PA House passes bill increasing penalties for child labor violations

Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives passed legislation Wednesday increasing the penalties for employers in violation of the state’s Child Labor Act. 

Sponsored by state Rep. Regina Young, D-Phila., the bill passed by a 180-23 vote. It now advances to the Pennsylvania Senate for consideration. 

“We cannot have companies thinking that violating Child Labor Act laws is just the cost of doing business here in the commonwealth,” Young said in a statement. “There are efforts in state legislatures across the country to weaken child labor laws, and this comes at a time when the U.S. Department of Labor reported a 283% increase in child labor law violations between 2015 and 2022.” 

Under the bill, penalties for first-time violations of the Child Labor Act will increase from $500 to $1,000. For repeat violations, the fine will increase from $1,500 to $3,000. 

“Here in Pennsylvania, we must make it clear: there will be penalties for exploiting the state’s children,” said Young.

PA granted nearly $3 million from federal government for workforce funding

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry received a $2.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. 

The U.S. Department of Labor announced the grant on Wednesday. The grant is part of an $11.6 million to help fund examinations of the outcomes and effectiveness of state education and workforce programs in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Connecticut, and Virginia. 

The Workforce Data Quality Initiative grants are administered by the department’s Employment and Training Administration. The grant enables each state to develop or enhance databases to analyze programs that provide workforce training and employment services. 

To gain a comprehensive view of how jobseekers obtain employment through workforce education and training programs, the grants will support each state’s collection and analysis of data.  Funds will also enable each state to identify labor market changes and design delivery services that improve employment opportunities, particularly for underserved and underrepresented populations. 

To benefit jobseekers, workers, and employers, the Workforce Data Quality Initiative grants will help states in improving the capacity of workforce development programs and improve the quality and range of workforce data.

Shapiro Administration looks to boost apprenticeships, construction trades

An additional round of grant funding to create more opportunities in Pennsylvania apprenticeships and construction trades was announced Monday by the Shapiro Administration. 

The additional $1 million round of grant funding was announced by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry (L&I). The funding is being made available to Pennsylvania registered apprenticeship programs to expand opportunities, promote diverse talent, and reach underrepresented populations withing the building and construction trades. 

Applications are due by 5 p.m. on April 26, 2023. 

L&I Acting Secretary Nancy Walker said her department is committed to serving the state’s workforce by creating more opportunities and pathways to success in apprenticeship programs. 

“Pennsylvania’s economic future depends on a well-educated and highly trained workforce,” Walker said in a statement. “These grants will open the doors of opportunity to more Pennsylvanians and grow our economy – a key priority of Governor Shapiro’s budget proposal.” 

Gov. Josh Shapiro’s budget proposes a $23.8 million investment in workforce training and apprenticeship programs and strengthening skills-building programs that lead to family-sustaining wages. As a workforce development strategy, registered apprenticeships have a track record of success in advancing workers’ careers but are behind in serving populations that are underrepresented. 

In 2022, women represented just 13% of the completed Registered Apprenticeships and 15% of new apprentices, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Women comprised just 10.9% of the construction industry in 2022. 

L&I’s Apprenticeship and Training Office (ATO) was established in 2016 and is responsible for guiding and promoting the compliance and expansion of registered apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs. The ATO supports 868 unduplicated program sponsors and 1,573 occupation-specific registered apprenticeship programs across Pennsylvania. 

Millersville and NCC among 37 nonprofits to receive U.S. Dept. of Labor grants

Millersville University and Northampton Community College are among 37 nonprofits nationwide to receive grants from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The more than $6.7 million in grants will fund education and training programs to help workers and employers recognize infectious diseases, including coronavirus health hazards, and identify preventive measures for a safe workplace, according to a Department of Labor press release. In addition to hazard control, the training will also include understanding worker rights and employer responsibilities under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.

The award includes “Workplace Safety and Health Training on Infectious Diseases, including the Coronavirus” grants funded by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The grants derive from the Susan Harwood Workplace Safety and Health Training program, named for in honor of the late Susan Harwood, former director of OSHA’s Office of Risk Assessment.

In her 17-year OSHA career, she helped develop federal standards to protect workers from bloodborne pathogens, cotton dust, benzene, formaldehyde, asbestos, and lead in construction, according to the release.

Millersville University was awarded $193,263 to offer 2 to 7 hours of COVID-19 training for 800 employees and workers in long-term care facilities. The program will target small businesses and limited English-speaking and youth workers.

Northampton Community College, Bethlehem, was awarded $151,661 to offer 3.5 to 4 hours of COVID-19 training for 700 employees and workers in the healthcare industry, including small businesses, limited English-speaking workers, low- to non-literate workers, youth, and at-risk workers.

The program funds grants to nonprofit organizations, including community and faith-based groups, employer associations, labor unions, joint labor-management associations, colleges and universities. Target trainees include small-business employers and underserved vulnerable workers in high-hazard industries. These grants are a critical element in supporting OSHA’s role in educating workers on their rights and assisting employers with providing safe workplaces.

State, federal representatives discuss job opportunities

Building job opportunities through both state and federal programs were discussed Thursday as legislators and department secretaries spoke about creating new work opportunities through grants.

Gov. Tom Wolf addressed the 2019 Pennsylvania Apprenticeship Summit at the Hershey Lodge Thursday morning, highlighting his PAsmart initiative designed to prepare more workers with on-the-job training in skilled positions. Wolf secured $70 million for PAsmart over two years, including $40 million for science and technology education and $30 million for apprenticeships and job training programs.

Apprenticeship opportunities through PAsmart are available in traditional industries ranging from HVAC and plumbing to early childhood education and information technology. In its first year of implementation in 2018, the Department of Labor & Industry awarded grants to 59 pre-apprenticeship and registered apprenticeship programs.

“Apprenticeship programs are an effective way to train and retain workers because they create a more productive, diverse, and skilled workforce, and help reduce employee turnover,” Wolf said. “Apprentices are able to provide for their families by earning a good living while learning new skills.”

On Thursday afternoon, newly appointed U.S. Department of Labor Sec. Eugene Scalia led a round table discussion at the Columbia Crossing River Trail Center in Columbia, Lancaster County, about new efforts to combat the opioid crisis in Pennsylvania and across the country. He was joined by Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Jim Carroll, along with local and state legislators that included State Sen. Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster).

At the round table, Scalia announced the availability of up to $20 million in funding as part of a new pilot grant program addressing the health and economic impacts of opioid abuse by providing worker training and retraining in communities impacted by substance abuse.

The new pilot program, “Support to Communities: Fostering Opioid Recovery through Workforce Development,” will fund approximately 8 to 10 partnership grants, with awards ranging from $500,000 to $5 million. The funding includes developing training and employment opportunities to encourage more individuals to enter professions that could address the opioid crisis and provide skill training for recovering patients to reenter the workforce.

“This funding invests in America’s workforce by addressing the devastating effects of opioid and other substance misuse,” Scalia said. “By helping individuals who have been affected by this crisis return to the workforce, we can also help businesses meet their increasing demands for skilled workers.”

Manufacturing’s changes and challenges

Manufacturing employers across Pennsylvania continue to struggle to fill manufacturing jobs – they create them faster than workers step up to fill them.

Employers are promoting jobs through advocacy programs and manufacturing non-profit groups, working with public school district officials and guidance offices, career and technical school partnerships as well as old-fashioned word of mouth and one-on-one recruiting from existing employees, family and friends – and they’re sourcing new talent in unexpected places.

“Dark and dirty was manufacturing’s past, but it’s not today’s manufacturing and it won’t be tomorrow’s,” said Shaun P. Donovan, director of regional workforce partnerships at the Harrisburg Regional Chamber & CREDC in Harrisburg.

Hiring trends continue to lean on referrals from family or friends and word-of-mouth referrals.

Industry advocates strive to change the public perception of manufacturing as a static, often dirty profession, by promoting 21st century manufacturing opportunities in high tech, clean room, computer assisted and skilled precision positions, where workers can carve out a career after high school graduation.

Employers are looking for workers who are eager to learn, flexible, and dependable on the job.

Donovan said many firms take advantage of temporary employment agencies to fill immediate vacancies then hope the temp hire becomes a permanent one.

“A lot of companies are being more talent pipeline based. They use online job boards, which have replaced newspaper ads, and they’re using temp agencies to find talent,” Donovan said.

Manufacturing niche sectors continue to grow, but with the exodus of retirement-aged workers there aren’t enough newcomers to fill the gaps, Donovan said.

“The biggest challenge is the overall shortage in the workforce,” Donovan said.

Meanwhile, the qualities employers are looking for in a new employee have shifted. “We’re in an interesting period of time right now,” he said. “We’re seeing more technical skills needed, robotics in plants, much more automation, which has changed the style of worker needed.”

Donovan said heavy manual labor is less common and jobs require more skills to handle machine repairs to technical positions. Business owners are realizing the skill set needed over the next decade will be different, as industries continue to shift and evolve.

“A lot of programs can train and move people forward,” Donovan said.

David Taylor, president of Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association in Harrisburg, says a negative image of manufacturing jobs persists overall, despite significant changes in the industry. “[Manufacturing] is an economic driver and a multiplier for job creation.”

Convincing young people early — middle school aged and younger — to consider careers in manufacturing and industry has fueled science technology, engineering and math (STEM ) and newer science technology engineering art and math (STEAM ) educational programming in many school districts.

Apprenticeship programs are a way to bring in new talent, said Patty Marrero, vice president of organization development and talent acquisition for Phoenix Contact in Middletown. Phoenix Contact became the first firm to be certified by the U.S. Department of Labor in mechatronics in 2013.

Mechatronics incorporates elements of electrical and mechanical systems engineering. Mechatronics divisions may also include robotics, computer systems, controls and telecommunications components, making these workers highly specialized and desirable employees.

Phoenix offers four-year apprenticeship programs in mechatronics, which includes funding an associate’s degree at 100 percent tuition reimbursement at Harrisburg Area Community College.

Employees who enroll in the program are trained, attend college and are paid employees during the four-year process, she said.

“Those who finish have a degree, journeyman’s papers and they become mentors” to new employees, Marrero said. To date 12 Phoenix employees have completed the four-year program and mentor others.

Employers are also realizing and recruiting those formerly passed over for jobs – those who have served prison sentences.

“These are steps we have not seen before but are happening. Employers are more open,” said John W. Lloyd, president and CEO of MANTEC, Manufacturing Consulting Services South Central PA, in York.

He said employers are also using grant opportunities through state programs such as those offered by the Department of Community and Economic Development to attract employees and provide workforce development.

According to Donovan south central Pennsylvania is home to 2,532 manufacturing businesses employing 119,240 workers. The manufacturing sector accounts for $15 billion, or about 15.7 percent of the area’s gross domestic product.

In the Lehigh Valley, about 700 manufacturing businesses employ roughly 34,000 workers, said George Lewis, director of research and analysis for Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation in Allentown.

“Manufacturing also contributes $7.4 billion to the region’s economic output, second only to finance, insurance, and real estate in contribution to [our] regional GDP,” Lewis said.

Lloyd said manufacturing business owners are realizing they must be more flexible – not just in working hours and conditions, but in listening to newcomers and welcoming new thinking.

“The workplace is changing. Companies are realizing the need to be more…open to new ideas,” Lloyd said

New apprenticeship program for STEM ‘Jobs that Pay’ in agriculture

Wolf administration officials today introduced a new apprenticeship program to prepare agriculture equipment service technicians for “jobs that pay” by developing hands-on skills in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

Pennsylvania will face more than 1,000 job openings by 2027 as current farm equipment mechanics and service technicians retire. The Agriculture Equipment Service Technician apprenticeship was developed to train more than 1,000 Pennsylvanians to repair and maintain electronics, global positioning and information systems, and other emerging technologies.

The program includes a pre-apprenticeship option for students enrolled in FFA’s agriculture education programs that offer agriculture mechanics and supervised agriculture experience programs.

High school students in these programs may request credit to be applied to the classroom and on-the-job training portion of the apprenticeship.

Apprentices will earn pay increases as they pass learning milestones outlined in the program, which requires 400 hours of classroom instruction and approximately 4,000 hours of on-the-job training. As a competency-based program, students must demonstrate their mastery of skills ranging from interpersonal communication and critical thinking to material fabrication and welding, engine and machinery systems.

Apprentices who successfully complete the program will receive U.S. Department of Labor certification as a journey person, without the time and debt of a formal college education.

Registered apprenticeships offer a diverse group of non-traditional students a framework for hands-on learning in high-demand sectors of the economy. Apprentice programs also can open up new access for women, minorities, and military veterans who might not have considered these opportunities in the past.

“The agriculture equipment service technician apprenticeship was created to fill a workforce need identified by local businesses,” said Department of Labor & Industry’s Deputy Secretary for Workforce Development Eileen Cipriani. “The apprenticeship program is the first of its kind in Pennsylvania and will be used as a pilot program for other states experiencing a shortage of well-trained agriculture, industrial and outdoor power equipment technicians.”

The Northeast Equipment Dealers’ Association will sponsor the program, which will require at least one year to complete. Five regional equipment companies – original equipment manufacturer New Holland Agriculture and equipment dealers Binkley & Hurst, Deer Country Farm & Lawn, Hoober Inc., and Messick’s Farm Equipment – have agreed to hire and provide mentors to train the apprentices. The mentors ensure that classroom training is applied on the job.

Going forward, supporters hope to expand the program to other areas of the state. In addition to establishing entry points on the career pathway, developers hope to collaborate with post- secondary institutions to create certificate and degree programs for agricultural engineering.

Learn more about the department’s work to support workforce development in the agriculture industry at agriculture.pa.gov.