SCRANTON – Experts representing manufacturing, education and private industries each indicated to members of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee that investments into education, on-the-job training and similar programs are crucial to the future of the commonwealth’s economy.
The committee hearing Wednesday at Marywood University was called to discuss energy, economic development and job creation initiatives. Panelists indicated that each hinges on an informed, talented workforce.
R. Chadwick Paul, president and CEO of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania, said the group’s calculated capital investments have created 4,500 jobs in 46 companies that graduated from their technology incubator.
“The jobs that were created by Ben Franklin’s clients paid 33 percent more than the average Pennsylvania pay scale,” Paul said.
The creation and retention of sustainable jobs remains an important issue, he added.
“The Ben Franklin Technology Partners is clearly working. What isn’t working is what we’ve had to do in the past two years due to budget cuts,” he said.
Promising companies have been turned away and investments have been scaled back, losing opportunities for the state, he said.
Locally, institutions like Johnson College have provided skill-based education that yield positive employment results.
One hundred percent of the school’s precision machining students had job offers upon graduation last year, President Ann Pipinski said, and a welding training program was reintroduced last fall to meet the needs of the Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling boom.
“We need to keep our employees in northeastern Pennsylvania trained to be able to get onto those job sites and earn a good living,” Paul Casparro, training director for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and National Electrical Contractors Association apprenticeship program, said.
“It’s better that our people be there than people from Florida, Alabama, Texas, and Oklahoma. We need to employ our own people.”
The message was no surprise to area Senators John Blake (D-Archbald) and John Yudichak (D-Plymouth Township).
“You saw the stream of that fabric…about the necessity for us to invest in education and training,” Blake said after the hearing. “We need to create better connections between our academic community, our training community and industry in order to guarantee that we’re using these dollars in the most efficient and effective manner.”
Yudichak said the message is one he’s received quite often from area CEO’s and vice presidents on manufacturing facility tours.
“If they’re going to compete with the world, they need a highly educated, highly skilled workforce,” Yudichak said. “That’s why the cuts the basic education and the cuts to higher education are so out of touch with the economic reality on the ground.
“We can position Pennsylvania to be the keystone state of energy, but we need to make those investments in education.”