The executive order on workforce development that Gov. Josh Shapiro signed Monday is exciting news, the leader of Lancaster County’s Workforce Development Board said.
“This is great to see and sends the message that we must do something innovative and different to meet the workforce challenges of today,” said Anna Ramos, the executive director of the board, which is charged with overseeing Lancaster County’s workforce development strategies and services.
The order that Shapiro signed Monday creates the Commonwealth Workforce Transformation Program, or CWTP. Under it, the commonwealth will reserve at least 3% of the money it receives through the Biden administration’s two mammoth infrastructure bills — the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act — for job training.
Companies, contractors, unions and nonprofits doing work funded by the bills will be eligible to receive up to $40,000 in grants per worker to offset training costs, up to $400,000 per organization.
The CWTP is the first initiative of its kind in the U.S., the Shapiro administration said. As much as $400 million could be channeled through it over the next five years, making it the largest single public investment in workforce training in Pennsylvania history.
Funding can be used for pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs, setting up training programs and the cost of using training facilities. It can also be used for wraparound services that trainees might need, such as childcare, housing support, equipment, uniforms, testing and transportation.
“The Commonwealth Workforce Transformation Program will help train the next generation of skilled workers in Pennsylvania and break down barriers that shut too many workers out of real opportunity,” Shapiro said in a statement.
“We’re going to build Pennsylvania’s infrastructure with the best, most highly-trained workforce in the country — and this initiative will be a model for other states to follow.”
The CWTP will promote equity and the economic security of marginalized groups, the state says, by supporting a wide range of training opportunities, encouraging the hiring of unemployed and formerly incarcerated individuals “and rewarding those who maintain the highest workplace standards.” It estimates up to 10,000 new jobs could be created.
The initiative will be headed by an executive director and administered within the state Department of Labor & Industry.
Ramos highlighted the opportunities offered by the funding for apprenticeship programs.
“Businesses have been reluctant to invest in apprenticeships because they fear they are too cumbersome,” she said, “but with this funding being available and the Apprenticeship Navigators we have in the county to assist them, this will be a great growth opportunity.”
With the Baby Boomer generation rapidly aging out of the labor market, Lancaster County faces the potential of workforce shortages unless it takes action now, she said. A recent study by the Center for Regional Analysis at the Economic Development Co. of Lancaster County estimated that 12,400 workers a year will be needed just to fill positions vacated by retirements and other workforce exits. (The county’s total labor force is about 270,000 individuals.)
The time to build a workforce pipeline of well-trained younger workers is now, Ramos said.
The Lancaster County Workforce Development Board “is in a position to lead,” she said. With regard to the Commonwealth Workforce Transformation Program, “we will be working closely with Department of Labor and Industry and (are) ready to assist in education and the deployment of these funds to our local businesses.”