Investment needed in career and technical education in Pennsylvania

A recent Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce survey found that more than 70 percent of companies in our state struggle to find people with the right skills, training and education for their jobs – and many of them believe the problem will only get worse.

As Democratic chairman of the House Labor and Industry Committee, I want to address this issue in the next state budget.


I believe we can take steps toward solving this problem by allowing our students, through on-the-job learning, to develop the technical skills demanded by quickly growing occupations.

To encourage this, I have introduced legislation that would provide $15 million per year for grants to public-private partnerships that teach students the skills needed to fill jobs in high-growth fields, such as machine tool technology, electronics and health care.

As Pennsylvania’s budget approaches $30 billion, this relatively modest investment in career and technical learning could have tremendous impact.

Graduating students would receive college credit or industry-recognized certification of their skills. Employers would have a well-prepared workforce that allows them to compete in the global economy.

To do this, public-private partnerships that include schools, employers, colleges and universities, work force investment boards and labor organizations would develop programs to give the next generation real-world skills.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education would award grants on a competitive basis from the $15 million to vocational-technical schools or school districts that successfully build these partnerships.

To receive funding, a program would have to prepare students for jobs that offer family-sustaining wages and a chance for advancement. After all, a goal of this legislation is to help rebuild Pennsylvania’s middle class.

The legislation also recognizes that not all learning would be done at job sites. It would provide $5 million per year for grants to schools to buy training equipment. This money would help assure that training done at schools could adapt to changing times.

Indeed, times have already changed – and to promote success, we must in turn change the way we educate our children. We can do this through smart investments, such as these, that will help build a stronger workforce and economy. Everyone wins if we can bring together schools that teach and jobs that pay.

State Rep. Marc Gergely, Democratic chairman of the House Labor and Industry Committee, represents the 35th Legislative District in Allegheny County.