Apprenticeship Summit at Penn College Highlights Skilled Trades

Earlier this month, business and education leaders from across the region, including representatives from the Columbia Montour Chamber and the Chamber Foundation, gathered at Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport to discuss apprenticeships as one piece of the puzzle in addressing workforce needs. As employers of all sizes and sectors are challenged to find quality employees, statewide surveys show that those who invest in their employee development have the highest levels of satisfaction with their workforce. Programs and funding are being developed to support apprenticeships in a number of fields. 

Jim Nemeth, human resources director for North American operations at Autoneum (pictured), provided an overview of the mechatronics apprenticeship program that they developed with Penn College in collaboration with Kawneer and SEKISUI SPI. A traditional apprenticeship consists of 8,000 hours of on-the-job training combined with academic instruction of approximately 144 hours. Penn College recently partnered with the Central Pennsylvania Workforce Development Corporation to offer the program to other employers in the region with tuition assistance. Dr. Davie Jane Gilmour, Penn College president, also announced a $576K state grant to increase the College’s capacity in apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs.

Dr. Robert Lerman of the Urban Institute noted at the Summit that apprentices make up just .28% percent of the U.S. workforce, which is significantly lower than a number of European countries. While funding was recently increased to $150 million by the federal government, the U.S. has a long way to go to catch up to those countries in fostering apprenticeships, according to Lerman. He and Nemeth agreed that the state and/or federal government needs be more proactive in certifying apprenticeships. Currently, labor unions are coordinating a number of certifications. Eric Ramsay, director of the apprenticeship and training office with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry, said that his office is getting additional resources to be able to certify apprenticeships.

Surveys conducted by the PA Chamber of Business & Industry in recent years echoed what our members are telling us, that finding skilled employees is their number one issue. Those surveys also show that employers who are proactive in investing in their employee development are more satisfied with their workforce. According to Dr. Gilmour, companies realize a $1.50 return on investment for every dollar invested in employee education.

The Columbia Montour Chamber and its Foundation are working to address member workforce needs on a number of fronts. The Foundation supports programs in our local school districts to develop employability skills in students, and expose them to career opportunities in our area. The Chamber and Foundation are working to connect members with educational and other resources to strengthen the skills of existing employees, in an effort to meet immediate needs. The Chamber is also advocating for long-term policy changes to better align our educational resources and encourage people to want to work. If you are interested in learning more about these workforce initiatives, contact Fred Gaffney at the Chamber at 570-784-2522 or email, or Jeff Emanuel at the Chamber’s Foundation at the same number or email.