The Workforce Push: Chambers Help Lead Bipartisan Efforts to Close Job Skills Gap

With content provided by the PA Chamber of Business & Industry

A daily focus at the PA Chamber and Columbia Montour Chamber was a major theme in Governor Tom Wolf’s sixth state budget address in early February: workforce development.

In 2016, the PA Chamber’s statewide Workforce Development Survey confirmed what local employers have been saying for quite some time, that Pennsylvania’s jobs skills gap was holding the state’s employers and workers back from realizing their full economic potential. The PA Chamber and Columbia Montour Chamber have since been committed to improving the lines of communication among students, educators and business leaders and arming them with information about the skills and training needed to pursue in-demand jobs in the 21st century.

The PA Chamber is partnering directly with Gov. Wolf and a bipartisan contingent of lawmakers and stakeholders to tackle Pennsylvania’s workforce needs head-on – including the enactment of a first-of-its-kind ‘Clean Slate’ law that’s giving former low-level offenders a second chance to secure employment.  Last fall, the governor signed a PA Chamber-backed measure — Act 76 of 2019 – with a number of workforce development reforms that expand information available to students and help them better prepare for their post-secondary education and training.  And right now, the PA Chamber is advocating in favor of H.B. 1477, which would help to facilitate employment for people with prior criminal records by making it easier for them to obtain an occupational license and reenter and maintain employment.  

With PA Chamber President Gene Barr serving as a co-chair on Gov. Wolf’s Economic Development and Workforce Command Center, there are a number of other solid workforce development solutions being discussed that will help build a workforce that’s not only equipped to compete in the global economy, but will encourage skilled workers to stay in PA.   The Command Center’s recent report (link to: https://www.governor.pa.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/20200127-Workforce-Command-Center-Annual-Report.pdf)– which was unveiled at a news conference at the state Capitol – has identified and is addressing five major barriers to employment in Pennsylvania:  access to affordable childcare; job training or transportation; occupational licensing requirements; and challenges for those re-entering the workforce from the criminal justice system. 

The Columbia Montour Chamber and its Foundation have a strong working relationship with the PA Chamber and communicate regularly on legislative and policy issues. In 2019, Foundation Director Jeff Emanuel met with other chambers from across Pennsylvania to share ideas on workforce challenges and strategies with PA Chamber staff. This spring, Fred Gaffney, Columbia Montour Chamber President, will be chairing the annual Chamber Day at the Capitol, which brings chambers from across the Commonwealth to Harrisburg to meet with Legislative and Administration officials to discuss issues of importance to business. Workforce will again be among the topics discussed.