An independent news publication of
United Way of Lancaster County


Workforce forum: Demographics, technology pose fresh challenges for employers (video)

Top row, from left: Anna Ramos, Valerie Hatfield. Bottom row, from left: Tyrone Miller, Stuart Savin. (Sources: Provided)

With Baby Boomers rapidly aging out of the employment market and technological change continuing to drive a need for new capabilities and lifelong learning, companies are increasingly realizing they must be innovative to attract and retain staff, panelists said a forum this week.

Livestreamed Tuesday morning, “Workforce Development in Lancaster County” was the latest in United Way of Lancaster County’s series of “Conversations About OUR Community.” It led off with a presentation by Anna Ramos, executive director of the Lancaster County Workforce Development Board, followed by a panel discussion.

Just over a quarter of Lancaster County’s workforce, 26%, is age 55 or over, Ramos said. While hiring has slowed somewhat since the intense burst that followed the pandemic, it’s still a job-seeker’s market, with 2.4 job openings for every person looking to be hired.

The Lancaster County Workforce Development Board offers employers a variety of state-subsidized programs to assist with training, recruitment and retention. (Source: Lancaster County WDB)

Faced with the difficulties of hiring externally, companies are coming to understand the advantages of upskilling their existing staff, Ramos said. A relatively brief period of training may be enough to equip someone for a new role; moreover, building internal career pathways and opportunities for promotion increases employee satisfaction and retention.

Enrollment in trade schools is at record levels across the state, and with good reason, said Stuart Savin, administrative director of the Lancaster County Career and Technology Center. Employers want those skills — indeed, schools are not graduating nearly enough people to keep up with demand.

Valerie Hatfield is the director of Workforce and Economic Development at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology. She highlighted the disruption coming from artificial intelligence, or AI. It has upended education and business practices across the board, she said: People will need to be taught how to use it “or they’ll get left behind,” she said.

Upcoming workforce development events

  • Lancaster AI SymposiumA Conversation on the Future of Work: 8 a.m. to 12 noon, Wednesday, May 29 at The Ware Center, 42 N. Prince St., Lancaster. Hosted by Millersville University’s Lombardo College of Business. Register here.
  • Career Ready Lancaster quarterly meeting: 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday, July 18 at ABC Keystone, 135 Shellyland Road, Manheim.

Tyrone Miller is CEO of Lancaster Works, Lancaster’s only workforce development agency chartered as a “social enterprise” or B-Corp. He sees employers shifting to hiring based on skill certifications rather than academic degrees. Given the rapid pace of change, he said, traditional career paths will become a thing of the past. The traditional Monday-to-Friday at the office may grow less prevalent, too, as companies experiment with work-from-home hybrids, four-day work weeks and the like.

All the panelists agreed on the importance of lifelong learning. Likewise, they emphasized the vital role that collaboration on workforce development plays in ensuring the ongoing health of Lancaster County’s economy.

Career-Ready Lancaster “is the best place for this collaboration to happen,” Savin said. Based at the Workforce Development Board, it’s a coalition of local educational institutions, employers, agencies and nonprofits, all focused on helping career seekers, especially students, identify promising pathways and connect with the resources they need to pursue them. (United Way of Lancaster County is one of the founding partners.)

The Career-Ready Lancaster website offers a variety of self-assessment tools and exercises, and employers can post internships and other opportunities. It’s complemented by a Career-Ready Lancaster committee that meets monthly, with the goal of forging connections and building relationships.

The Lancaster County Workforce Development Board has installed 37 career-information kiosks at high schools and other locations around Lancaster County. (Source: Lancaster County WDB)

Miller encouraged anyone and everyone interested in workforce development to get involved in Career-Ready Lancaster: “It is truly that partnership that we’ve been looking for.”

Asked about engaging minority and underrepresented populations, Ramos said that’s a priority, but that there’s always room to do more. The Lancaster County Racial Equity Profile released last year provided a good starting point for understanding wage gaps and other disparities, Hatfield said: Organizations should use that data in designing their programs and then measure outcomes “to be sure we’re moving the needle.”

One huge equity issue is access to childcare, she said, and making it more available should be a top priority.

All the panelists encouraged their listeners to get involved. There’s lots to do and organizations are eager to welcome new partners and ideas.

“Help build our workforce forward,” Savin said.