Employers in western Pennsylvania and across the United States have job vacancies, but are struggling to find qualified and willing workers.
To drum up hiring interest, the Washington County Chamber of Commerce, Penn Commercial, Junior Achievement of Southwestern Pennsylvania and local employers hosted a forum with school district superintendents and other school district officials to discuss high school skill gaps and career opportunities. when students focus on their future.
The Oct. 18 event was held at BizTown by Junior Achievement, a simulated city that allows elementary school students to run banks, restaurants, write checks and gain business skills through innovative educational experiences.
"There is a great need for qualified professionals, and the sooner students enter these professions, the better. We need to be in front of students and parents as they are in the decision-making process," said Penn Commercial President Robert Bazant.
Washington County Chamber of Commerce President Jeff Kotula agreed.
"Mass resignations and the retirement of baby boomers have left all industries scrambling to fill vacancies," he said. "The purpose of the Skills Gap Forum is to help principals and educational administrators fully understand the career options available to students."
Business leaders from Washington Health System, Range Resources, Lennox National, Lighthouse Electric, ATI, Smith Transport and Washington Auto Group (Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Jeep) participated in the forum.
"The forum went well," said Rick Szymanski, director of marketing at the Pennsylvania School of Business and Technology. “The forum focused on the skills shortage in Western Pennsylvania and, to a large extent, the United States. What we're trying to do is reach out to leaders to see what they're hearing from parents about their children's future. We want to emphasize the importance of regional career opportunities and skilled trades.
The forum discussed the positions, careers, salaries, long-term job opportunities available for today's students.
"We hope this conversation will continue, because young people have to replace the retired," said Szymanski. “We really wanted to work with district officials. Find a way to approach these students and let them know that vocational schools are a great opportunity for them, because there are good jobs in these sectors that are not being filled. There simply aren't enough trained and qualified workers to meet the demands of employers. »
Szymanski said the profession isn't always first for high school students.
"These are great jobs that young people don't normally think about: welders, HVAC specialists, electricians," he said. "Directors don't know much about these professions. What they don't know is that these are well-paying options for students who don't need a four-year degree or the debt that comes with it. So we have learned a lot from them and they have learned a lot from us.
Nicole Lane, director of the Penn Business Campus, which offers 13 career and technical programs, said employers regularly contact the school with candidates in the fields of heating, air conditioning, electrical, welding, nursing and CAD/ITEM. .
"We have companies that are constantly contacting us to hire workers, but we don't have enough students, because everyone has a job. We have 100% enrollment in CVC programs for the next two years. HVAC companies turn to us for licensees; we don't send them to anyone," said Lane. "Right now it's booming for electricians."
Szymanski said attending a four-year college may not be financially feasible for some families, and vocational schools such as Penn Commercial may offer programs in 18 months or less. "College is not necessarily the best option for everyone," she said. "If you compare the price of a typical four-year college, where tuition can be $30,000 or more per year, professional schools often don't cost that much for a full college degree program, this is a very good option." financially for these parents."
Szymanski said the COVID-19 pandemic has also hit the workforce as more people choose to retire. In addition, expanded federal unemployment benefits for workers have played a significant role in keeping workers from re-entering the labor market. "This gap is exacerbated by the fact that older workers are retiring, but there are not enough young people with these skills to replace them," he said.
Szymanski said companies need to be more aggressive in bringing in the next generation of workers.
"Companies are raising wages to encourage people to work in these areas," he said. For more information about Penn commercial programs, visit www.penncommercial.edu.
Sponsored content provided by Penn Commercial Business/Technical School.