The measure would encourage businesses, schools and local workforce investment boards to create “CareerBound” programs in schools to provide students with the skills to meet regional job needs. It now goes to the Senate for action.
About $10 million in state revenue would be available to underwrite tax credits to businesses that make donations to start these programs under the bill. It envisions creating up to seven pilot school-to-work programs that would be approved by the state Department of Labor and Industry. The manufacturing sector is seen as a target area for the pilots.
This idea is modeled after the Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program that offers state tax credits to businesses that help pay for scholarships for lower-income students to attend private and parochial schools.
“Business and industry leaders have said that there are thousands of job vacancies across Pennsylvania right now in high-priority fields but they are unable to find enough qualified applicants,” said Rep. Ryan Mackenzie, R-134, Emmaus, the bill sponsor. “CareerBound would help young people acquire the skills.”
The bill would train students for “gold-collar” jobs that are highly compensated, said Bill Bartle, education policy director for the Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, in recent testimony. These jobs require more education than a high school diploma, but less than a four-year degree.
“Too many young people and their families don’t know about the jobs of the new economy or the high-priority jobs in their region,” he said. “They don’t understand the day-to-day activities associated with the jobs, know what level of education they need to secure the jobs or how and where to get the necessary education.”
Enacting this bill can counteract a negative image that unfairly stigmatizes manufacturing as a career choice, said David Taylor, executive director of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association.
“Many school counselors, advisers, and parents view manufacturing in their mind’s eye as dirty, hot and strenuous manual labor and often do not encourage the pursuit of this career choice,” he added. “However, modern manufacturing is advanced, collaborative, empowering, safe and rewarding.”
Along those lines, the Bethlehem-based Manufacturers Resource Center is sponsoring a video competition for eighth- and ninth-grade students in the Lehigh Valley as a way to make manufacturing jobs more attractive to them.
Student teams are being matched with a local manufacturer to produce video segments on the theme of “What’s So Cool About Manufacturing?” said center CEO Jack Pfunder.