Last week, Governor Tom Wolf was joined by business leaders, labor and economic development professionals, and several cabinet members to release the first report from the Keystone Economic Development and Workforce Command Center.
The Center was created in February of 2019 as a strategic public-private partnership to identify barriers to employment and recommend changes.
“Workers and businesses need to be at their best to thrive, which benefits all of us,” said Governor Wolf. “Employment is high, but too many people are in low-wage jobs and many businesses cannot find or retain skilled workers. I challenged the Command Center to find innovative solutions so workers can get the skills to compete for good jobs and industry has the workforce to succeed in the global economy.”
The Command Center identified five barriers preventing people from working and employers from hiring qualified candidates:
- Access to affordable child care
- Lack of job training
- Difficulty finding transportation to a workplace
- Burdensome licensing requirements
- Challenges for people re-entering the workforce from the criminal justice system
The Command Center provided 42 recommendations to address employment barriers, including:
Recommendations for the Wolf Administration:
- Encourage and incentivize commercial and residential development to consider access to transportation infrastructure when making decisions about business expansion or relocation
- Leverage additional federal workforce development funds to address transportation, child care and other barriers to employment
- Assist more students with applying for federal aid to make certificates, credentials and college degrees more affordable
- Increase the diversity of occupational licensing boards to better reflect Pennsylvania’s population
Recommendations for the General Assembly:
- Increase access to high-quality child care by evaluating the public and private funding model to create additional slots, reduce waiting lists and extend hours to help workers get reliable care for their children
- Expand opportunities to work by amending the state Criminal History Record Information Act so licensing boards only withhold licenses for convictions substantially related to the occupation
- Encourage workers to enroll in state-recognized job training programs by extending Unemployment Compensation beyond the 26-week maximum, which many programs exceed
Recommendations for the private sector:
- Increase cost-sharing programs for employers and employees to expand access to transportation, child care, job training and more
- Expand PA CareerLink’s® access at correctional facilities to prepare reentrants for employment and encourage employers to participate.
- Consider child care needs of employees by providing information to employees about local child care centers and consider partnership with other employers to offer on-site child care centers
Governor Wolf’s budget will invest $14 million to support the Command Center’s recommendations, building on the $124 million investment to fully fund PAsmart, career and technical centers, industry partnerships, and apprenticeships.
The governor’s budget also proposes a $12 million competitive grant program through the Department of Community and Economic Development to address employment barriers. Evidence-based best practices that are scalable and can be replicated regionally or statewide will be prioritized for funding. Eligible applicants will include, but are not be limited to: business, education and workforce partners, community-based and non-profit organizations, institutions of higher education, child care providers, and transit organizations.
There is also a proposed $2 million increase for WEDnetPA, which helps businesses with training to upskill existing employees.
The Wolf Administration will commission a study to evaluate the state’s workforce development programs and structure, including providing comparative analysis to other states and recommending best practices. The study will inform future Command Center recommendations to align programs and services across the public and private sectors.
The Command Center is led by Gene Barr, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry; Rick Bloomingdale, president of the AFL-CIO; Tony Bartolomeo, co-chair of Team Pennsylvania; Secretary Kathy Boockvar, Department of State; Secretary Dennis Davin, Department of Community and Economic Development; and Secretary Jerry Oleksiak, Department of Labor & Industry. Other members of the Command Center include the Office of the Auditor General; the State Workforce Development Board; and the departments of Education, Human Services, Agriculture, Corrections, and Transportation.
The Command Center traveled across the state to learn about the challenges and successes of local workers and employers in different regions and gather input from various stakeholders.
“Pennsylvania’s workforce continues to be a major concern for the business community – in fact, for the second year in a row, employers ranked it as their top of mind issue in the PA Chamber’s Annual Economic Survey,” said Gene Barr, president and CEO, Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. “It’s a problem that stretches across all industry sectors in every region of the state. We’re pleased to continue our work with the Governor’s Keystone Economic Development and Workforce Command Center and legislative leadership to raise awareness of the concerns and needs of the business community in the state’s evolving jobs market and identify innovative solutions to addressing the jobs skills gap and removing barriers to work.”
The Command Center report also highlights several best practices for employers that will reduce barriers for their workers. For example, Rabbit Transit in York and the South Central Transportation Authority in Lancaster provide new bus routes to transport people to work at locations beyond the service area. Additionally, Rabbit Transit provides several routes to employers that are funded by the businesses so employees can get to work. Other employers are exploring ride sharing opportunities.
“I commend Governor Wolf and all the co-chairs of the Workforce Command Center, the agencies, all those who presented and provided the foundation for this report,” said Rick Bloomingdale, president, Pennsylvania AFL-CIO. “It was a great education for me and Secretary-Treasurer Frank Snyder. The collaboration of business, unions and government will provide the foundation for creating the best workforce in the nation.”
Along with the report, the Command Center’s data dashboard debuted during Tuesday's announcement. This new tool will help track the state’s economic activities and workforce needs to help policymakers and the private sector make decisions.