Education summit calls for better communication, local collaboration

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Sen. John Blake, D-Scranton, center, listens as a point is made at a summit on how to improve the education-employer connection so industry has a job-ready workforce.

SCRANTON – Educators, industry leaders, economic development professionals and elected officials gathered here to discuss ways to ensure students are career ready and businesses have a highly skilled and trained workforce available to them.

Convened by Sen. John Blake, D-Scranton, the E2 Summit tackled the challenges facing the education-workforce connection. Blake serves on Team Pennsylvania Foundation’s Board of Directors.

Blake, a member of the Labor & Industry Committee, Community Economic & Recreational Development, said while the state has powerful economic and workforce development agencies and a well-managed education system, there is a broad communication gap between employers and educators.

“I am concerned about the consistent flow of information and data to employers so they can find the skill sets for the jobs they have,” Blake said. “With the economy we are in, my concern is whether these (education) systems are responding properly to the demands of labor.”

During his presentation to the audience of around 100 people, Blake referenced the Team PA-led Governor’s Manufacturing Advisory Council report, which noted 82 percent of manufacturers can’t find employees with the skill sets needed to fill open positions, and that 74 percent said that gap has negatively impacted their ability to expand their operations. (Read the full manufacturing report.)

“That manufacturing report showed there are a whole lot of circumstances where manufacturers can’t find employees with the skill sets they need,” Blake said. “So there is a gap, which is in communication and the allocation of resources.”

Blake said to properly address these issues, change must occur at the local level.

“We need a combination of some change in federal policies and some change in state policies,” Blake said. “But at the end of the day, it’s the collaborations that happen locally with the resources that are local to help educators – especially those in K through 12 – to help give our kids career paths to these jobs.”

U.S. Congressman Glen Thompson, R-Bellefonte, discussed federal policy, saying Congress needs to restore control of education at the state and local levels while protecting taxpayers by eliminating unnecessary programs.

“We need to let teachers teach instead of teaching to the test,” Thompson said. “And we need to empower parents – get them out of the bleachers and back in the classrooms.”

Following the presentations, attendees participated in breakout sessions to discuss and answer a number of questions “to achieve our educational and economic goals through career-focused education.”

The questions asked how everyone might work together to:

  1. Establish partnerships that enable educators to respond quickly to changes in the labor market so that graduates at every level can be prepared for the challenges of the workplace.
  2. Increase the college and career readiness of every American student through career-focused education at all grade levels (K-12 and beyond).
  3.  Increase the number of holders of postsecondary credentials, not only bachelor’s degrees and beyond, but associate degrees and occupational certificates.
  4.  Increase emphasis on STEM competencies and show how those skills cover more fields than just STEM.
  5.  Strengthen the secondary to postsecondary pipeline, specifically by enabling more high school graduates to begin postsecondary education with minimal or no delay after high school graduation and without remediation.

Blake said his staff will follow up with the information gathered during the breakout session.

“It is my belief that this is just the start to a great dialogue that will lead to action,” he said.

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