NE Pennsylvanians Seeking Solutions to Workforce Growth

Member Group : Center Square

(The Center Square) – In a joint Senate hearing on workforce development in northeast Pennsylvania, witnesses emphasized the importance of apprenticeships and the trades, and population struggles to fill jobs.

The Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee and Senate Labor & Industry Committee met in Luzerne County where concerns went beyond narrow economic concerns.

In a familiar pattern, issues with finding affordable housing and affordable child care flared up as well.

an Kuba, director of the Bureau of Workforce Development in the Department of Labor & Industry, noted how federal dollars boost workforce funding.

Those funds help grow apprenticeships in the commonwealth, Kuba noted, pointing to a $2.75 million grant to build and modernize apprenticeship programs. He also warned of “another crisis” in Pennsylvania’s health care industry, a lack of nurses to fill the need, as well as certified nursing assistants.

“We just do not have enough people working in that industry,” Kuba said.

To meet the “extreme demand,” he noted the creation of a nursing pathway apprenticeship industry partnership to bring more young workers into health care.

Difficulties in reaching young people have been a lasting issue for non-college careers.

“The reality is, we have to get into our schools,” Kuba said. “We have to look at our career pathways. We have to start younger.”

Rather than waiting until students are high school seniors, approaching students earlier, such as in fifth grade, could produce better results, Kuba noted.

Legislators were supportive of introducing students to the trades.

“I’ve been desperately trying to teach parents, especially, that their kids could have a phenomenal life, a great career doing something they absolutely love, and it’s a benefit to our community and our society – and that is in any of the building trades,” said Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Washington, and chairwoman of the Labor & Industry Committee.

“There’s no better value for trade education than a union apprenticeship program,” said Sen. John Yudichak, I-Nanticoke, chairman of the Community, Economic & Recreational Development Committee.

“Post-pandemic, many child-care providers actually were businesses that were shut down due to the pandemic and have had difficulties both in staffing and getting back up and started,” said Mary Malone, president of the Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce. “Most of those workers can’t get to those (work) locations unless they have affordable, sustainable child care.”

Without child care, some workers won’t be able to return to work, or return full-time.

“Right here in northeastern Pennsylvania, we’ve known for a long time that we’ve had an aging housing issue and market. The boom has been great, and there’s been turnover, but what we see coming down the pipe, we are not set in an infrastructure piece in our communities to handle the folks that will be coming from outside of northeastern Pennsylvania or our area directly,” Malone said. “Housing is also an issue.”

While northeastern Pennsylvania has grown in population and economic importance, its growth could stall if high costs or education issues keep workers away.

Staff Reporter

Anthony Hennen is a reporter for The Center Square. Previously, he worked for Philadelphia Weekly and the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. He is managing editor of Expatalachians, a journalism project focused on the Appalachian region.