LVEDC Education and Talent Supply Council Holds Inaugural Meeting
By Colin McEvoy on November 20, 2015
Today marked the beginning of an unprecedented partnership between Lehigh Valley educational institutions, major employers, and economic development and workforce agencies.
The Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) Education and Talent Supply Council held its inaugural meeting today, with the mission of developing current workforce supply and demand data, and creating and executing regional strategies that help maintain a workforce and talent supply.
More than two dozen council members attended the meeting, which was held at Pennsylvania CareerLink Lehigh Valley. They included representatives from such educational institutions as Lehigh University, Lehigh Career & Technical Institute, and Moravian College, as well as such employers as Ocean Spray, Mack Trucks, and Olympus Corp.
“It’s very clear looking at economic development and growth issues across the country that the regions who figure this out and have that strong talent pipeline will be the winners going forward,” said Don Cunningham, LVEDC President and CEO. “Companies will go to where the people are, and if we can’t supply people with the right skills, they’ll go somewhere where they can. So we look at this as a critical issue for economic development in the Lehigh Valley.”
The new council, which will meet quarterly, stems from a recommendation in “Bridging the Workforce Gap,” a workforce study commissioned by LVEDC and the Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board (LVWIB). The New York-based Oxford Economics conducted a detailed analysis of workforce supply and demand, training completions, and skills gaps.
Overall, the study found the region’s workforce and talent development system is well-aligned to meet the needs of employers, and projected that 22,150 new jobs will be created in the Lehigh Valley over the next five years. But, like any region, there is always room for improvement.
The gap analysis identified several occupation and career areas that were either underserved by the existing current education and talent system, or, in some cases, where there was a supply surplus. Specific occupations that warrant an increase in post-secondary education and training are centered primarily in manufacturing, transportation, and finance, the study found.
After a lively and robust discussion, the LVEDC Education and Talent Supply Council identified several areas of focus to prioritize, establishing internships, standardizing terminology in job descriptions to ensure more candidates are found, cleansing and verifying workforce data, and creating more intensive employer engagement.
Nanette Cooley, Lafayette College director of career services, said it is key that students are informed about career pathways early in their undergraduate experiences, which can translate to opportunities for internships, externships, summer programs, and job shadowing.
“I think if you can connect with them early and educate them on the scope and breadth of the opportunities available, that’s going to go a long way,” Cooley said.
Jack Silva, assistant superintendent for education and chief academic officer at the Bethlehem Area School District, noted that public school systems, especially high schools, are increasingly gravitating toward career pathways, which fits perfectly with the idea of organizing workforce data and strengthening talent pipelines.
“Our program of studies now is no longer, ‘Here, take 27 credits and you’re good to go, here’s your diploma,’” Silva said. “Now we have things like freshman and sophomore seminars about what the careers are and what 21st Century skills are needed, and we’ve created space in junior and senior year schedules for things like internships and job shadowing.”
Laura Fell, sales staffing and university relations manager with Victaulic, noted that having “real-time” data is very important. Companies have already started mapping out its plans for 2016, she said, so data must be focused on workforce needs further down the road.
The Oxford Economics study offered specific recommendations in five target areas: manufacturing; transportation, warehousing, and logistics; healthcare and social assistance; finance and insurance; and professional, scientific, and technical services.
Richard Thompson, CEO of FreshPet, said it’s important to educate young people about the manufacturing industry in particular and correct the false stigma that they are “dirty or nasty” jobs, rather than high-tech jobs like processing engineers and IT positions.
“I think young people have a false impression that these are jobs like the ones back in the days of Bethlehem Steel,” he said. “We need to let them know that the jobs you can get at places like Ocean Spray and Victaulic are job that you can have for a lifetime, raise your family on, and retire on.”
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