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Colleges, universities seek bigger role in fixing labor shortagesSchools tout new programs at CAEDC forum

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Colleges and universities in the Harrisburg area are rolling out new initiatives to combat declining enrollment while meeting growing workforce needs.

And by partnering with organizations like the Cumberland Area Economic Development Corp., midstate schools have been ratcheting up their efforts to reach more employers with information about their new and existing programs.

Those efforts were on display Wednesday at a workforce development luncheon held by CAEDC at Messiah College. The goal of the forum, which attracted about 100 people, was to give local colleges and universities a platform to highlight new programs.

Programs in phlebotomy, cybersecurity and mechatronics engineering are among the new initiatives on campus.

Officials from six schools — Dickinson College, Shippensburg University, Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, Messiah College, Central Penn College and HACC — also used the opportunity to spread a message of unity and flexibility. School officials say they plan to do a better job working together to create new programs that can meet current and future employment needs among businesses in Central Pennsylvania.

"We need to be planning together," said Sue Mukherjee, chief strategy officer at Shippensburg University.

That planning, particularly for new degree and certificate programs, needs to include more conversations with employers, college and university officials said.

Messiah officials said discussions with companies about growing cyberattacks led to the creation of a cybersecurity program at the school. Messiah also has added a doctor of nursing practice degree to help train more family nurse practitioners.

After hearing from medical employers, Central Penn College added a phlebotomy technician certificate program.

And Shippensburg University is currently looking to expand into health care to help train nurses and health care IT professionals. Health care is a new area of focus for the university.

Laura Potthoff, director of business and workforce development at CAEDC, took the lead on Wednesday's program. She said she hopes this type of event will lead to more partnerships between schools and midstate companies in need of specialized education programs to grow and retrain their workforce.

Smaller schools like Central Penn and community colleges like HACC have traditionally been able to adapt quickly to workforce needs. HACC, for example, has added apprenticeship programs with companies in areas such as logistics, cybersecurity and emergency medical technician. The college also has an industrial manufacturing technician apprenticeship program, as well as other programs in hospitality and construction trades.

"We don't do workforce training. We make solutions so employers can solve their current problems," said Vic Rodgers, associate provost for workforce development.

Earlier this year, Harrisburg University backed a new startup called NuPaths that provides low-cost IT certifications that can be completed in about six months. For employers, NuPaths offers a steady source of entry-level workers as well as a faster way to get employees new skills as technology evolves.

Dickinson also has introduced certificate programs in areas such as health studies and security to broaden its liberal arts offerings.

As the labor market remains tight across many industries, CAEDC officials said the organization plans to facilitate additional workforce events. A health care roundtable is currently in the works, Potthoff said.

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Jason Scott

Jason Scott

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

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