CI2Y is a Win-Win for Berks Manufacturers and Job Seekers
Among the top competitive advantages a community can tout is a skilled and passionate workforce. In terms of driving economic development, a diverse, ambitious, and industrious population is an incredibly important part of both retaining existing businesses and attracting new ones. In light of this, Greater Reading Economic Partnership (GREP) has consistently focused on workforce development as a top priority.
GREP conducted business retention and expansion interviews in order to key in on some specific needs for existing Greater Reading companies. They found that 47 percent identified lack of skills, and more specifically, 26 percent identified lacking technical skills, as a current workforce challenge.
A 2011 survey conducted by the Manufacturers’ Association of South Central Pennsylvania found that 44 percent of Pennsylvania manufacturers have open jobs. These companies also reported there is a mismatch between the skills job seekers have, and those required by the job the company has open.
Technical or “middle skills” careers are in demand in Berks County and across the United States. It is predicted that one-third of the 47 million job openings that will be created in the next six years will require an associate’s degree or certificate.
"Middle skills" careers require education and training beyond high school, but less than a four-year degree. Post-secondary education or technical training brings endless possibilities and opportunities. That means you can earn a degree and get started in a high-paying job within two years or less!
Armed with this insight, GREP, along with workforce development partners Reading Area Community College, and Berks County Workforce Investment Board, identified the lack of skilled workers as a critical need to nurturing economic prosperity in the Greater Reading area.
In 2012, the partners launched the “Careers in 2 Years” campaign to raise awareness about attractive career opportunities available to those with technical skills, and address perceptions that technical education doesn’t provide successful career pathways. Careers in 2 Years focuses on creating awareness of a variety of employment opportunities for skilled workers including: Machinist; Welding Technology; Mechatronics Engineering Technology; Robotics & Automation Technology; Computerized Drafting Technology; Electronics Technology; and Information Technology.
GREP has continued to partner with the local career and technology centers in the area to solve this problem. Reading Muhlenberg Career and Technology Center, Berks Career and Technology Center, and Reading Area Community College (RACC) all offer customizable training and retraining programs for companies or individuals on state of the art equipment.
Phase 1 of the CI2Y initiative targeted young people either still in high school or their first couple of years of college. For two consecutive years, almost 4,500 Berks County high school students have attended informative assemblies to learn about attractive career opportunities in manufacturing and technology, attainable with two-years of advanced training and education. Many students also experienced half-day visits with some of the manufacturers and tech companies with a need for skilled workers. The students had an opportunity to speak with employees firsthand to learn what it would be like to work in that environment.
The fruits of that labor are just now beginning to be realized.
“More applications are being made,” says Jon Scott, president of GREP. “But it’s two years, so we’re not quite at the point where you see them enter the workforce,” he explains. “That’s the ultimate goal. We are working with our partners in the educational realm to begin tracking who is graduating with what certificates or degrees or programs, and are they getting jobs? That’s the ultimate goal because the last thing that we want to see is a great manufacturing entity deciding that they have to leave Pennsylvania because they can’t find enough people to do the work that needs to be done,” he said.
The original CI2Y program to reach young people entering the workforce is and will be ongoing. In conjunction with that, GREP and its partners recently launched Phase 2 of the campaign, targeting unemployed individuals, underemployed individuals and returning military veterans.
“We realized very definitively that there’s a whole other generation of individuals that this application is equally well-suited for,” says Jon Scott. “Underemployed (high education but nothing available in their field), unemployed for various reasons (layoffs), and returning veterans who have dedicated in some cases many years of their lives serving their country, and realize the military has given them some really great skills. They need a little bit more refined and specific training in some areas, but these are people who typically understand what it means to report on time. To pay attention. To stay focused. To use initiative. To think clearly yet use their creativity. What a great win-win for employers and potential employees when these two things come together and those dots are connected,” he said.
“So we’ve done a second iteration of the campaign. It’s still very similar because the focus is on manufacturing, but it’s to really getting people to take a look at getting the training they need to backfill any skill sets and go right into employment opportunities.”