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LVEDC, WBLV Release 2022 Lehigh Valley Talent Study

By Nicole Radzievich Mertz on March 3, 2022

An employee at B Braun Medical, one of four companies that will participate in a panel discussion at the "Manufacturing Momentum in Bethlehem" event.

An employee works in the life sciences at B Braun Medical. The life sciences is among the growing industry sectors in the Lehigh Valley.

The 2022 Lehigh Valley Talent Study, a blueprint for fortifying the region’s talent pipeline, was unveiled Wednesday during a virtual forum hosted by the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) and the Workforce Board Lehigh Valley (WBLV).

The in-depth study chronicles the successes and challenges employers are facing in the Lehigh Valley and offers insights into the post-pandemic economy. It identifies industry trends, strengths of key industry sectors, opportunities to grow meaningful employment, projected hiring gaps, and strategies to address workforce issues.

An update of a 2018 analysis, the study reaffirms regional partnerships are working well in developing the talent pipeline and are essential to implementing future talent strategies recommended in the report.

“While the economy has certainly stabilized and grown, the new normal will continue to affect our economy and the skill demands of our workforce,” LVEDC President and CEO Don Cunningham told 150 people who attended the hour-long forum. “Through this [study], both the LVEDC and Workforce Board Lehigh Valley seek to gain a thorough understanding of how the region has been affected and how to prepare for an even brighter and stronger post-pandemic future.”

The assessment of the talent market is just one of the many award-winning initiatives of the LVEDC’s Education and Talent Supply Council, a regional coalition formed in 2015. The council brings together leaders from business, education, and community organizations to identify talent market gaps and opportunities.

Nancy Dischinat, Executive Director of the Workforce Board Lehigh Valley, said partnerships and employer-driven data analysis are essential to the Lehigh Valley’s success.

“The words economic and workforce development are blended together in the Lehigh Valley because our partnership defines and ensures the alignment of economic growth, education and training and continuous talent development,” she said at the forum.

The talent study, conducted by Camoin Associates in partnership with the labor market analytics group EMSI/Burning Glass, is derived from a labor market analysis, survey of local employers, interviews, and focus groups comprising company officials in key industry sectors: advanced manufacturing, life sciences, health care, high value business services, and logistics.

Those target sectors of the Lehigh Valley labor market were identified based on current employment level, growth in employment, and/or the potential for future growth.

The Lehigh Valley has historically commanded strong employment in the health care, life sciences, advanced manufacturing, and logistics sectors. Employment in high-value business services has slowly decreased in the last decade, though certain occupations including data software developers have grown significantly.

While the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted employment over the last two years, the talent study shows that Lehigh Valley is emerging from the recession in a competitive position. Employment, which was at 328,407 in 2020, is expected grow by 4% through 2025, faster than Pennsylvania’s 2% rate, according to Camoin Senior Vice President Jim Damicis. Meanwhile, the average earnings per job is $66,800 – about $4,200 less than statewide earnings, he said

“You’re a high-performing region. When you think about today’s economic situation, plus 4% of projected growth is really good,” Damicis said. “You have lower than average earnings per job statewide. It’s not dramatically lower, [but] it provides a competitive advantage in terms of wages compared to some of the other high-cost markets.”

The challenge for Lehigh Valley employers is finding the right people for the jobs they need to fill. While many educational programs exist in the Lehigh Valley, employers must grapple with the national trends of declining college enrollment, an aging work force, and the uncertainty as to whether those who left the labor force during the pandemic will return.

OPPORTUNITIES

The study lays out several opportunities for employers in those target sectors to address the projected hiring gaps and expansions:

Advanced Manufacturing

  • Promote synergies with related industry sectors, particularly the logistics sector.
  • Upskill the manufacturing workforce, many of whom now have low-entry education requirements, so they can meet the evolving needs of employers and map a pathway to better paying jobs.
  • Expose students to the possibility of manufacturing careers as a low-debt pathway to well-paying jobs.

Life Science

  • Promote synergies with related sectors, including Health Care and Manufacturing.
  • Surgical and medical instrument manufacturing, in particular, is highly concentrated in the Lehigh Valley – five times more prevalent in the Lehigh Valley than the nation.

High Value Business Services

  • Target companies that require high-wage and high-growth occupations such as software developers and software quality assurance analysts and testers. That occupation grew by 26% from 2015-2020 and is not likely to be automated.
  • The Lehigh Valley’s educational institutions can increase engagement with students for internship positions and work opportunities.
  • As the number of college graduates decline nationally, employers should consider shifting hiring requirements to encompass non-traditional education and experience.

Logistics

  • The Lehigh Valley offers cost competitive sites and labor for employers.
  • Target high-wage occupations such as general and operations managers, which grew by 244 jobs between 2015-2020. Employees could be trained and promoted from within the company and recruited from nearby colleges and universities.
  • There will continue to be a strong demand for CDL drivers. General Freight Truck industries are expected add 403 jobs from 2020 to 2025.

Health Care

  • Work directly with hospitals, where most of the health care talent demand is, to build workforce programs.
  • With the nationwide demand for nurses rising, health care providers should build a network of future nurses with students and faculty.
  • Specialty hospitals have grown by 27% in five years and are projected to continue growing with increased demand for cancer treatment, long-term care, and disease management.

RECOMMENDATIONS

The study’s recommendations include:

  • Focus on developing employability and soft skills, technical skills, STEM skills, and short-term immediate training.
  • Develop digital tools to support communication, learning, training, and collaboration. This could include life-long training, mentorship, internships, and digital dashboards.
  • Bring all ages into the work force, including older workers who want to return to meaningful work and younger workers who have differing expectations for job satisfaction and opportunities. Talent attraction campaigns can also attract workers outside the region.
  • Prepare a hybrid workforce capable of working remotely and in-person. The trend has been accelerated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Remove barriers preventing people from gainful employment: affordable housing, transportation, and childcare. This will require public and private partnerships as well as support of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.

The talent study is aligned to both LVEDC’s Education and Talent Supply Council efforts and the WBLV’s Strategic Local Plan, which is aligned to the Governor’s Strategic Plan for Pennsylvania.  Funding was secured through a request from the WBLV to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and from securing funds through the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania through the leadership of State Sen. Pat Browne.

The talent study will be available on the LVEDC’s website later this month, and the presentation will be posted on the LVEDC’s YouTube channel.

To get involved in regional talent strategies efforts or to receive a copy of the report, contact Karianne Gelinas, Vice President of Regional Partnerships and Talent Strategies, at [email protected]

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