'Prepared for the Workforce of Tomorrow': Gov. Shapiro Highlights New Investments During Allentown Visit | WDIY Local News
During a recent visit to the Lehigh Valley, state officials highlighted the need to grow and invest in the state’s labor force and prepare for the jobs of tomorrow.
Gov. Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania Labor and Industry Secretary Nancy Walker, state and local officials, and other attendees visited the Allentown Campus of the Eastern Atlantic States Carpenters Technical College on Wednesday to talk about new state investments in workforce development.
Attendees and speakers included Robert Smith, EASCTC Executive Training Director, Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk, Easton Mayor Sal Panto Jr., and State Reps. Peter Schweyer, Mike Schlossberg, Josh Siegel, and Steve Samuelson.
Walker said unemployment levels are at a record low, around 3.5% according to July job numbers. But, amid a record number of job openings, she said the focus needs to be on developing and investing in a labor force.
She said Shapiro’s expectations of the department are clear.
“He expects us to develop a workforce that meets the needs of businesses across Pennsylvania today, as well as being prepared for the jobs of the future,” she explained.
Walker said the recently-passed state budget will invest $6 million in pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programming, allowing participants to “earn-while-they-learn” and creating a talent pipeline representative of all Pennsylvanians.
"According to the U.S. Department of Labor, someone who completes an apprenticeship program on average earns $80,000 a year, that first year,” Walker said. “Over the course of their work life, they earned $300,000 more than their peers.”
She also noted that $3.5 million will fund L&I’s Schools-to-Work Program, providing employment and training pathways for high school students through partnerships between schools, employers, organizations and the Commonwealth.
“Some of these folks, a four-year college degree is not the course that is best for them. Apprenticeship training programs and our Schools-to-Work Program give them additional opportunities,” Walker said.
Shapiro spoke about the importance of unions and said that even with the rise of new technologies and industries, “we are still a people-powered economy in Pennsylvania, and union labor is at the center of that people-powered economy.”
Shapiro and another speaker - Adam Arditi, an EASCTC student and member of Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters Local Union 167 – spoke about how union laborers repaired a stretch of I-95 after it collapsed in June, bringing the roadway back into operation in just 12 days.
Shapiro thanked organized labor for their work, and said it served as an inspiration for others to join apprenticeship and training programs that lead to a stable, good-paying job. “There’s honor in that, there’s dignity in that,” he said.
Shapiro said the need for skilled union workers will increase going forward, working on projects from broadband to road and bridge construction, including in the Lehigh Valley.
“I’ve heard so many companies and contractors and unions who’ve told me they’re struggling to find enough workers to meet this demand, to meet this unique moment where we’ve got the dollars to do the work, but we’ve got to have the hands on the project lines to make this happen” he said.
“If we don’t invest in our workers today, we will fail to capitalize on this historic moment of opportunity. That is why I’m back here in Allentown today.”
The state budget will invest $23.5 million in workforce training and vo-tech programs to prepare students for careers in the building, construction, and infrastructure industries.
Shapiro also highlighted the Commonwealth Workforce Transformation Program, which is described as being the first of its kind in the country. The program will invest $400 million in federal infrastructure funding in workforce development, to train the next generation of workers.
“Let me explain more specifically what that means; we are using those dollars to train 10,000 new workers here in Pennsylvania. 10,000 new jobs, jobs like those being learned in this carpenter’s training facility,” Shapiro said.
“This is the biggest investment in workforce training in the history of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and it’s happening right now.”
The CWTP was created by executive order in July. Under it, the state will reserve at least 3% it receives from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act to fund new workforce programs.
Shapiro said under the program, his administration will work with contractors and unions working on federally-funded projects to hire new workers and provide on-the-job training.
If the organizations keep the workers they train on the job for at least six months, the state will reimburse them up to $40,000 per worker, up to a maximum of $400,000 per contract or award under the IIJA and IRA.
Shapiro also said the CWTP will invest in expenses like childcare, certificate and licensing costs, and equipment to lower barriers to entry and allow people to participate in workforce programs.
And, he said it would bolster the union workforce.
“We’re making clear that we will prioritize applications to these programs from projects subject to a Project Labor Agreement, or a community benefits agreement,” Shapiro said to audience applause.
He described how putting union members to work now lays the groundwork to train the next generation of workers, stating that, "this will allow us to lay broadband today, to repair a bridge today, to do the work necessary today, and to prepare for all the work that needs to be done tomorrow.”
In closing, Shapiro said this moment for workforce development was not one to waste.
“And that’s why we’re making these investments today,” he said, “in our high school classrooms, in training centers like this, in apprenticeship programs, and out on the job site – we are doing it all.”
“This is a pivotal moment. This is a moment for Pennsylvania to shine, and this is a moment to show the world again that we can do big things here in Pennsylvania.”
(Original air-date: 8/31/23)