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Since I have taken office, I have had the privilege to meet with numerous job creators and higher education institutions in Adams and Cumberland counties that are striving to work together to ensure better workforce training and placement opportunities.

A recent Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry survey reported that 76 percent of Pennsylvanian employers polled described the readiness of the current labor force to meet the needs of employers as fair to poor, with 93 percent reporting difficulty in finding applicants with the requisite education, training or skills.

To help cut through some of the unnecessary government red tape, we in the House Republican Caucus have developed a two-part workforce development plan. First, the state will examine new pathways to careers for students with a greater focus on providing them with job skills before they graduate high school. Our career and technical education proposals are aimed at establishing partnerships between education and business through encouraging apprenticeships, career pathways, and rigorous career and technical education.

Second, we are working to equip under-employed adults already in the workforce with tools to help them transition into better-paying jobs. Our caucus is taking the lead in listening to employers and partnering with industries to find out what they are looking for in job applicants so they can grow their companies here in Pennsylvania.

My colleagues and I are taking the concerns of our local businesses to Harrisburg as we craft our Workforce Ready Initiatives. Our workforce development legislative package focuses on getting training dollars where they are needed, implementing accountability measures across state agencies, reforming the licensing processes, and improving and expanding access to career and technical education opportunities in Pennsylvania. Taking a first-hand look at what the private sector is doing to rebuild our workforce has been invaluable in the development of the package of bills designed to reinvigorate Pennsylvania’s workforce.

I would like to highlight a few bills in the package, which I was proud to co-sponsor:

  • House Bill 425, introduced by Rep. Mackenzie, is known as the CareerBound Workforce Development Program legislation. CareerBound will focus on allowing local workforce development boards to collaborate with schools, businesses and other trade organizations to create effective, innovative school-to-work programs. This bill passed the House on March 20 with bi-partisan support.
  • House Bill 522, introduced by Rep. Tobash, is known as the Career and Technical Education Investment Incentive Program legislation. This proposal provides tax credits to businesses that contribute to career and technical partnership organizations. This bill passed the House on March 19 with bi-partisan support.
  • House Resolution 110, introduced by Rep. Klunk, is the PA 529 College Savings Program legislation. Currently, the PA 529 College Savings Program applies to qualified college expenses like tuition, books, room and board and other learning technologies and allows families to finance education tax free. This legislation would urge Congress to allow the monies placed into a PA 529 College Savings Program to be used by individuals enrolled in apprenticeship programs to purchase materials needed to learn a trade. This resolution was passed by the House unanimously and adopted on March 20.

These initiatives are ensuring that our children have the necessary tools to become successful agricultural experts, tradesmen or medical professionals right out of high school or trade school. Moreover, we aim to ensure that workers who have had the same job or wage for many years, or who are entering the workforce late due to military service are able to learn new skills and earn better pay.

We should be proud of our local school districts that have taken a leadership role in changing how we educate our students. Places like Adams County Tech Prep at Gettysburg, Cumberland Perry Vocational Technical School, HACC and the new Colonial Career and Technology Center at New Oxford High School are benefactors of these initiatives. Most importantly, these legislative initiatives encourage private investment from our local business and industry owners to further invest in our schools.

We want every Pennsylvanian to succeed and to know the dignity and satisfaction that they get out of a day’s work at a job they are passionate about. Making sure that Pennsylvanians can provide for their families is what motivates us. We are working to help you succeed.

If you are an employer or involved in any workforce development programs, I want to hear from you. Feel free to call my district office any time to discuss any ideas or success stories you have that can make Pennsylvania ready for the jobs of tomorrow.

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State Rep. Torren Ecker serves the 193rd Legislative District, which includes part of Cumberland County.

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