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Program Connects Lehigh Valley Manufacturers and Educators on Workforce Issues

By Colin McEvoy on July 1, 2016

Participiants in the LVWDB Educator Externship Program visit B. Braun, one of several Lehigh Valley companies who participated in the program.

Participiants in the LVWDB Educator Externship Program visit B. Braun, one of several Lehigh Valley companies who participated in the program.

The availability of trained workers is the single biggest factor driving company locations, even higher than total operating costs, and one of several Lehigh Valley programs designed to ensure the region has those highly-skilled workers just concluded this week.

The Educator Externship Program, a state-funded program provided by the Lehigh Valley Workforce Development Board (LVWDB) paired local educators with more than a dozen manufacturing companies to help develop a greater understanding of workforce needs in the Lehigh Valley.

The two-week program allowed companies to directly communicate with teachers and counselors about manufacturing jobs available in the Lehigh Valley and what skills their current and future workers require, thus allowing the schools to better tailor their curriculum to accommodate that workforce.

“We want to ensure that what we’re teaching in our schools is relevant to where kids are going to be working once they get out of school, what career decisions they make, and what kind of jobs are available,” Nancy Dischinat, LVWIB executive director. “We’re taking a close look at how the public/private sector can help retool the education system and make sure the teachers know what’s relevant about today’s workforce.”

Participating companies included Crayola, B. Braun, Victaulic, Lutron Electronics, Bimbo Bakeries, ATAS Manufacturing, and others, Dischinat said. Schools included the Lehigh Career & Technical Institute and the school districts of Allentown, Bethlehem, East Penn, Nazareth, Northampton, Northern Lehigh, ParklandWhitehall-Coplay, Wilson, and others.

The program is well aligned with the mission and principles of the LVEDC Education and Talent Supply Council, a partnership between the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC), LVWDB, and representatives from Lehigh Valley employers, colleges, school districts, and technology schools.

That council is part of a regional effort to ensure greater alignment of the education talent supply and employer workforce needs in the Lehigh Valley, with a focus on developing current workforce supply and demand data, and creating and executing regional strategies that help maintain a workforce and talent supply.

“The regions that best solve the talent supply equations are the ones that will score the big wins in economic development competition,” said Don Cunningham, President and CEO of LVEDC. “The Educator Externship Program is an excellent step in that direction, and it’s something we hope to build upon as part of the Education and Talent Supply Initiative.”

Teachers and counselors visited the companies as part of the program to get an up-close look at their manufacturing processes and develop a stronger understanding of the the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills required for those jobs, Dischinat said.

For example, B. Braun, which currently has about 60 job openings, invited educators to tour their plant on Marcon Boulevard in Hanover Township, Lehigh County, with the hopes of dispelling false perceptions that manufacturing jobs are low-skilled and “dirty.”

“We’re trying to show people that working in factories is good work, not bad work,” said Rex Boland, Vice President and General Manager of B. Braun’s plant. “Getting these teachers and guidance counselors in to see what we’re doing is really an important thing for us to help change the image of manufacturing in the Lehigh Valley.”

The program was also helpful for teachers and counselors because it gave them concrete examples for how the lessons they are teaching in school will ultimately help the students when they enter the workforce.

“The insight (LVWDB) provided for me as an educator was tremendous,” said Eric Budge, a Wilson Area High School social studies teacher who visited Cetronia Ambulance Corps through the program. “I’m excited to apply many of the skills that Cetronia values to my classes in the upcoming school year.”

The Educator Externship Program was funded by a portion of a $100,000 grant LVWDB received from the Business-Education Partnership Program, an initiative of Gov. Tom Wolf and the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, Dischinat said.

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