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Assessing, And Thus Assuring, the Strength of Lehigh Valley’s Workforce

By Don Cunningham on April 21, 2015

This column, written by LVEDC President and CEO Don Cunningham, originally appeared in Lehigh Valley Business on April 20, 2015.

Don Cunningham

Don Cunningham

There are certain things we don’t need textbooks to learn. The principle of supply and demand is one of them.

An eight year old learns it the hard way the first time he trades baseball cards. I can remember needing to give up five cards to get a single Reggie Jackson. The pesky principle was also at work when it came time to pick teams for a neighborhood baseball game. We always seemed to end up with too many right fielders and no good third baseman.

Since this is opening week of major league baseball, I’ll stick with a baseball metaphor. The Phillies clearly have a supply and demand problem. Well, really a supply problem. The demand for skilled players is there, just not the supply.

As Ruben Amaro, Jr., the Phillies general manager, knows if you can’t balance talent supply and demand you lose and your business fails.

The same is true for every business. Managers need to match talent to demand and in real time, not with the luxury of the long lead-time of a major league team. If orders ramp up and more people are needed, talent is needed fast to keep up. If supply doesn’t meet demand you lose. The explosion of technology in the workplace has increased not lessened the demand for workers with talent and specific skills.

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 understanding both supply and demand.

Toward that end, the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. in conjunction with the Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board has embarked on a region-wide study of our supply of trained workers and our workforce demand. The groups jointly applied for and won a Pennsylvania JobsFirst grant last year and have engaged Oxford Economics of New York City, an economic consultant that grew out of Oxford University in England. Oxford in conjunction with Economic Modeling Specialists, EMSI, has been gathering empirical data on the skills and training gaps and strengths of the current Lehigh Valley workforce.

A critical piece of the study is to look at the education supply in the Lehigh Valley with the focus on vocational technical high schools, community colleges, four-year colleges and for-profit training schools, such as Lincoln Technical Institute and McCann School of Business.

These are our minor leagues, our training grounds. We need to make sure we have the right balance of right fielders and third basemen and a ready supply for when the orders come in. That requires a regular dialogue and transfer of data and information between our employers and our schools to try and nudge along curriculum development and training and certificate programs to meet the ever-changing job needs of our employers.

For the first time, LVEDC is starting an Education and Talent Supply Council comprised of representatives of Lehigh Valley educational institutions to engage education in economic development. Data from the study is expected by June. It will present a snapshot of where we stand today and identify some immediate strengths and gaps. More importantly, however, it will launch a process that better informs the process of supply and demand taking place every day in our schools and workforce.

And, it may just help us to find an All-Star third basemen to carry us all the way to a championship.

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