Labor shortages rise, business leaders demand more public money for education

PLAINS TWP. — Labor force statistics cited at a news conference at the Wilkes-Barre Area Career and Technology Center on Thursday were grim.

The COVID-19 pandemic has rewritten the rules for the workforce, and despite a substantial rebound, 382,000 jobs statewide remain open, up nearly 26% from 2021. Lindsay Griffin, president and CEO of the Wyoming Valley Chamber of Commerce, noted that the trends threatened to worsen the labor shortage soon.

The number of Pennsylvanians reaching retirement age is now 60,000 a year. Half of the current workforce is over 45 and a quarter is over 55.

The numbers come from a new report from “Ready Nation” and “Council for a Strong America.”

The former bills itself as business leaders creating a skilled workforce, while the latter “is a national, bipartisan, non-profit organization that brings together member organizations, including law enforcement officials, retired admirals and generals; and business leaders who promote solutions that ensure our next generation of Americans are prosperous and productive members of society.

The report cites the results of various studies showing the need for better training and the need to train more people.

In a 2019 survey by the Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce and Industry, employers identified “lack of qualified candidates to fill job vacancies” as the “most significant problem facing Pennsylvania businesses” .

Monster.com’s 2022 Global Report found that “more than 9 in 10 employers (nationally) say they are struggling to fill positions due to a skills gap, and 29% agree that the skills gap has increased from a year ago.

And it hurts the economy, nationally and locally.

“The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta has estimated that current staffing shortages are costing U.S. businesses more than $60 billion a month in lost sales,” the report said. “Another study estimated that by 2029, the national demand for workers with an associate’s or college degree could outstrip the supply by about 800,000, while the shortage of workers with of a bachelor’s degree or higher could be around 8.6 million.”

In Pennsylvania, the shortage of workers with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree is projected to translate into “the loss of economic output for the Commonwealth exceeds $66 billion.”

Greater Pittston Chamber of Commerce executive vice president Michelle Mikitish said lack of training and labor shortages could result in a loss of $4.5 billion in local wages.

A critical part of addressing the labor shortage, speakers said at the press conference, is adequate and equitable funding for public education, including career and technology centers.

Griffin noted that “80% of students attend traditional K-12 schools and career and technology centers,” making them the safest place to nurture the next generation of career-ready graduates. career. “The report notes that school assessment scores and graduation rates are significantly higher in wealthier school districts.”

Inconsistent and insufficient public funding for public education has long forced districts to rely more heavily on local property taxes, with some districts having wealthy residents and large tax bases while others struggle with poorer residents and smaller tax bases. Mikitish said that statewide, “the poorest 20 percent of school districts spend $5,000 less per student than the wealthiest 20 percent of districts.”

With the cafeteria full of students, CTC administrative director Anthony Guariglia said more money for the center would mean more students would get the training employers need, allowing CTCs to offer more courses and avoid creating waiting lists when demand increases for a given course.

CLC director Frank Majikes pointed out that the school has about 100 students who are undergoing a cooperative education that allows them to gain hands-on experience with employers and businesses in the region, and that of these, 90 % will be offered positions in companies after graduation.

Electrical engineering professor David Namey has sounded a familiar battle cry from those pushing for greater public funding for public education.

“A student’s zip code should not determine the educational opportunities available to them.” And one of Namey’s students, Senior Robert Miller, who hopes to follow in his father and grandfather’s footsteps by becoming an elevator contractor, called the CTC training “incredible”.

State Rep. Mike Carroll, D-Avoca, echoed Gov. Tom Wolf’s assertion that this is a good year to increase public school spending in the state budget, as Wolf l ‘has proposed. The state has a large surplus thanks to federal pandemic relief funds and revenues exceeding expenses. In the past, financial constraints and political wrangling have led to, at best, small increases in public education.

“We can’t do it on the cheap anymore,” Carroll said. “And we have the money.”

Contact Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish

Michael A. Bynum