Local agencies are rolling out a survey for students, teachers and parents to determine if Cumberland County’s workforce difficulties may be, in part, psychological.
The Cumberland Area Economic Development Corp., Leadership Cumberland and several local education institutions will gather data on attitudes toward skilled trades and the perception of the county’s job market.
The survey will be distributed to students, teachers and parents in the fifth, seventh, and 11th grade levels at Cumberland Valley, West Shore and Carlisle Area School Districts, as well as the Carlisle Center for Careers and Technology and the Cumberland-Perry Area Vocational-Technical School.
“The main idea is asking ‘what do [respondents] consider a good-paying job? What do they consider a good career,’” said Laura Potthoff, CAEDC business and workforce development manager.
The study will help identify if a stigma still exists toward high-performing students going into the trades, as opposed to a college education path, despite the declining wage advantage of a college education.
Results of the study will help local business and education leaders develop skilled trades curriculum, particularly focused on health care, advanced manufacturing and heavy equipment operation and maintenance — the three employment areas where Cumberland County has the biggest labor deficit, Potthoff said.
CAEDC will host a roundtable Thursday with its business and education partners on heavy equipment programs, which are being coordinated through Cumberland Valley School District, Cumberland-Perry Vo-Tech and Harrisburg Area Community College.
“We’re putting together a program and building a program so that when students graduate from CV, and if they don’t want to go to college, they can get $50,000 or $60,000 per year jobs,” Potthoff said. The program will also offer advanced training through a pre-apprenticeship program at Cumberland-Perry Vo-Tech, and a final apprenticeship program at HACC.
Business recruiters have told CAEDC that even workers with the basic industry and Occupational Safety and Health Administration certifications for heavy equipment operation and repair are hard to come by, Potthoff said.
Cumberland County, perhaps even more than the rest of the country, has struggled with a lack of skilled labor as demand for workers has grown.
Like most of the nation, the county has seen steady growth in its total jobs since 2011, with 2016 private-sector employment averaging over 116,000, as opposed to just over 103,000 at the trough of the recession in 2010. Cumberland County’s unemployment rate has also dropped from 6.8 percent at the height of the recession to 4.1 percent in 2016.
But at the same time, businesses have complained about a chronic shortage of skilled labor, even as they have increased wages for such positions relative to other jobs.
A Brookings Institution study, looking at wage data from 2010-15, found that the Harrisburg-Carlisle metro census region had one of the most economically divergent outcomes during the recession and recovery. Average pay per worker increased 5.9 percent in the Harrisburg-Carlisle region from 2010-2015, Brookings found. But median wages dropped 1.6 percent, and the number of Midstate residents earning less than half that median grew 5.3. percent, indicating that new jobs or workers added during the five year span were disproportionately on the low end of the pay scale.
Census data also shows that high school grads in the Midstate saw median wages decline 3 percent since the recession, and college grads lost 2.5 percent. Those with associates or technical education, however, saw median wage gains of 2.2 percent.