New Study Assesses Strengths and Weaknesses of Lehigh Valley Workforce
By Colin McEvoy on July 23, 2015
A comprehensive new study assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the Lehigh Valley’s workforce, provides key strategies for how to improve upon them, and lays the foundation for a new council linking local educational institutions and economic development agencies in a way that has never been done before.
“This study provides crucial data in forming a regional strategy to address the strengths and weaknesses in the Lehigh Valley workforce,” said Don Cunningham, Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) President and CEO. “The new Education and Talent Supply Council we’re forming as a result of this study marks the first time higher education and technical school educators will work in conjunction with economic development agencies to share information to better link supply and demand.”
The study, commissioned by LVEDC and the Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board (LVWIB), finds the overall forecast for the Lehigh Valley is very good. A total of 22,150 new jobs are expected to be created over the next five years, and the report found the region’s workforce and talent development system is generally well-aligned to meet the needs of employers.
But, like any region, there is always room for improvement, and the study’s skills gap analysis identified several occupation and career areas that were either underserved or overserved by the existing current education and talent system. These findings will inform the creation of the LVEDC Education and Talent Supply Council, which will take action on some of the study’s recommended strategies.
“Our partnership is serving as a model for workforce and economic development, not just in the state of Pennsylvania, but for the entire nation,” Cunningham said. “The quality of a region’s workforce and talent supply has quickly become the leading factor in attracting and retaining companies and growing jobs. This requires that we understand both supply and demand.”
The study was conducted by Oxford Economics, a New York City-based economic consultant, and is entitled “Bridging the Workforce Gap: Lehigh Valley Workforce & Economic Development Strategy.”
Oxford Economics gathered empirical data on the skills and training gaps and strengths of the current Lehigh Valley workforce. Among the goals of the strategic plan were to examine the pipeline of training providers and workforce supply, catalog the region’s workforce support service providers, assess resource efficiency, and recommend implementation strategies and best practices.
“This is not a once-and-done effort; the workforce strategic plan was just the beginning,” said Nancy Dischinat, LVWIB executive director. “This council will ensure that economic development is working closely together with the region’s producers of talent, and that the pipeline of skilled workers in the Lehigh Valley is strong.”
The entire study can be downloaded here. Below are a few key findings:
- Many of the 22,150 new jobs expected to be added to the region over the next five years fall into key target sectors as identified by the study. These include health care and social assistance (10,100 new jobs); transportation and warehousing (3,700); finance and insurance (3,150) and professional, scientific and technical services (2,450).
- Oxford identified 55 key occupation classifications that represent the primary workforce focus within the target selectors. Out of those, only 14 are under-represented by the current education and talent system, and conversely, only 4 out of 55 appear to be generating more completions than the workforce demand requires.
- Among the key demand gaps are truck drivers, manufacturing machinists and machine operators, nursing assistants, and office administration/management. Key supply surpluses include medical assistants, welders, pharmacy technicians, and registered nurses.
- The Lehigh Valley is fairly competitive in terms of wages with neighboring markets who compete for labor. Two-thirds of Lehigh Valley residents also work in the region, with those who work elsewhere typically commuting to Central New Jersey (Hunterdon, Somerset, Middlesex and Mercer Counties) or the Philadelphia metropolitan area.
- However, some sectors in Central New Jersey and the Philadelphia area have substantially higher wages, particularly wholesale trade, information, manufacturing, scientific and technical services, and finance, insurance and professional services. As a result, competition for talent in these sectors may be tougher.
In addition to the findings, the strategic plan presents key strategies for future implementation. Some focus on general workforce development, and others on specific sectors like manufacturing, transportation, warehousing, health care, finance and insurance. Some of those strategies include:
- Develop an ongoing process for tracking workforce supply and demand
- Build a stronger collaborative environment with educators, institutions and trainers
- Establish links and articulation agreements between education programs and institutions
- Decrease high school dropout rates
- Identify and analyze transportation issues impacting workforce development
- Help educational institutions and training providers keep track of learners after program completion
The study was funded by a Pennsylvania JOBS1st grant that LVEDC and LVWIB jointly applied for and received. While LVEDC and LVWIB have always enjoyed strong collaboration and a common vision for a thriving Lehigh Valley, it is an unusual occurrence for an economic development organization and workforce entity to work together to gather substantial data about a region’s workforce gap.
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