Criminal Justice Reform a Key Component in Addressing Workforce Issues

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

The growing skills gap in the Commonwealth is a major concern for the state’s business community. In fact, the PA Chamber’s 2018 Economic Survey found that finding qualified employees is the top of mind issue for job creators. It’s an issue that stretches across all industry sectors in every region of the state – and is something I’m sure you’ve heard from your members as well. Since 2016, workforce development has been a cornerstone of the PA Chamber’s mission. We’ve been proud to work with legislators on both sides of the aisle and with groups that we aren’t always aligned with to come up with innovative, outside-the-box solutions to address this skills gap. While there is no silver bullet to solving the problem, one important area of focus is criminal justice reform.

A major step forward in this arena was the enactment of the Clean Slate Act. This first-of-its- kind law will help former, non-violent offenders who have learned from their past mistakes a second chance by automatically sealing criminal records that are 10 years old or older. This legislation – which received broad bipartisan support – will help these individuals to enter into the workforce, which in turn helps to reduce recidivism rates.

While signed into law in 2018, the Act didn’t officially go “live” until June 28 – a date that was heralded at a press conference by Gov. Tom Wolf, our organization, the bill’s sponsors and several other advocacy and non-profit organizations. There were three main reasons why the PA Chamber supported this initiative: first, it’s the fair thing to do for Pennsylvanians; second, it makes sense for taxpayers to have more people become contributing members of society rather than risk their return to jail; and third, it is truly a workforce issue that will help Pennsylvania become more competitive by expanding the number of applicants for in-demand positions.

According to statistics from the Wolf administration, over the course of the next year, 2.5 million records will be processed every month. By June 2020, 30 million cases are anticipated to be sealed, helping these Pennsylvanians pursue their chosen career path. More information on the Act can be found at MyCleanSlatePA.com.

In other workforce news, the Governor’s Keystone Workforce and Economic Development Command Center – on which PA Chamber president Gene Barr serves as co-chair – continues to meet and discuss ways in which the various elements of state government that oversee workforce development programs can collaborate with the private sector to identify ways to close the jobs skills gap; fill the many open positions that exist throughout the state and make Pennsylvania more competitive on a national and global scale.

We look forward to continuing to work with elected officials, the wide-range of advocacy and non-profit groups dedicated to this issue and our local chamber partners on ways to remove barriers to work and ensure that the Commonwealth’s workforce is able to meet the needs of our changing jobs climate.