May. 18, 2018

We are very fortunate to have such a tremendous asset as the York County School of Technology in our midst. The great statesman Ben Franklin once said, “He that hath a trade hath an estate.” The York County School of Technology has borrowed those words to use as its motto and done a tremendous job in upholding them as the oldest on-going career and technical school in the United States.

Yet for as successful as the school has been, it will only ever be as good as its students. To that end, our country is facing a significant skilled labor shortage. According to a survey compiled by USG Corporation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, there exists “steady optimism from contractors about revenue forecasts and their backlog of work, yet concerns about the availability, training and cost of hiring skilled workers in 2018 as part of what could be the largest shortage our country has seen in decades.”

Why the shortage? For starters, older workers are retiring in large numbers and there are fewer younger workers to replace them. Additionally, some businesses are either reluctant to pay for or are cutting back on training expenditures. Finally, there remains the insistence on a college education. To be honest, many parents view a four-year degree as their child’s single best chance for success. I’m not here to undercut the value of a college degree. What I am here to say is pursuing that degree is far from the only way to earn a good salary with excellent benefits and have opportunities for employment.

There was a time in our schools when the majority of guidance counselors drove their students predominately toward college. That mindset has changed, with the realization of where the needs in our economy are in the 21st century.

Having enough schools that teach doesn’t seem to be a problem. While we could always use more, Pennsylvania already has more than 80 career and technology centers and more that 120 school districts offering Pennsylvania Department of Education-approved career and technical education.

The problem is the student population. There are approximately 72,000 men and women working in precision machining and industrial maintenance occupations in Pennsylvania. The PA Center for Advanced Manufacturing Careers estimates that employers will need between 15,000 and 17,000 additional skilled workers during the next decade. An Associated General Contractors’ survey shows that 78 percent of firms expect to have trouble finding qualified workers. In the western part of our state, the Master Builders' Association says it will need to replace 41,000 retiring workers - about 40 percent of that area's construction workforce - in the next five years, in addition to accounting for new industry growth.

To help job creators fill in-demand jobs now and in the future, the state House recently approved a nine-bill bipartisan package to improve career and technical education opportunities and enhance science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curriculum. The package includes measures to remove barriers for qualified career and technical educators, expand awareness of training opportunities and future earning potential, and coordinate state-level career exploration and workforce development opportunities.

The package includes the following:

House Bill 21577, authored by my York County colleague, Rep. Seth Grove - Would increase awareness of how to incorporate STEM activities into career and technology education (CTE) programs, allowing students to receive credit for their participation.

House Bill 21566 - Would create the Career and Technical Education Partnership Tax Credit Program, making tax credits are available to business firms that contribute to career and technical partnership organizations.

House Bill 2203 - Would create an online one-stop-shop for students, parents, educators and school officials to provide information about the value and impact of CTE, career pathways, data and statistics on employment opportunities and compensation, and postsecondary options and statewide and regional articulation agreements.

These bills are now in the hands of various Senate committees. We are hoping they are acted upon in the near future and moved quickly to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk.

There was a time when anyone who attended technical school was stereotyped. Few people probably took the time to find out how successful those students eventually became. Now that they’re retiring, the harsh reality of trying to find a way to replace what they contributed to the workforce is hitting home. The young men and women who follow in their footsteps are pursuing a line of education that will graduate them into a field or fields of employment that are desperately in need of their skills. What better way to start a working career!

Representative Keith Gillespie
47th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Scott Little