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Talent Council Updated on Lehigh Valley Talent Strategy Successes

By George Lewis on October 21, 2022

Advancements in initiatives that help individuals in high school and beyond explore career pathways, assess student proficiency in employability skills, and prepare students for careers in manufacturing and other industries were presented to employers and educators attending the Oct. 14 meeting of LVEDC’s Education and Talent Supply Council meeting at Northampton Community College.

Don Cunningham, President & CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, said the Lehigh Valley is doing an outstanding job in growing partnerships that develop and ensure a steady flow of prepared, career-ready talent.

“We are attracting and retaining talent, and have a growing population, most notably among the 18-to-34 age group that are critically important to existing and new employers,” Cunningham said. “And LVEDC is seeing more demand than ever from companies that want to come here to make products.”

Developing talent with employability skills through career pathways

The talent pipeline is an essential component of economic growth, and school districts are responding in new ways, said Dr. Jack Silva, Assistant Superintendent and Chief Academic Officer of Bethlehem Area School District (BASD).

“Schools aren’t what they used to be,” Silva said. The old model of public education was to earn a diploma, then prepare for careers through college, employment, or military service.

The sixth largest public school district in Pennsylvania with enrollment of about 14,000 students, BASD has its students begin exploring career pathways in ninth grade. By 12th grade, they engage in opportunities beyond school grounds, such as enrollment in college courses, internships, and school-to-work partnerships.

The district requires graduating students to prove readiness for careers or college in a variety of customizable ways, including capstone courses, professional skills certification, or internships. Additionally, BASD is piloting a program that gives students two grades for courses: one for academic work and one for proficiency in employability skills that employers value, such as dependability, communication, and ability to work collaboratively in a team setting.

“Schools need partners in business to enhance the career-readiness of students,” Silva said. “The inclination of companies to work with schools is greater than ever.”

New apprenticeship consortium

One example of an emerging program described to council members is the Industrial Training & Education Consortium of the Lehigh Valley (iTEC), a public-private initiative involving some of the Lehigh Valley’s leading manufacturers, educational institutions, and community organizations.

Patrick Witmer, Vice President of Corporate Affairs for B. Braun Medical, one of the local manufacturers leading the initiative, said this program is an example of the Lehigh Valley approaching career and skills development issues through regional partnerships.

The purpose of the program is to provide a pipeline of skilled talent to meet the needs of Lehigh Valley manufacturers and other employers, and support attraction and retention of manufacturers and good-paying manufacturing jobs.

The Lehigh Valley is a top-50 manufacturing market in the United States, with more than 700 employers producing a wide range of products and employing more than 35,000 people. In the last five years, manufacturing employment in the Lehigh Valley has grown at a rate 11 times faster than the overall rate across the United States.

“It’s great to see the level of manufacturing activity in the Lehigh Valley,” Witmer said, “but it won’t continue if we don’t maintain a strong talent pipeline for manufacturing careers. Large manufacturers need to take ownership of their workforce needs – it’s our future.”

The program is planning a “soft” launch with a limited number of students early in 2023, with full launch proposed for the start of the 2023-24 school year.

Talent attraction trends and priorities

The council also heard about trends in talent attraction from Katelyn Mack, President and CEO of LINC Lehigh Valley, a community organization and employer partner that helps welcome new hires to the region and creates connections that support employee retention.

She reported on a survey of 265 candidates who were considering moving to the Lehigh Valley for job opportunities. The survey found that foundational issues such as housing availability and cost, quality of schools, and quality of health care matter to job candidates. They also care about location, career opportunities for partners or spouses, and overall quality of life.

Mack encouraged employers to create structured programs for job candidates to visit the Lehigh Valley, use regional experts to highlight the region’s many positive attributes, focus on the whole family in the relocation process (not just the job candidate), and leverage existing assets such as the Made Possible in Lehigh Valley campaign to market the region to job candidates.

Let’s not keep the Lehigh Valley as best-kept secret,” she said.

To learn more about LVEDC’s Education and Talent Supply Council and get involved in regional talent strategies, contact Karianne Gelinas, LVEDC Vice President of Regional Partnerships & Talent Strategies.

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