need to create a better job in creating pathways.”

Delaware County Chamber of Commerce board member Cathy Cardillo said investment in human capital is “paramount to a successful economy.

“Key to this positive outcome is a strong education system as well as appropriate training that addresses the diverse demographics of our region,” said Cardillo. “To that end, the chamber supports policies that encourages business growth and entrepreneurship, as well as retain and educate a skilled workforce.”

Krueger-Braneky said Pennsylvania residents want to grow the economy and jobs that support their families and protect their financial future with a six-pronged approach through a Democratic written policy called Plan4PA that encapsulates infrastructure, discrimination-free workplaces and supports small businesses.

“Before I ran for office I spent 15 years in economic development helping local businesses start and grow,” she said. “One of the things that I realized is when we’re spending public dollars on programs that don’t work, and times where we’re spending money on programs that are successful.”

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has continued to expand basic education funding in his first-term, and he has added money for workforce development, too. His workforce development initiative allots $7 million for apprenticeships, $5 million for employers and educators to partner on training, and $3 million to support Industry Partnerships.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry, construction and extraction is one of the occupations in the state with the highest employment at 260,000 as of 2014. That figure is expecting to climb to 290,000 in 2024.

comments powered by Disqus