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Ten-county effort underway to improve workforce development

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Let's not reinvent the wheel. Instead, kick the dirt off the tires, put them on the car and get it humming down the road.

This is the mentality being taken in the creation of a regional workforce collaboration — Central PA Works! — that blends county government with regional employers, educators and established organizations, such as the workforce investment boards.

The goal: To ensure the midstate has enough trained workers to meet the needs of existing and prospective employers. And, for those who have jobs, to provide them with training to advance in a career and further drive the local economy.

"We have tried to make sure Dauphin County and Central Pennsylvania are ready for the economic recovery, whenever that happens," said Dauphin County Commissioner Jeff Haste.

Starting out

Regional unemployment has trended ahead of state and national averages. In July, it was 6.23 percent across the proposed 10-county collaboration that includes Adams, Berks, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Juniata, Lancaster, Lebanon, Perry and York counties.

The state was at 7.8 percent.

"High unemployment is a triage moment, and we're not talking about this," said Jessica Mosier, vice president of workforce development for the United Way of Pennsylvania, which staffs the Pennsylvania Fund for Workforce Solutions.

Part of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, the PFWS is helping to organize collaborations across the state. Efforts already are underway in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

"We're not bad. We're not great," Mosier said of employment in Central Pennsylvania. "Here is an opportunity to do something different and make it great."

Last month, officials from the 10-county region, along with business leaders and workforce training specialists, held an initial forum in Harrisburg to discuss the model and assess some of the challenges.

Funding for workforce training is an obvious one. One of the leading worker training programs in Pennsylvania during the last decade has been Industry Partnerships. In recent state budget cycles, program funding has steadily declined (see "Industry partnerships," this page).

On a broader scale, if someone can get a job, it might not pay enough to solve other needs. Those include child care costs and access to transportation.

"There is still going to be a gap once that individual starts a job and gets that first paycheck," said Chris Rockey, vice president of community development banking at PNC Bank, one of the forum sponsors.

Cultural barriers, including language skills, and access to trade schools or other specialized training after high school are other challenges.

Even marketing to today's youth what a career in manufacturing is like, for example, is a hurdle, Mosier said.

Transportation becomes an even bigger issue in the midstate when it comes to shift work.

"We have urban cores, but they are smaller compared to other (metropolitan areas). Harrisburg, York and Lancaster are all spread out and not synced up on (public) transportation," Rockey said.

Why 10 counties?

A 10-county collaborative in Central Pennsylvania stands to have a greater impact, Haste said.

"It's where people live and where the jobs are," he said.

The goal is to get everyone talking — namely, employers — about what skills are needed to make upward growth possible and which are lacking. Schools, placement agencies, the workforce investment boards and other organizations need to be on the same page, he said.

"We can't solve it, but we can be a facilitator," Haste said of the public sector. "We need the warehouse folks and others to come in and say, 'Here is the skill level.' We need to make sure we're doing what employers want, not what we think."

Marketing a strong 10-county region will help attract large corporations and entice others to expand in Central Pennsylvania, Rockey said.

"The goal of workforce development is not to create jobs, but to sustain families," he said.

Increased economic growth not only benefits financial institutions, it reduces demand on entitlement programs, he added.

Next steps

The initial meeting attracted about 80 people — many willing to commit to the long-term effort, Mosier said.

The next steps will include analyzing findings from a survey meant to rank the top issues the collaborative should address.

The group also needs to identify available resources and reach a consensus on which agency will run point.

"The idea here is to engage philanthropy, foundations to help fund some of those (existing) programs," said Scott Sheely, executive director at the Lancaster County Workforce Investment Board. "This money is to fill the gaps we can't."

The PFWS will be receiving $150,000 in seed money from Dauphin County through a gaming grant. It has applied to the national fund for help, Mosier said. Other public and private resources also will be needed to bolster efforts.

"Success is systems change," she said. "Whether it's a large company or industry, it's about changing the way they do their hiring practices or how they move people up career ladders."

Additional meetings are expected this winter. The collaborative could then meet monthly.

Industry partnerships

The state's Industry Partnerships program operates with funding from the state and businesses to provide workforce training in key industries and occupations.

The state Department of Labor and Industry began funding the partnerships in 2005.

The training program became permanent in 2011, though state funding has dwindled, according to the Office of the Budget.

$1.8 million: The Industry Partnerships line item in the 2013-14 budget. The last time that line item was more than $2 million was 2008-09 when it was $4.6 million. It was $5 million before that.

$6 million: A line item under L&I in 2010-11 for the related training activities program. It was cut from the 2011-12 budget. Training activities was $7.2 million in 2009-10, $15.8 million in 2008-09 and more than $17 million between 2005-06 and 2007-08.

$2.5 million: In the 2012-13 budget, Keystone Works emerged as a new job training program to match newly unemployed workers to high-priority occupations. That program was reduced to $1 million in the current budget.

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Jason Scott

Jason Scott

Jason Scott covers state government, real estate and construction, media and marketing, and Dauphin County. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at Follow him on Twitter, @JScottJournal. Circle Jason Scott on .

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