Improve Workforce Development and Educational Attainment 

Pennsylvania needs a skilled workforce. The bottomline for business is the continuing need for employees who will arrive at work every day without being under the influence of drugs or alcohol; be able to work in a group environment; read and give written instructions; make effective use of oral communication skills; perform basic math functions necessary for the job; and often operate a piece of technology or equipment.  In today’s marketplace, “hand skills” are as important as “head skills.”  Advanced education and college are required for about 25 percent of careers, but by no means all careers.  Half of all careers are described as “skilled” and are available to people who possess post-secondary technical or vocational education.  These are very good, high wage, pleasant career opportunities.  Unfortunately, some public school and government education and workforce development programs are based on out-of-date industrial models, some are not designed to meet current needs, some lack employer input, some come at a high cost with a low benefit, and some are poorly coordinated with other programs. Pennsylvania’s business community strongly encourages the Commonwealth to regularly undertake a comprehensive review of existing education and workforce development programs to make sure that each is achieving high quality results at an acceptable cost-per-student. These reviews should include a cost-benefit analysis, and the information from these reviews should be made readily available to the public.

Support Pennsylvania’s Manufacturing Sector
Manufacturing is still one of Pennsylvania’s most important industries in spite of significant workforce reduction in recent decades.  More than 550,000 Pennsylvanians continue to work in high-wage manufacturing occupations and millions of other jobs in logistics, supply chain, and services depend upon manufacturing.  The recently-created Center for Advanced Manufacturing Careers is developing world-class training models to provide manufactures with the skilled workforce they need.  The Center’s communications program is working to educate students and their families on the career opportunities available in the manufacturing sector. 

Produce More Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Graduates
Pennsylvania’s advanced technology, manufacturing, healthcare, and service industries require science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) graduates to propel firms to greater success.  There are highly lucrative and rewarding career opportunities available for job candidates with STEM education at the 2+2, four year college, and advanced degree levels.  Young people and their parents need to be made aware of the opportunities available to those who pursue such education.  Public schools, community colleges, and universities must add STEM classes to their course offerings.  Higher salaries are reasonable inducements to attract and retain STEM teachers and professors. 

Related Legislation:
SB 339 Life Sciences Education Tax Credit
HB 867:  MESA Commission/STEM 
HB 891:  College scholarship program for STEM majors

Improve Interagency Cooperation and State/Local Coordination
Workforce development related policy is implemented through a host of state agencies and local organizations.  Twenty-two regional workforce investment boards (WIBs) seek to address regional needs and relay the concerns of local employers to state policymakers.  There is coordination through the statewide PAWIB, but this process could be improved by both higher accountability, and greater local empowerment and authority.  Similarly, the PAWIB, CareerLink and other inter-agency groups have improved coordination among programs.  Still, redundancy should be eliminated; turf wars ended; and barriers to seamless service removed. 

Ensure Education Accountability Through Common Curriculum
In 2009, the Independent Regulatory Review Commission approved new curriculum regulations for the Commonwealth’s public school system that will hold schools accountable for ensuring that Pennsylvania high school graduates have the benefit of a rigorous education based on curricula elements common to all 500 school districts and consistent with national standards.   While school districts will retain their right to develop curricula and support materials, guidance documents, model curricula, and model learning support materials will be available through the state Department of Education to those schools which wish the materials.  Student achievement will be assessed through common end-of-course exams that will serve as a “final exam” immediately following the end of classroom instruction for the particular course.  The exams have been controversial, but it’s time to put the controversy aside and ensure implementation of the program in fair and consistent manner without ideological or partisan influences.  Pennsylvanians need confidence that high school diploma means a graduate is qualified to enter employment or post-secondary education.  

Educate Parents, Teachers and Students about Opportunities in Skilled Labor
Only about 25 percent of all career paths require a four-year college degree or greater, but 50 percent of all jobs in Pennsylvania require post-secondary education – jobs once known as “skilled labor” and often now called “Gold Collar Jobs.”  These are well-paying, rewarding, family-sustaining jobs in exciting industries and business services.  These positions are available to job-seekers with technical or community college education.   Often employers will choose highly successful individuals from the skilled labor ranks to further education – paid for by the company – in preparation for promotion into management ranks.  The problem is that many students and their parents look negatively upon skilled labor occupations.  As a result, many high school graduates will enter college thinking it’s the only path for a rewarding career, but unequipped for the challenge will drop out of college having wasted tens of thousands of dollars while being no more employable.  Pennsylvania needs to do a better job of using data from the Department of Labor Center for Workforce Information and Analysis and other sources to educate parents, teachers and students about opportunities in skilled labor occupations. 

Increase Career and Technology Education
Today’s Career and Technology Centers are a far cry from the Vo-Techs of the 1960s and 1970s.  Career and Technology Centers provide very high quality, rigorous and skills-oriented education that prepares young people for the workplace or additional post-secondary training leading to rewarding careers.   

Maintain and Fund Industry Partnerships
Pennsylvania’s Industry Partnership (IP) project has become a national model of excellence in workforce development strategies.  IPs address critical workforce shortages in key industrial occupations by pooling public and private training resources within a specific geographic region to aid a targeted group of participating employers. IPs are a voluntary collaboration of multiple employers in similar industries or product lines, or which share supply chains, along with the associated organized labor unions.  IPs have successfully provided skills and technology training to incumbent workers, and trained job-seekers to be eligible for new skilled labor positions. Legislation authorizing IPs was about to sunset but was renewed by the Legislature and signed into law by the Governor. 

Related Legislation:
SB 552:  Act 67 of 2011 Industry Partnerships 

Strengthen our Community Colleges and Mandate Articulation with Four-Year State Universities
Pennsylvania has 14 community colleges established under the Community College Act of 1963 (Act 484, Statutes of 1963) -- four sponsored by school districts and 10 sponsored by counties.  Community colleges offer affordable and local post-secondary education and training to tens of thousands of traditional and non-traditional, degree and non-degree student. In 2005, Governor Edward G. Rendell and the General Assembly made sweeping changes to the statute governing community. Most significantly, Act 46 replaced the colleges’ old funding formula with streamlined and predictable one. Other key provisions of the new law included allowing for dual enrollment and establishing an independent auditing process, a separate line item for capital funding, and annual data reporting.  Community colleges have established articulation agreements – formal agreements between two higher education institutions that establish the smooth transfer of a student’s credits and courses from one institution to the other – with the majority of four-year colleges and universities in Pennsylvania.  Oddly, it is the PASSHE schools and Pennsylvania state-related universities that have balked at articulation agreements.  The Pennsylvania General Assembly must enact pending legislation to require state-funded institutions of higher education to enter into articulation agreements with the state-funded and locally sponsored community colleges.  And, it is important the Legislature continues to fund Community Colleges with capital and operating funds.

Related Legislation:
HB 890:  Scholarship program for community college students 

Improving Pennsylvania's Public schools
As mentioned earlier, Pennsylvania's business community needs a skilled workforce that meets the needs of an increasingly technologically complex workplace.  Recognizing that the public school system plays a critical role in providing this workforce, the business community believes that certain significant improvements need to be made to PA's public school system in order to meet the needs of an increasingly competative economy.  Pennsylvania's business community has long been a supporter of reforms to the educational system that will insure that every student is given the opportunity to receive the best education available for the money spent. The Pennsylvania business community supports legislation that will provide for improvement over the current teacher evaluation system which simply rates teachers as either "satisfactory" or "unsatisfactory" and in which 99% of all teachers are rated "satisfactory". 

HB 1980: Teacher Evaluation
SB1: Providing for educational opportunity grants and other changes to provide for educational excellence.

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Top Issues

The goal of Pennsylvania policymakers should be to make it the smart business decision for employers to locate, expand, and hire here in this commonwealth rather than in one of our competitor states. Likewise, the goal of federal policymakers ought to be to optimize conditions for economic growth in the United States so American businesses can compete worldwide. This means we must restrain state spending, enact pro-growth business tax relief, provide limits on lawsuit abuse, improve the regulatory climate, and ensure we have a trained workforce. Our state government cannot tax-and-spend the way to good fortune for all; but we can grow the private sector by attracting new business investments and expanding the tax base, then prosperity will surely follow.

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