By Dave Lemery | Watchdog.org
Jessica Trybus, owner of Pittsburgh-based Simcoach Games, summarized the point of a news conference Tuesday as succinctly as anyone else who spoke.
“For many businesses, if we don’t have a qualified pipeline [of workers], it just doesn’t make sense to be in Pennsylvania,” she said. “And that doesn’t make sense to me, because we have the people, and we have the aptitudes.”
Trybus followed Gov. Tom Wolf and a group of lawmakers from both parties at a news conference in Harrisburg devoted to introducing Wolf’s executive order to create a new Keystone Economic Development and Workforce Command Center.
The purpose of the center, a public-private partnership, is to identify the points of friction holding back Pennsylvania’s key industries from connecting with the qualified workers they so desperately need and offer solutions to those issues.
Notable among the six-member leadership team of the new center are Gene Barr, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, and Rick Bloomingdale, president of the AFL-CIO. The fact that Barr and Bloomingdale are somewhat unlikely partners, not to mention the presence of Republican legislative leaders at the Democratic governor’s signing of the order, highlighted the widespread support that the initiative enjoys.
House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler promised that his chamber would be taking action in the coming days on a series of bills designed to achieve similar aims to the new center.
“We’re committed to making this change early in this session, because we recognize what an impact it can have here in Pennsylvania and on our economy,” Cutler said. “Ideas such as improving communications between employers and career and technical education programs so that students have access to exactly what the employers are looking for.”
Wolf suggested that as the center goes about its work, cutting through red tape and connecting various stakeholders, they would also be looking for opportunities to spin off ideas into legislation. The governor also talked about eliminating bureaucratic obstacles, as did Senate Majority Whip John Gordner, R-Bloomsburg.
“A lot of times, for instance, there’s a military person that moves into Pennsylvania, and they have a spouse that has [an occupational] license in another state,” Gordner said. “Are we moving quickly enough so that that spouse … [can] practice what they were able to practice in that other state?”
The members of the workforce center’s executive board, which will be made up of three private sector representatives and three members of Wolf’s administration, will not receive pay for the role, according to the executive order, but may receive compensation for travel and expenses. Their mandate is to help out Pennsylvania’s industries, “including, but not limited to health care, education, agriculture, manufacturing, technology and innovation, and other targeted sectors.”
Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Pittsburgh, noted that one focus of the new workforce initiative is to help Pennsylvanians find careers rather than just low-level jobs.
“Our low unemployment rate is a positive metric in our economy, but it doesn’t mean that there’s not more work that can be done and should be done,” Costa said. “It just means that it’s time for us to take on new challenges. It’s not enough to simply push folks through low-paying positions and then abandon them without an appropriate career and skills. Our economy works best when everyone – everyone – has the opportunity to advance into higher paying positions.”