WILLIAMSPORT – Population decline, lack of broadband, labor, child care and housing were a few areas of focus during Wednesday’s Pennsylvania Senate Republican Policy Committee hearing at the Pennsylvania College of Technology, according to committee member Sen. Gene Yaw (R-23).
The committee, chaired by Sen. Dan Laughlin (R- 49), heard testimony from the Department of Labor and Industry, along with representatives from business, local chambers of commerce and local economic and workforce development organizations.
“The future of work and the workforce across rural Pennsylvania is facing dramatic change,” said Sen. Yaw. “As lawmakers, we need to think outside the box to address some of these challenges.”
During the hearing, Acting L&I Secretary Nancy Walker noted that every Pennsylvania community is seeing a tight labor market fueled by historically low unemployment and record-high jobs, along with critical industries with worker shortages like health care, education, manufacturing, agriculture, and construction. Rural Pennsylvania is met with additional challenges including access to reliable transportation and internet service.
“We want to build a well-trained workforce that is responsive to the needs of business and prepared for the jobs of the future,” Walker said. “To do that, we have to see the challenges and confront them deliberately.”
Kyle Kopko, Executive Director for the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, a bipartisan, bicameral legislative research agency of the General Assembly, testified that between 2010 and 2020, rural Pennsylvania lost nearly 85,000 residents. The Center submitted data that showed the stagnation of Pennsylvania’s rural population, primarily due to more deaths than births, and a steady rural labor force decline, which predates the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Growing Pennsylvania will only occur when businesses, educators, economic developers and stakeholders work together and focus on incremental improvements,” Shannon Munro, Vice President of Workforce Development at the Pennsylvania College of Technology said. “Employers grow our economy. We must respond to their needs, which Penn College does by providing a pipeline of graduates in degrees that align with employer needs and offering lifelong training opportunities for incumbent workers.”
Munro, along with Dr. Michael Reed, President of the Pennsylvania College of Technology, testified further on the College’s unique position to help address rural workforce challenges through their approximately 100 STEM-related academic programs emphasizing hands-on, experiential learning. These programs enable them to provide a steady stream of highly trained graduates to address persistent gaps in business and industry.
“Pennsylvania College of Technology is tackling the challenges faced by our rural workforce head-on by preparing tomorrow’s workers for careers in industry, manufacturing, and agriculture,” Sen. Yaw said. “Through collaboration, innovation, and working to cut red tape and bureaucratic barriers, we can ensure that we have the workers ready to fill the jobs that are available.”
The committee followed the hearing with a tour of the Pennsylvania College of Technology campus, hosted by Dr. Reed and Patrick Marty, Chief Government and International Relations Officer.
For more state-related news and information, constituents can visit Senator Yaw’s website at www.SenatorGeneYaw.com or follow him on Facebook and Twitter @SenatorGeneYaw.