Local stakeholders brainstormed ideas for improving workforce development Thursday morning at the offices of Intermediate Unit 13.
The event was a listening session for the Pennsylvania Workforce Development Board to help gather information for the state’s 2024-28 workforce development plan. The plan is required under the federal Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act or ‘WIOA.’
“If we don’t go out and listen, we are missing out on a huge piece of the puzzle,” said James Martini, the state board’s executive director.
The meeting started off with introductions by Angelica Garcia and Naudia Porter of the nonprofit Third Sector. They set the stage with a real-time survey of the assembled participants.
“You know what the individual needs, what the job seekers need,” Garcia told the crowd. “What can we do to address these issues?”
Participants identified workforce ‘trends of concern,’ including credentialing, reskilling and upskilling, anxiety and youth, business closures and living wage jobs.
Reported barriers to employment included childcare, transportation, mental health problems, English proficiency, a shortage of living wage jobs and the cost of job training.
In terms of supporting employers, respondents suggested tax breaks for workforce development initiatives and enhanced apprenticeship programs.
Audience members were then divided into small groups to discuss the WOIA plan’s key focus areas:
- Industry partnerships
- Youth and employment
- PA CareerLink
- Barrier remediation
- Worker shortages in critical industries
Here’s some of what came out:
• Barriers to employment: The group talked about creating a “well-flowing pipeline” of job-ready workers and suggested additional support for the Lancaster County Career & Technology Center. There was also talk about educating individuals and families about jobs in the trades and how they stack up against those requiring a four-year college degree.
• Apprenticeships: The state approval process is overly lengthy, the group said, and age requirements can be a challenge. They advocated more apprenticeship-related resources in high schools.
• Youth & employment: Challenges here include engaging youth in rural settings and helping teen parents. There was concern over “gig worker” jobs — they may offer attractive wages, but typically come with few or no benefits and provide limited prospects for long-term career development.
There was discussion of student loan debt, too. The administrative pauses implemented during the pandemic have run out, and many borrowers face new payment plans as of this month.
• Industry partnerships: The group talked at length about labor shortages, saying employers may not be making the mental shift from an environment of labor surplus to one where workers are harder to find.
Some notable ideas that came out of the group discussions included the need for emotional awareness coaching for some young adults, and using social media to help youth get involved in the job market.
The groups discussed how to improve communications between stakeholders, the need for single designated points of contact. They agreed there is a need for strategies to prevent ongoing discussions around workforce support from “dying on the vine.”
Additional meetings for the state plan are scheduled in Pittsburgh and Nanticoke later this week. A statewide virtual session is scheduled on Zoom from noon to 2 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 17.