President Reed joins workforce education panel at STEAM Academy

Published 12.06.2022

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Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry Secretary Jennifer Berrier on Tuesday toured Indiana County's River Valley STEAM Academy, a workforce development education model that partners with Pennsylvania College of Technology, among others, to prepare students for in-demand careers, including cybersecurity, electrical occupations, and sports medicine and rehabilitative therapy.

"With unemployment at historic lows in Pennsylvania, the tight labor market means that workers have options – which is a wonderful thing. It also means that some employers are struggling to find skilled workers for some of the most in-demand jobs. That's why investment in Pennsylvania's workforce is so important to our collective future," Berrier said. "I applaud the River Valley School District for giving students the opportunity to explore careers and build job skills that are immediately relevant to the workforce needs of today and tomorrow. Pennsylvania as a whole will benefit from the innovative education offered at River Valley's STEAM Academy."

Penn College President Michael J. Reed makes a point during Tuesday's panel discussion. (Photo by Erin James, communications director, Department of Labor & Industry)In addition to touring the facility, the secretary participated in a panel discussion about workforce development education with Philip Martell, River Valley School District superintendent; Penn College President Michael J. Reed; Waleed Farag, director of the IUP Institute for Cybersecurity; Shawn Steffee, executive board trustee of Boilermakers 154 (and a 1987 welding graduate of Penn College predecessor Williamsport Area Community College); Mark Hilliard, president of the Indiana County Chamber of Commerce; and Beth Carr, of Beable World of Work.

State Senate Majority Leader Joseph A. Pittman, R-Indiana, and state Rep. James B. Struzzi II, R-Indiana, also participated in the discussion.

"Today’s event provided an ideal forum for industry leaders, legislators, community advocates, and K-12 and higher ed partners to collaborate on how to maximize resources for the betterment of all," said Reed, who was the keynote speaker at the campus' ribbon-cutting earlier this fall. Then, as now, he highlighted the similar missions of the STEAM Academy and its Penn College ally and their unified commitment to students and industry.

Steffee, who returned to his WACC alma mater last January, talks with Reed.The academy is partnered with CompTIA Apprenticeships for Tech in a program that will launch next summer and would be the first in the United States at the secondary level.

A growing workforce development model in Pennsylvania and nationwide, apprenticeship offers workers paid employment while they learn job skills. Apprentices earn competitive wages, a paycheck from the first day of employment, and incremental raises as their skill levels increase.

Established in 2016 under the Wolf Administration, L&I's Apprenticeship and Training Office is responsible for guiding and promoting the expansion and compliance of all registered apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs across the commonwealth (including those pioneered by Penn College's Workforce Development).

"Providing workforce development courses at the high school level gives students early exposure to career opportunities and an education that's relevant to them," Martell said. "Next year, the STEAM Academy will launch four new programs:  agriculture, welding, teacher preparation and powerline. Bridging the need between industry and education gives students real-world skills and sets them up for future success."

Among those on hand at Tuesday's STEAM Academy event are (from left) Hilliard; Farag; Martell; Steffee; Reed; Dan DeBone, president/CEO of the Westmoreland Chamber of Commerce; Berrier; Struzzi; Pittman; Carr; Westmoreland County Commissioner Sean Kertes; and Janet Ward, executive director of the Westmoreland-Fayette Workforce Investment Board.The STEAM Academy currently offers a multi-tiered cybersecurity course offering industry certifications; an esports course and lab affiliated with the North America Scholastic Esports Federation; an electrical occupations program; and a sports medicine and rehabilitative therapy program that trains students to be athletic trainers, physical therapists, occupational therapists and more.

In addition to building an apprenticeship program at the STEAM Academy, River Valley School District has partnered with postsecondary institutions – including Penn College – to offer College in High School courses that offer students the opportunity to earn college credit in high school at no cost to the student.

"The STEAM Academy highlights innovation and collaboration in action," said Eric Hagarty, acting secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Education. "This learning space showcases what we can accomplish when we partner to provide opportunities for our students throughout the commonwealth. The experiences River Valley students receive through this hands-on program will benefit them for a lifetime."