Improving Lehigh Valley’s Workforce By Investing in Education
By Colin McEvoy on October 27, 2014
Site selection and business expansion is no longer just about location, location, location. It’s also labor, labor, labor.
A skilled, talented and plentiful workforce is one of the key ingredients of economic prosperity. And when it comes to improving the Lehigh Valley workforce, what better place to start than with the next generation?
To that end, a large group of more than 50 stakeholders, including the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. (LVEDC), have been holding community-wide meetings to discuss how to increase student achievement in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
STEM-related careers are among the highest-paying jobs, and the STEM Education Planning Group is seeking to motivate more Lehigh Valley students to pursue STEM careers, thus resulting in a stronger and better-educated regional talent pipeline.
“This region is growing like crazy and the development is phenomenal, so we can’t leave our kids and education behind,” said Lin Erickson, executive director and CEO of the Da Vinci Science Center, the organization facilitating these meetings. “We’ve got to make sure education is out there in front so the region can keep on growing and our kids have the greatest opportunities.”
The group’s final recommendations will be provided to LVEDC’s Workforce Advisory Council, which will be launched in the spring of 2015. There the recommendations will be evolved into an overall strategy for the region, along with a separate Workforce and Economic Development Strategic Plan. That plan, being contracted by LVEDC and the Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board, will provide a multi-year forecast of hiring needs in the Lehigh Valley’s targeted industries and identify gaps in the regional workforce.
“By integrating the local STEM component with the external strategic plan, the Workforce Advisory Council can work toward our goal of developing and improving our regional workforce, so our local businesses can draw upon high-quality talent right here in the Lehigh Valley,” said Lea B. Glembot, LVEDC vice president of economic development and marketing.
The local STEM group’s discussions includes representatives not only from the Lehigh Valley’s public school districts, community colleges and post-secondary schools like Lehigh University and Northampton Community College, but also local businesses like PPL Corp., Air Products and B Braun. Erickson said, “If you look across the business and education communities, there’s very strong interest in working together to support these young people moving forward and to encourage them to pursue family-sustaining jobs that will help them do well and the community do well.”
The goals of the STEM Education Planning Group align perfectly with the report LVEDC commissioned from Garner Economics, an Atlanta-based economic consultant. That report, which recommended several improvements for a new economic development strategy, noted that STEM fields are an important indicator of regional competitiveness and economic potential, and recommended LVEDC facilitate regional efforts to prepare the next generation of Lehigh Valley’s workforce for the skill sets demanded by tomorrow’s companies.
Among the goals developed by STEM group are creating a Lehigh Valley common career pathway program from preschool to college students; identifying and improving upon gaps in workforce training; helping teachers and school administrators deepen their backgrounds on STEM content; and advocating to elected officials to place more emphasis on the importance of STEM education.
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