Local workforce investment boards of Pennsylvania’s 5th Congressional District presented U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Howard Township, with a plaque for his “leadership and support” of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.
The bill, which was signed into law in July, prioritizes public employment and training programs to help people acquire skills to obtain jobs.
Thompson made clear in his acceptance speech Tuesday at the Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology, however, that the real work begins with collaborations between elected officials and education and and business partners to carry out the bill’s purpose.
“I want to thank all of you, a room full of collaborators here, and that’s what workforce investment needs to be,” he said.
“That’s what we’re trying to strengthen with this bill authorization.”
Thompson and 24 education and business leaders had a roundtable discussion after he was presented with the award.
“I think some really good things came out of this,” Thompson said.
“I took copious notes, and I got some good ideas that have application in the higher education act that we’re going to start working on and on the elementary and secondary education act that we’ll bring to the floor soon, but we’ll have opportunities to refine that.”
Albert Jones, First Quality Enterprise’s director of human resources, said some young professionals lack communication skills.
“On the manufacturing side of business, what I’ve seen is a gap in soft skills, namely interpersonal communication,” he said. “A lot of individuals with associate degrees come in and have skills and know the job, but they don’t know how to communicate properly, how the intricacies of a manufacturing plant work. And what we’re really trying to work on is improving interpersonal communication with their supervisors and team members.”
Businesses want to get students more involved in their businesses earlier through apprenticeships.
“There’s great ideas on apprenticeships and on looking at the Department of Labor laws,” Thompson said. “For example, one organization gave the example that they’re unable to bring student apprentices in to use machinery like riding lawn mowers. Really? We’re talking about 16- to 17-year-olds that are able to drive a 1,500-pound vehicle at 70 mph, but we don’t let them use riding lawn mowers?”
Business leaders also said they want to reach out to students more often.
“There is a career fair every year in (DuBois), and I think the paradigm has to change from standing behind the table and handing out pamphlets,” Global Fabrication Chief Financial Officer Molly Kelsey said. “Students need to not just hear from guidance counselors and teachers, they also need to hear from employers what skills we’re looking for. We can’t get into schools enough”
Employers also want to invite students into their businesses.
“When students get out of the classroom and interact with the real world, that is an exciting part of the day,” North Central Commission Executive Director Eric Bridges said. “Let these kids get out of the classroom, get them in front of employers, let them walk a plant, let them talk to employees and give them an opportunity to visualize opportunities. You can’t do that with a brochure.”
Thompson said the most valuable asset of every business is its employees, which is why he will prioritize more legislation to connect the gap between schools and businesses.
“You may have a great market, a great product and the best marketing, but if you don’t have a qualified, trained workforce you just can’t grow and expand,” Thompson said. “You just can’t do it.”