New Lehigh Valley Workforce Study is the Subject of Special Business Profile Issue
By Colin McEvoy on August 3, 2015
A comprehensive new study unveiled last month assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the Lehigh Valley’s workforce is the centerpiece of a special business issue released on July 27 by Lehigh Valley Business.
The Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board (LVWIB) and Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) have always enjoyed strong collaboration and a common vision for a thriving Lehigh Valley. Now, they are taking that partnership to the next level.
Recognizing that the road to economic prosperity requires quality workforce, education and training programs, these two organizations have partnered on the formation of a Workforce and Economic Development Strategic Plan that presents a snapshot of where we stand today, and identifies the region’s strengths and gaps so we can plan for tomorrow.
This rare instance of an economic development organization and workforce entity working together to gather substantial data about a region’s workforce gap is serving as a model not just for the state of Pennsylvania, but for the entire nation.
“Developing data-driven, innovative and cost-effective workforce strategies has always been a priority for us,” said Nancy Dischinat, LVWIB executive director. “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.”
Prepared by Oxford Economics, a New York City-based economic consultant, the strategic plan found the overall forecast for the Lehigh Valley is very good. A total of 22,150 new jobs are projected 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 Oxford Economics’ skills gap analysis identified several occupation and career areas that were either underserved by the existing current education and talent system, or, in some cases, where there was a supply surplus.
Those findings will inform the creation of a new Education and Talent Supply Council, which will include representatives of Lehigh Valley educational institutions to engage education in economic development, ensuring that bridging the workforce gap is a continual and ongoing process, not a one-time effort.
“The regions that best solve the talent supply equation will be those that win the economic development competition,” said Don Cunningham, LVEDC President and CEO. “We have a great workforce but we can do even better, and help both our employers that are already here and those looking to come here find the fuel that ultimately makes their companies churn: the right people to do the job.”
WHO WE ARE
The mission of LVWIB is to ensure an employer demand-driven, world-class workforce system aligned with economic development, education and the community, focusing on targeted industry clusters. Its vision is a world-class competitive workforce for the Lehigh Valley to support economic growth.
That goes hand-in-hand with LVEDC’s vision of a Lehigh Valley with a diverse economic base that enables businesses to flourish in order to create jobs and opportunities for all residents. To that end, LVEDC’s mission is to market the economic assets of the Lehigh Valley and to serve as a regional shared services and resource center to help businesses come, grow and start here.
With those mutually inclusive goals in mind, LVEDC and LVWIB jointly applied for and won a Pennsylvania JOBS1st grant last year. With those funds in hand, Oxford Economics, which grew out of Oxford University in England, began gathering empirical data on the skills and training gaps and strengths of the current Lehigh Valley workforce.
The strategic plan had several ambitious goals: examine the pipeline of training providers and workforce supply, catalog the region’s workforce support service providers, assess resource efficiency, interview employers and, finally, recommend implementation strategies and best practices.
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).
“This study shows us that Lehigh Valley is in a unique position of opportunity,” Dischinat said. “Net new job growth is very positive within the region, which creates significant opportunities for residents to begin and advance careers.”
STRENGTHS AND GAPS
Furthermore, the study found 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 or the Philadelphia metropolitan area.
But there are some sectors in which these neighboring areas 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, Oxford found.
One of the most important elements of the study was the skills gap analysis, which will be used to determine the supply of trained workers and our workforce demand. Fortunately, Oxford Economics determined the skill sets of learners in the Lehigh Valley are largely well-aligned with the occupational demand for skills being developed.
The group 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, creating a gap between the projected demand and existing supply of talent. Conversely, only 4 out of 55 appear to be generating more completions than the 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 NEXT STEPS
With crucial findings like this in hand, the study next presented a series of strategies and implementations, some of which focused on general workforce development, and others on specific sectors like manufacturing, transportation, warehousing, health care, finance and insurance. LVEDC and LVWIB will take the lead in turning those strategies into action.
Among these strategies are to develop an ongoing process for training workforce supply and demand, using the gap analysis as an aid in developing curriculum, evaluating program effectiveness, and providing ongoing data-driver employer surveys. Another is to incorporate the LVWIB’s employability skills in all public and private education training curricula in the Lehigh Valley.
Oxford Economics also recommends LVEDC and LVWIB institute regular opportunities to share data and build a stronger collaborative environment with educators, institutions and trainers. The study also found educational institutions and training providers occasionally lose track of learners after program completion, and that resolving this issue will improve measurement of employment success.
With the strategic plan now in hand, one of the most important next steps will be the creation of the Education and Talent Supply Council, which will launch a process that better informs the process of supply and demand taking place every day in our schools and workforce.
“We want to make sure this isn’t a once-and-done effort,” Cunningham said. “This workforce strategic plan is only the beginning. This council will ensure that economic development is working hand-in-hand with the region’s producers of talent, and that the pipeline of skilled workers in the Lehigh Valley is strong.”
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