The lack of a skilled workforce is so challenging in Pennsylvania that the President of Schuylkill County-based Ashland Technologies is taking his talent search far beyond the commonwealth’s borders.
“We basically have three challenges to growth right now: number one, which is skilled labor; number two, which is skilled labor; and number three, which is skilled labor,” Bill Wydra testified to the Senate Manufacturing Caucus, “to the point that I will be traveling in June to Poland on a recruiting trip to bring labor to Pennsylvania to help us field a shortage we have right now – and this is not even our busy season.”
Wydra’s pronouncement came as somewhat of a shock to some members of the newly formed caucus, which held its initial meeting today at the Main Capitol. The caucus was formed to provide research and policy development related to manufacturing and to support efforts to enact legislation beneficial to the industry.
The challenge of finding qualified workers was a theme resounded repeatedly by the five representatives from industry – and Team Pennsylvania Foundation – during the hour-long hearing.
Team PA President and CEO Matt Zieger presented an overview of how the Governor’s Manufacturing Advisory Council arrived at its recommendations, noting that talent and workforce was one of the primary focal points of the group’s work.
“Far and away, workforce development was the number one concern,” Zieger said of the council’s recommendations. “It was something that every single manufacturer, regardless of industry, said was not only a challenge, but is the one thing holding back their growth. That was a huge red flag to us.”
Roger Kipp, Vice President Engineering & Marketing (retired) McClarin Plastics, Hanover, encouraged the creation of incentives for manufacturers to help offset the cost of educational outreach. McClarin Plastics was one of the 24 industries represented on the council.
“I believe it is time for the private and public sectors to come together and focus on applied technology at all levels of education,” Kipp said. “Innovation involves defined, discovered, developed and delivered. Defined and discovered are research-based while developed and delivered are the applied technologies. There must be a balance between research and development.”
Kipp added mentoring and internship programs while students are still in high school and retraining initiatives for workers as new technologies are introduced are vital to the success of the manufacturing industry.
Wydra said he believes the way the education system views trade programs is outdated and should be overhauled.
“I believe, firmly, that the trade program system is radically broken and only a massive change will correct that,” Wydra said. “I don’t think incremental steps will bring about massive and meaningful change.”
Chris Weiler, President, Monroe County-based Weiler Corporation, highlighted a different challenge: the premiums connected with Workers Compensation and Unemployment Insurance.
Weiler said escalating premiums hinder his company from being sustainable and provide family-sustaining wages for Pennsylvanians as the rising cost for those programs tap resources that could be used to hire additional workers.
Taking part in the meeting were manufacturers from throughout the commonwealth, directors of the Pennsylvania Industrial Resource Centers (IRCs) and representatives of various workforce training programs.