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Examining our Lehigh Valley workforce numbers

By LVEDC Staff on June 18, 2013

Editor’s Note: LVEDC conducted an interview with one of our partners – the Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board – concerning the status of our workforce, recent statistics and data, and trends in job growth and retraction. Executive Director Nancy Dischinat and Assistant Director Gina Kormanik recently helped coordinate the responses to our questions.

LVEDC: What’s your take on the recent news that the Lehigh Valley jobs total is at a pre-recession level of 350,000+?

WIB: The good news is that the Lehigh Valley is at the pre-recession employment level, but the fact is we have also added 16,000 more workers to our workforce.  Data shows that in 2007 our workforce totaled 419,700 and today in 2013 we have a workforce of 435,700 with 16,000 more workers than pre-recession 2007 levels.

Q: Employment in 2007 was at 350,000 and that number remains almost the same today at 351,400. The bottom line is that while the workforce continued to rise by 16,000, jobs have remained nearly stagnant with employment increasing by only 1,400.  Therefore, the unemployment rate rose from 4.1 percent in 2007 to the current rate of 8.1 percent due to the increase of 16,000 new workers in our workforce.

A: While we are at the pre-recession jobs level, Lehigh Valley’s wages are 93% of the U.S. average, a decrease of 2.5 percent. Leading new jobs creation is the Leisure and Hospitality industry, which added 5,900 jobs since 2007.  Other industries that have gained jobs include Healthcare and Education which added 8,100 jobs and Professional Services including staffing agencies which added 1,500 jobs since 2007.  Industries that have lost jobs include Construction and Mining with 4,200 less jobs due to a weak housing market, Manufacturing by 3,100 jobs as a result of automation and high tech processes, and Government jobs by 2,800 jobs due to an emphasis on smaller government. The Retail, Wholesale Trade and Transportation industry, the largest employment generator, remained flat.

Q: How does the Valley workforce stack up – are we ready to provide the trained workers that today’s tech companies require?

A: Lehigh Valley is the third largest Metropolitan Statistical Area in Pennsylvania with a population of 651,000 and median household income of $54,173.  The population of 65 and over is 15.3% and the 25 to 34 population is 11.6%.  Our median age is 40.  Lehigh Valley families living below poverty level is at 9.3%.  The percent of the population with Bachelor’s Degrees and above is 27% and the percent with a high school diploma and above is 86.5%.

The greater Lehigh Valley region has 11 colleges and universities including two community colleges that currently enroll more than 56,000 students.  We have 17 school districts, three career and technical schools and two intermediate units.
Our four-year institutions are leaders in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) disciplines.  Our two-year community colleges provide industry-driven curriculum, training opportunities, credentials and stackable certificates to not only educate the workforce pipeline but to retool Lehigh Valley’s workforce in high-demand occupations within targeted industry clusters.

Our K-12 education system has instituted Career Pathways and Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board, Inc. has placed Workforce Coordinators in high schools in the Allentown and Bethlehem Area School Districts to imbed career exploration into academic standards.

The Lehigh Valley is prepared to provide trained, skilled and professional workers through our diverse and flexible education and training system.  Our education system listens to industry needs and implements professional and technical training for high-demand and emerging occupations. However, we need more jobs and we need more people who are interested in technical occupations to close the skills gaps in targeted industry clusters like Manufacturing and Healthcare.

Q: And what about college grads – we have a lot of them but are they taking the “right” courses to hit the ground running after graduation?

A: We have the educational and training capacity and employers are telling us they need graduates with technical skills, certificates and industry-recognized credentials and degrees.  Lehigh Valley’s workforce also needs critical thinking and problem solving skills, along with a good work ethic and good attitude.

The Lehigh Valley workforce training and education system is effective only if we know what the economic development and employer growth plan is for our region.  Lehigh Valley’s institutions are flexible enough to educate workers and retool our workforce to meet current and projected economic needs.  Lehigh Valley needs a diversified workforce with defined career pathway options and coursework.  We must partner with the private sector to inform both educators and job seekers on the right skills.

Q: What are a few things Lehigh Valley residents can do to improve their chance at a new job – with a decent wage?

A: At the very minimum, Lehigh Valley residents must have a high school diploma, a good work ethic including a good attitude and an understanding that lifelong learning is important, and that you need both academic and technical skills with credentials and stackable certificates.  People need to get involved in internships, apprenticeships, on-the-job training, work experience and volunteering with employers to launch them into employment.

Q: How does the Workforce Investment Board work to improve the workforce for Valley businesses?

A: The vision of the Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board, Inc. is that the Lehigh Valley has a world-class competitive workforce.  Our mission is to ensure a demand-driven, world-class workforce system aligned with economic development, education and the community focusing on targeted industry clusters.  The mission requires strategies that build relationships that align economic development, workforce development, K-14 educational systems, public and private training institutions, and community based organizations.  

For more information on the Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board, Inc., click on www.lvwib.org.  We welcome public comment on LVWIB’s Local Plan shown on the home page.  For information on PA CareerLink® Lehigh Valley services for businesses and job seekers, click on www.careerlinklehighvalley.org.  

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