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Pennsylvania Labor Secretary Visits the Lehigh Valley, Discusses Workforce

By Colin McEvoy on June 30, 2015

Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry Secretary Kathy Manderino speaking at a business roundtable at PA Careerlink Lehigh Valley in Allentown.

Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry Secretary Kathy Manderino speaking at a business roundtable at PA Careerlink Lehigh Valley in Allentown.

The Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry visited the Lehigh Valley this week to discuss some of Gov. Tom Wolf’s economic development and workforce development priorities, and also to seek input from local business leaders to bring back to Harrisburg.

Kathy Manderino spoke to a crowd of about 100 people during a business roundtable at PA Careerlink Lehigh Valley in Allentown on June 29, at an event organized by the Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board (LVWIB) and the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Manderino, who spent 18 years in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives before joining Wolf’s cabinet, spoke about the governor’s proposed state budget, new initiatives at the labor department, and changes in how the state is looking at apprenticeship and training.

She also stressed the importance of improving the future workforce by working with educational institutions, the same approach embraced by the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) and LVWIB in a recent initiative.

“As I have been going around the state talking at business roundtables, what folks are saying to me is, ‘I don’t have the pipeline of talent that I need for my business,’” Manderino said. “That pipeline doesn’t start at workforce development. That pipeline starts at education, and the governor is very serious about connecting those two.”

Don Cunningham, LVEDC President and CEO, said that combined focus on workforce, education, and training programs is the right approach. He told Manderino about a strategic plan LVEDC and LVWIB have commissioned from Oxford Economics, which analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of the region’s workforce, and connects key strategies to the educational community on how to improve them.

“I think we have an incredibly unique partnership here in the Lehigh Valley around business, labor, workforce investment, and economic development that you’re probably not going to see anywhere else in the state,” Cunningham said. “I want to thank the state for what you’re doing and for paying attention to what the Lehigh Valley is doing, and I urge you to continue looking at us as a model.”

The workforce strategic plan will inform the creation of a new LVEDC Education and Talent Supply Council, partnering Lehigh Valley educational institutions with economic development and workforce professionals. The full plan will be unveiled in upcoming weeks.

Manderino said the Wolf administration is focused on “jobs that pay, schools that teach, and governments that work,” but that Pennsylvania’s economy and tax structure remains the same as it was during a “pre-industrialized era” for the state, resulting in a structural deficit in the budget.

“That’s what we’re grappling with in Harrisburg right now,” Manderino said. “We’ve done a lot of one-time fixes to plug a hole year after year after year. Until we restructure how we raise revenue in Pennsylvania and how we support the services that our citizens want, we’re going keep having these crises year after year after year.”

Manderino said the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry is currently integrating newly-revamped federal workforce delivery systems provided by the federal government, with a stronger focus on meeting employers’ needs and helping workers overcome barriers to the workforce.

The state is also revamping how it approaches apprenticeship and training, she said, to better help employers, employer groups, and unions get apprenticeship programs certified, get people into training, learn about opportunities, and help young people realize there are pathways to high-paying jobs that don’t necessarily require a four-year college degree.

“I think we have done our young people and families a disservice when we have everyone convinced any kid with any kind of smarts or talent has to go to college,” she said. “That is right for a lot of kids, but it’s not right for a lot of kids too.”

Manderino also defended Wolf’s proposal to raise the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour within two years. Pennsylvania has a lower minimum wage than 29 states, including all its neighboring states. Manderino said increasing it will improve the state’s poverty rate by 9 percent, and put more money back into local communities through increased consumer spending.

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