Region's workforce challenges discussed at on-campus hearing
Photos by Cindy Davis Meixel, writer/photo editor
The state Senate Majority Policy Committee held a hearing Wednesday afternoon at Pennsylvania College of Technology, exploring workforce challenges in the commonwealth's predominantly rural counties.
Chaired by Sen. Dan Laughlin, of Erie, the hearing addressed population decline and labor and housing shortages, as well as their economic impact on communities and businesses.
Among those testifying in the Thompson Professional Development Center were Penn College President Michael J. Reed; Shannon M. Munro, the college's vice president for workforce development; and George "Herman" Logue Jr., business development at Glenn O. Hawbaker Inc. and a member of the Penn College Foundation Board of Directors.
Reed centered his remarks on the college's well-aligned academic programming that creates immediate pathways for graduates to fill open positions, to start their own businesses and to hit the ground running with companies that need their skills.
"That symbiotic relationship with business and industry has not developed by accident. It's foundational to our academic mission and model," the president said. "Industry input informs nearly all of what we do in our programs. It's crucial to our curriculum, our hands-on labs, the state-of-the-art equipment on which students learn, and the skills and problem-solving techniques they hone while with us."
Corporate partners serve on advisory committees for all of the college's academic programs, providing insight and advice on everything from curriculum development to equipment acquisition to lab design. They also hire current students for prime internship opportunities and often bring them on as full-time employees upon graduation.
Reed additionally mentioned the subsidiary benefits of student organizations, such as the college's high-achieving Baja SAE Club; the Dr. Welch Workshop, a campus makerspace; and Global Experience courses that allow tomorrow makers to put their locally attained skills into practice internationally.
(The entire hearing can be viewed on the committee's website.)
Other examples of how Penn College responds nimbly to industry needs were cited during Munro's testimony.
"We have a proven track record of addressing the workforce challenges confronting Pennsylvania's companies," she said. "Our skilled, job-ready graduates immediately begin contributing when they are hired, while our workforce development efforts help companies solve their skills-gap issues through apprenticeships and other customized training programs."
"Apprenticeships" echoed throughout the hearing, effectively encapsulating one of Workforce Development's main emphases. In one prong of its multi-faceted approach to training incumbent workers, Penn College sponsors seven apprenticeship programs that are registered with the state Department of Labor & Industry.
"We are the only entity in Pennsylvania awarded a U.S. Department of Labor Scaling Apprenticeship grant, known as MIDAS, which is expected to support training for more than 3,200 apprentices over five years in advanced manufacturing occupations like CNC, mechatronics, industrial manufacturing technician, robotics and automation maintenance technician, and plastics process technician," Munro said. "Our blend of delivering technical instruction with the companies' documented hands-on training ensures a consistently trained workforce."
Munro also noted the success of the college's Clean Energy Center, a national recognized provider of training and technical assistance in the building performance field; and WEDnetPA, which has helped hundreds of companies pay to train thousands of their workers.