Workforce Development Efforts Hone in on Criminal Justice Reform

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

Last session, the PA Chamber joined a bipartisan mix of business and labor groups; criminal justice reform advocates and lawmakers in the enactment of “Clean Slate” legislation.  This first-of-its-kind in the nation initiative allowed individuals with low-level, non-violent criminal offenses to have their records sealed from public view; giving them a better chance at securing a better paying job and housing, allowing them to become productive members of society and lowering their chances of heading back to jail. 

Our organization embraced this issue as one part of a broad strategy in closing Pennsylvania’s jobs skills gap; and one that also included protections the PA Chamber sought for employers from civil liability under certain circumstances.  Since “Clean Slate” became law, we have also stood alongside elected officials from both sides of the aisle in favor of additional “win-win” reforms that will facilitate employment among reentrants, while also helping employers find qualified job applicants.

This session, we’re working to implement reforms that will bring uniformity to occupational licensure boards’ decisions on whether to deny an occupational license based on a criminal record, including providing that a license may only be denied if the record is directly related to the occupation.  There are a number of careers that require such licenses – everything from auctioneers to barbers – and while training programs toward these jobs currently exist in corrections facilities, the individual is at the mercy of the board to determine whether they can pursue such a path upon their release.  Additionally, the PA Chamber is supporting bills this session that would make a number of reforms to the state’s probation and parole systems, making it easier for those who get out of jail to stay out – including providing for early termination of parole if the person completes certain educational or job training programs.

The PA Chamber wants Pennsylvania to have a world class workforce that’s equipped to compete with other states and nations in the 21st century global economy.  Through our Educational Foundation, we are continuing to grow our robust workforce development initiative, Start the Conversation Here, that is educating students and their families, educators and employers about the skills and training necessary to enter into in-demand jobs; and we’re in the third year of awarding Work Ethic Scholarship dollars to students with a passion for pursuing a career in the skilled trades through our ongoing efforts with the mikeroweWORKS Foundation. 

However, closing the jobs skills gap will require a multi-tiered approach that engages the private and public sector and includes legislation like the criminal justice reforms we’re endorsing this session.  By working together, we can help to ensure that the next generation of Pennsylvania workers has the skill set, work ethic and opportunities that will make our state’s economy stand out among the world’s best.