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Workforce Development: Challenges and Opportunities

February 19, 2019 Workforce/Education

February 19, 2019

Testimony before the:
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Labor & Industry Committee

Presented by:
Carl A. Marrara
Vice President, Government Affairs

Chairman Cox, Chairman Harkins, and esteemed members of the House Labor and Industry Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify at this hearing on workforce development.

I am Carl A. Marrara, the Vice President of Government Affairs for the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association. We are the statewide nonprofit trade organization that represents the people who make things here in our commonwealth; generating over $87.651 billion annually in state gross product, employing 552,0002 hardworking Pennsylvanians on the plant floor, and supporting supply, distribution, and retail networks that sustain millions of additional Pennsylvania jobs.

Nationally, manufacturers are facing an alarming problem: our workforce is aging and retiring and there is a shortage of skilled hands to succeed them. Pennsylvania is no exception to this problem. According to our sources at the Manufacturing Institute, in 2018, there were 71,607 manufacturing job openings in the state of Pennsylvania. In the last 30 days (as of 2/12/2019), there have been 5,989 job openings in the sector in the state.3 Couple the current shortage with the fact that some companies have more than half of their current workforce within just a few years of retirement and we could consider this workforce gap problem a workforce gap crisis. The manufacturing industry and the workforce at large face an increasingly pressing problem: the glut of unfilled jobs due to a skills gap.

According to a recent study by the Manufacturing Institute, 51 percent of manufacturers report difficulty in maintaining or increasing production levels to satisfy growing customer demand.4 This challenge is systemic. This 2018 study remains one of the paramount publications on the topic and in the report they came to five main conclusions:

1. The hardest jobs to fill are those that have the biggest impact on performance.
2. While they recognize the importance of recruiting and developing talent, many manufacturers depend on outdated approaches for finding the right people, developing their employees’ skills, and improving their performance.
3. Computer skills, programming skills, digital skills, working with tools, and critical thinking are needed to be successful, but are lacking in today’s workforce.
4. The changing nature of manufacturing work is making it harder for talent to keep up.
5. The national skilled job shortage will result in 2.4 million vacant jobs in the next decade.

The numbers speak for themselves – there are more manufacturing jobs available in Pennsylvania than the qualified individuals our state’s education system is able to produce. The past academic year (2018-2019), only 81.4% of seats available to high school students were utilized in career and technical education facilities (CTE).5 I have visited, firsthand, some of the finest manufacturing training institutions in the United States that just happen to be right here in Pennsylvania. On a recent visit to the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, an instructor in the Mechatronics Engineering Technology Department told me that they held a job fair for their two-year, Associate of Applied Science degree students. In total, there were 479 job opening and they had twelve graduates. These are good paying, family sustaining, meaningful, collaborative, problem-solving, highly fulfilling jobs and 467 of them will go unfilled. When asked what the biggest challenges are when recruiting students, CTE directors and program directors of Associate/Certificate programs have continuously stated perception of CTE education or a lack of manufacturing career opportunity awareness. Additionally, there are anecdotal stories of high-scoring students being steered away from CTE opportunities because the home school district wants that student to complete standardized tests, often associated with state funding, at their school rather than the CTE.

Unfortunately, this is not an anomaly. Program after program at institutions such as Pennsylvania’s highest performing CTEs, the Pennsylvania College of Technology, and Thaddeus Stevens Institute of Technology share the same story – the demand for their graduates is staggeringly higher than the students graduating from their institutions.

There are manufacturers that will train or pay for training for new hires. However, in visiting with manufacturers throughout the commonwealth we often hear that they can’t find new hires that are trainable. The soft skills of arriving on time, being engaged throughout the workday, basic manners, and even the ability to take and/or pass a drug tests all act as barriers to employment. One major reason for this is the rate that young adults are entering the workforce. According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, in 1978 the percentage of the workforce ages 16-14 was 24.5 percent.6 In 2018 that same age demographic only makes up an estimated 12.5 percent. The reasons for this are complex, but one undisputed issue is the red tape and regulations often associated with hiring entry-level workers. Manufacturers often need a step or several steps beyond entry-level, but with increasing barriers to the workforce, those skilled workers have become difficult to find.

Workforce development is a difficult policy issue to tackle. We all know there is a problem and there are hundreds if not thousands of people, firms, institutions, agencies, and programs out there to mitigate it, but the problem still perpetuates. There are best practices out there that are operational today. We know we have some of the best institutions such as the Pennsylvania College of Technology and Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology. We know of some of the best programs such as the Your Employability Skills (YES) Program headed by the Northeast Pennsylvania Manufacturers and Employers Association, the Challenge Program in Western Pennsylvania, the “What’s So Cool About Manufacturing” contest originated in the Lehigh Valley by the Manufacturers Resource Center. This is just a small sampling of the vast array of programs that are making a difference. However, a concerted effort to analyze, streamline, and execute a 21st Century workforce is desperately needed here in Pennsylvania and across the nation.

Thank you to this committee for exploring this important topic as we realize the problem and begin to explore more meaningful, collaborative, and needed solutions.


1 National Association of Manufacturers. “Pennsylvania Manufacturing Facts.” 2018.
2 Ibid.
Mortay, Chad. Manufacturing Institute. Personal communication, February 12, 2019
4 Manufacturing Institute. “2018 Skills Gap Report.” National Association of Manufacturers. November 2018.
Pennsylvania School Board Association. “2018 State of Education” 2018.
6 Toossi, Mitra and Torpey, Elka. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Older Workers: Labor Force Trends and Career Options.” May 2017.