Gov. Wolf, Business and Labor Leaders Unveil Strategy to Strengthen Pennsylvania’s Workforce

January 27, 2020

Governor Tom Wolf was joined by leaders of business, labor and economic development, and several cabinet members today to release the first report from the governor’s Keystone Economic Development and Workforce Command Center. The strategic public-private partnership, created by Gov. Wolf last February, identifies barriers to employment and provides recommendations for action by the governor, legislature, and private sector.

“Workers and businesses need to be at their best to thrive, which benefits all of us,” said Governor Wolf. “Employment is high, but too many people are in low-wage jobs and many businesses cannot find or retain skilled workers.

“I challenged the Command Center to find innovative solutions so workers can get the skills to compete for good jobs and industry has the workforce to succeed in the global economy. The Command Center has outlined a series of recommendations. I commend them for their efforts and pledge to continue working with the legislature and the private sector to put these recommendations into action.”

The Command Center identified five barriers preventing people from working and employers from hiring qualified candidates: access to affordable childcare, job training, or transportation to a workplace, burdensome occupational licensing requirements, and challenges for people re-entering the workforce from the criminal justice system.

The Command Center provided 42 recommendations to address employment barriers, including:

Recommendations for the Wolf Administration:

  • Encourage and incentivize commercial and residential development to consider access to transportation infrastructure when making decisions about business expansion or relocation.
  • Leverage additional federal workforce development funds to address transportation, child care and other barriers to employment.
  • Assist more students with applying for federal aid to make certificates, credentials and college degrees more affordable.
  • Increase the diversity of occupational licensing boards to better reflect Pennsylvania’s population.

Recommendations for the General Assembly:

  • Increase access to high-quality child care by evaluating the public and private funding model to create additional slots, reduce waiting lists and extend hours to help workers get reliable care for their children.
  • Expand opportunities to work by amending the state Criminal History Record Information Act so licensing boards only withhold licenses for convictions substantially related to the occupation.
  • Encourage workers to enroll in state-recognized job training programs by extending Unemployment Compensation beyond the 26-week maximum, which many programs exceed.

Recommendations of the private sector:

  • Increase cost-sharing programs for employers and employees to expand access to transportation, child care, job training and more.
  • Expand PA CareerLink’s® access at correctional facilities to prepare reentrants for employment and encourage employers to participate. The Lehigh Workforce Development Board opened a CareerLink® in a county prison.
  • Consider child care needs of employees by providing information to employees about local child care centers and consider partnership with other employers to offer on-site child care centers.

$14 Million New Investment
Governor Wolf’s budget will invest $14 million to support the Command Center’s recommendations, building on the $124 million investment to fully fund PAsmart, career and technical centers, industry partnerships and apprenticeships which provide the job skills training that prepare Pennsylvanians for in-demand jobs.

The governor’s budget proposes a $12 million competitive grant program through the Department of Community and Economic Development to address employment barriers. Evidence-based best practices that are scalable and can be replicated regionally or statewide will be prioritized for funding. Eligible applicants will include, but are not be limited to, business, education and workforce partners, community-based and non-profit organizations, institutions of higher education, child care providers, and transit organizations. The governor’s budget will also provide a $2 million increase for WEDnetPA, which helps businesses with training to upskill existing employees.

The Wolf Administration will also commission a study to evaluate the state’s workforce development programs and structure, including providing comparative analysis to other states and recommending best practices. The study will inform future Command Center recommendations to align programs and services across the public and private sectors.

The Command Center’s recommendations will further the governor’s goal of creating the strongest workforce in the nation. The governor’s PAsmart initiative is providing $40 million over two years to expand STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and computer science education in schools, $20 million to expand hands-on job training through apprenticeships and industry partnerships and $10 million to support the state’s network of career and technical education centers. The governor also created the Apprenticeship and Training Office to increase apprenticeship opportunities, expanded the Teacher in the Workplace program to bring more skills and industry trends into classrooms, and launched Manufacturing PA to grow job training to career pathways in the industry.

Command Center
The governor created the Command Center last February by executive order and appointed a six-member leadership team consisting of Gene Barr, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry; Rick Bloomingdale, president of the AFL-CIO; Tony Bartolomeo, co-chair of Team Pennsylvania; Secretary Kathy Boockvar, Department of State; Secretary Dennis Davin, Department of Community and Economic Development; and Secretary Jerry Oleksiak, Department of Labor & Industry. Other members of the Command Center include the Office of the Auditor General; the State Workforce Development Board; and the departments of Education, Human Services, Agriculture, Corrections, and Transportation. The Command Center traveled across the state to learn about the challenges and successes of local workers and employers in different regions and gather input from various stakeholders.

“Pennsylvania’s workforce continues to be a major concern for the business community – in fact, for the second year in a row, employers ranked it as their top of mind issue in the PA Chamber’s Annual Economic Survey,” said Gene Barr, president and CEO, Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. “It’s a problem that stretches across all industry sectors in every region of the state. We’re pleased to continue our work with the Governor’s Keystone Economic Development and Workforce Command Center and legislative leadership to raise awareness of the concerns and needs of the business community in the state’s evolving jobs market and identify innovative solutions to addressing the jobs skills gap and removing barriers to work.”

The Command Center report also highlights several best practices for employers that will reduce barriers for their workers. For example, Rabbit Transit in York and the South Central Transportation Authority in Lancaster provide new bus routes to transport people to work at locations beyond the service area. Additionally, Rabbit Transit provides several routes to employers that are funded by the businesses so employees can get to work. Other employers are exploring ride sharing opportunities.

“I commend Governor Wolf and all the co-chairs of the Workforce Command Center, the agencies, all those who presented and provided the foundation for this report,” said Rick Bloomingdale, president, Pennsylvania AFL-CIO. “It was a great education for me and Secretary-Treasurer Frank Snyder. The collaboration of business, unions and government will provide the foundation for creating the best workforce in the nation.”

The Command Center’s recommendations are supported by a new report commissioned by Team Pennsylvania that evaluated the state’s economic competitiveness compared to other states, such as the state’s economy, median income, employment rates, higher education funding, apprenticeships, and quality of life.

“Tackling Pennsylvania’s biggest challenges by bringing the private and public sectors to work together is the founding principle of our organization,” said Ryan Unger, president and CEO, Team Pennsylvania. “With public and private sector economic and workforce leaders around the table, along with the Governor’s leadership, we have been able to elevate workforce as a priority for Pennsylvania. With a singular focus on economic vitality, and with our partners around the commonwealth, we can leverage Pennsylvania’s assets to further improve what we proudly believe to be the country’s best workforce.”

Command Center Data Dashboard
Governor Wolf also announced the launch of the Command Center’s data dashboard. This innovative new tool will help track the state’s economic activities and workforce needs to help policymakers and the private sector make decisions.

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