Northwestern Press

Monday, March 18, 2019

Guest View

Wednesday, March 13, 2019 by The Press in Opinion

Workforce development takes center stage

The governor recently signed an executive order to create the Keystone Economic Development and Workforce Command Center to address the state’s skills gap and worker shortages.

Workforce development is an issue I have always been passionate about and I am pleased the governor is also prioritizing the importance of preparing our workforce for available jobs.

To help advance this new agenda, I have reintroduced my legislation to help expose middle and high school students to opportunities in high-demand fields.

House Bill 425, known as CareerBound, would create an innovative workforce development program that would permit trade groups, businesses, and institutions of higher learning to partner with middle and high schools to offer students early exposure to an array of career opportunities through career expos, job shadowing, internships, and other career-education integration initiatives.

The Department of Labor and Industry would be charged with overseeing the programs established under CareerBound.

Although I have introduced this legislation in previous sessions, I am hopeful that the new focus on workforce development, will help get this legislation passed through the General Assembly and onto the governor’s desk this year.

One thing I think we all need to realize is that a lack of jobs is not the main problem. It is a lack of individuals with the skills needed to fill the jobs that are available. This disconnect is often referred to as the “skills gap.”

We need to do better at working with our business community and education partners to make individuals aware of available career opportunities, the training needed for those careers, and the salary potential they can earn. The governor’s new command center and the CareerBound program should help with that collaboration, which are positive steps in the right direction.

Another difficulty is to change the cultural perception of jobs that don’t require a college degree. We are not talking only about plumbers, welders and carpenters anymore — although there is growing earning potential in those fields. We are also talking about careers in the medical and technology fields, as well as law enforcement, business, and finance. And both students and those already in the workforce need to be made aware of these good-paying career opportunities.

I am excited to have workforce development at the forefront of the legislative agenda this year, and with bipartisan support we will be able to achieve our goals more quickly.

We want businesses to succeed in Pennsylvania and to set up shop here because of our highly skilled workforce.

However, we also want to help current and future workers succeed and find rewarding and high-earning careers.

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Editor’s note: State Rep. Ryan Mackenzie, a Republican, represents the 134th Legislative District, which includes Alburtis, Lower Macungie Township, Macungie, Salisbury Township (Wards 4 and 5) and South Whitehall (District 3 and 4) in Lehigh County; and Hereford, Longswamp, Richmond and Rockland townships, and Topton Borough in Berks County.