About the trades
KCSD officials, businesses talk about workforce needs
MILL HALL – Area business and industry are having difficulty finding people skilled in certain trades.
And with the Keystone Central School District’s Career and Technology Education program under threat of cuts, some of them gathered recently to talk about the challenges they face.
U.S. Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson of Howard called the meeting at Keystone’s CTE last week, and he and program Director Ken Kryder invited representatives to talk.
From nursing aides to welders to valve mechanics to pipefitters and others, it was agreed that schools need to do a better job providing opportunities for high school students to learn a skilled trade rather than just go to college for academics.
Companies and agencies represented at the roundtable last Friday included Avery Dennison Chemical Division and specialty chemical manufacturer Croda Inc., both in Bald Eagle Township; Susque-View Home Nursing and Rehabilitation Center; Lock Haven Hospital-UPMC Susquehanna; the Central Pennsylvania Workforce Development Corp. that also operates CareerLink; Clinton County government and the Clinton County Economic Partnership.
Ken Kryder, director of Keystone Central’s Career and Technology Center and whose job is up for elimination in 2018-2019 as the district tries to overcome a $7 million-plus budget deficit, led things off by stating the mission of the meeting: “This is a great opportunity to pull the chamber together, some business and industry people and see what can we can do. What type of workforce is needed?”
Keystone’s CTE program has not evaded the budget ax. For example, the electronics education program was cut for this current school year. It’s unclear if other programs will survive budget cuts for 2018-2019. A district task force assessing Keystone’s CTE program last summer cited these weaknesses: Regional and local career and technology employment trends need to be better identified; stronger industry connections need to be made to strengthen college and career planning; gender diversity within the programs; the CTC website is not being utilized to offer information to inquiring students and parents.
The first subject of discussion was the dairy industry, in particular a rumored cheese factory that might be coming to Pennsylvania and that many counties are angling to host.
“Pennsylvania is shipping a lot of milk out of the state, where it’s processed, and then it’s brought back in. Farmers are not paid premiums, but are paying the cost of shipping,” Thompson said.
Thompson espoused legislation on skills-based education that he authored.
“My legislation that passed the House in the last Congress 405-5 … well, the Senate stopped working (in late 2016) because everything became about election,” he said.
Not giving up, Thompson went to those five “no” votes and got them to change their minds so that “my bill passed the House unanimously this time (June 2017).”
The U.S. Senate has yet to take up the legislation.
Thompson, a Republican, co-chairs the Career and Technical Education (CTE) Caucus in the U.S. House. He was referring to the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (HR 2353), which reauthorizes the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. It would be the first major overhaul to the program since 2006.
“President Trump is really enthusiastic about this legislation … better access to more effective career and technical training. The Senate will be bringing this up, hopefully soon,” Thompson continued, citing a conversation with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
“A big part of this legislation is to allow the ability to pivot. Healthcare, manufacturing, innovative companies that are here … if you come up with something new from a new skillset. Considering the average age of our workforce today, being able to serve those needs is incredibly important,” he said.
He stressed the importance of improving career and technological education now, saying that, “By 2020, 6 million jobs are expected to be open and available because individuals aren’t trained.”
He then shifted to more of a local tack.
“Qualified workforces are the number one thing that new businesses look for when they open up in an area,” he said. “Programs need to be responsive to the workforce needs of the communities they represent.”
There is a stigma, the group agreed, that blue-collar trades such as plumbers, welders, carpenters, mechanics and such aren’t paid as well and don’t bring the prestige as with certain white collar jobs.
CTE programs, employers and others must work to “reduce the stigma for the wonderful positions that are open today, both in Clinton County and across the nation as a whole.”
Following Thompson’s comments, the table was opened for discussion.
Michael Curley, former director of the Lancaster County Career and Technology Center who serves as a state Department of Education consultant, said, “Pennsylvania is one the leading states with new graduation requirements “ that loosen the grip that testing for academic knowledge has on high schoolers.
“We are pushing the idea of a skills-based graduation, as opposed to just academic testing,” he said.
He continued by affirming that the “CTC is an asset at Keystone,” and that local students’ ability to “walk across the hallway between academics and skills-based education” is wonderful.
Keystone Central’s community and fundraising coordinator, Angela Harding, then spoke about Keystone’s a job and career fair coming to the Central Mountain High School gymnasium on Thursday, March 15, for both Bucktail and Central Mountain students.
The fair will “give our students an opportunity to see all of the business and industry that’s in our area,” she said, because, “at their age, they aren’t paying attention to those things.”
She said that it is important to “try to get people to come back to our area, and have investment in our area.”
County Commissioner Pete Smeltz said that “balancing CTE and academic training that (students) have to meet can be very, very hard.”
He also mentioned the recurring possibility of associates degrees at Lock Haven University in the future, saying that, “with leadership changes that might be possible – they weren’t interested before, but maybe they will be now.”
From there, the discussion turned to guidance counselors and their ability to influence – in concert with parents – students’ career choices.
Kryder said Keystone currently has just “three (guidance) counselors for about 1,100-1,200 students, and one counselor at Bucktail for 150 students up there.”
“It’s very difficult for them to even have the time to sit down with a child and go over what the careers are,” he said. “Counselors have become that ‘fit all, fix all person’ that you send everything to. We ask them to do so much more every day.”
He suggested that “faculty need to be trained to counsel (students) in their own disciplines.”
Smeltz said guidance counselors are very helpful to students, as they assist students with “their aptitude and so on.”
“Put more energy into helping kids find their pathways,” he suggested. “Career counselors is the big buzzword now,” Kryder said. “A lot of CTCs are hiring career counselors … here’s where you want to go, here’s where you want to be.”
Schools, he said, seem to “never have enough counselors.”
Conversation then turned to apprenticeship programs.
Thompson said there should be a “re-emphasis on this,” and that there are “industries where if they had to restart from scratch, it just couldn’t happen because we lost focus on apprenticeships.”
“You will not sustain yourselves without qualified and trained workers, especially when the average age of the workforce is getting up there,” he said.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics website, the average age of the U.S. workforce was 42 in 2016, up from 38.3 in 1996.
Projections, from the same source, suggest the average age is going to increase over the next decade.
Thompson stressed that “schools just like this is where you tap into that pipeline for those qualified and trained workers of the future.”
“It’s in the interest of business to engage,” he said, referencing that “a new machine is great … but only if you’ve got somebody who can run the thing.”
Thompson said he would like to see more businesses giving “donations or loans of equipment, or of a top technician-chemist-therapist,” where they could “lend their expertise … even for just an hour a day” at schools.
That would help businesses expose their jobs and needs to students … prospective employees, he said.
In his opinion, Pennsylvania needs “stronger collaborative partnerships between those providing education and those providing jobs.”
James “Jamie” Aurand, chief administrator at Susque-View Home Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, emphasized the important of a “career ladder.”
He referenced a group of health students right now at Keystone, a “class of nurse aides from here. They’re students, eight of them … we’ve been training them in the evening.”
“They’re going to come out of that class as nurse aides. Some of them are already planning on going on to school. Those folks are going to have a job that they can work part-time while they’re going to school to help pay those expenses while also learning valuable skills,” he said, mentioning that Susque View worked closely with the Keystone CTE and Kryder to fashion the program.
County Commissioner Jeff Snyder then asked Thompson and the assembled leaders to “identify the 6 million job openings you’re talking about,” because preparing for those openings “might take equipment that we don’t have here. Things are changing so quickly that there might be jobs in 2020 that we aren’t even thinking about.”
He urged everyone to think about the concept that “as tech evolves, what teachers and equipment will the school need?”
Brent Jones and Kevin Lucas, both of Croda Inc., said many of the problematic jobs needing to be filled are “skilled tradesmen, pipe-fitters, millwrights, welders, electronic technicians.”
“We can’t find them,” Lucas said. “We lost one today, and it will take two to three months to hire a new one.”
Referencing the stigma surrounding these types of jobs, Jones said that “things once considered menial labor are definitely not anymore,” citing Croda’s use of robots, for example.
“These are highly regulated industries … we are looking for folks with mechanical aptitude. Not the math genius. We need someone who can do logical analysis of what’s going on, and basic arithmetic,” he concluded.
That was echoed by Cord Ruffner, operations manager at the Avery Dennison Chemical Division plant in Bald Eagle Township.
“We need logic and critical thinking – an understanding of what’s going on,” Ruffner said.
He also stressed the importance of continuous learning: “Whatever tools you use today, you might not 10, 20 years down the road. Change is critical.”
Kryder responded that the job of education is “building a foundation,” and that “continuing education is not a chore when you have passion.”
Erica Mulberger, executive director of the Central Pennsylvania Workforce Development Corp., spoke next, saying that, at her agency, “we already have our pulse on a lot of the things you guys are talking about.”
She mentioned a “next generation sector partnership – one for manufacturing and one for healthcare.”
According to Mulberger, a manufacturing panel has already happened.
“We reached out to 138 businesses, leaders from nine counties in Central Pennsylvania,” she said, and attendance ended up including “25 to 27 people from 21 companies.”
Those individuals discussed topics like “improving and strengthening training programs, going all the way up through the college system, but also using apprenticeship programs.”
In addition, she said the talked about “how do you promote to students … but then also how do you change the mindset of parents and the community about jobs which are no longer dirty or menial, but have that stigma?”
Mulberger said healthcare panel is scheduled for March 12, and that to date, “41 healthcare companies are invited.”
From there, discussion turned to First Quality’s partnership program with Keystone Central, where “former graduates (and current FQ employees) will come in to our classrooms and talk to students, saying, ‘I was sitting in this chair, this is what I’m doing today, this is how I got there,'” Kryder said.
The goal is to have the returning alumni “emphasize the importance of soft skills, things like ‘let’s not be late for class, get homework turned in on time, and so on. Things that are important but that they don’t understand where it will go as students,'” Kryder continued.
According to Harding, through Keystone’s classroom visitation partnership with First Quality – Clinton County’s largest private employer and the largest manufacturer here – First Quality gained “27 full-time employees from this program last year alone.”
Mulberger then mentioned creating an online career hub that will “match businesses who will be willing to come in and talk to students about them, but then the counselors can also go on to find businesses with relevant experiences.”
This hub will be “based on similar programs in Erie and Lancaster,” and will focus on “highlighting local companies.”
Kryder then took the opportunity to mention a problem that is “really running into a snag.”
“The internships that we really want to send kids out for, we’re getting the door shut on us because of various things … applicants needing to be 18 or older, for one,” he said.
He noted that “places we used to be able to do business with, we can’t anymore. He mentioned locxal hospitals.”
“Every student in the classroom needs to do a minimum of 4-6 hour internship in a health science facility. Most students are traveling up to Bucktail Medical Center (in Renovo) because they can’t find anywhere local,” he said.
Discussion then turned to adult education.
“We have the facilities, and available equipment. We can work with area businesses to help tailor those services,” Kryder said.
A concern moving forward, as well, is that the “future ready index is really targeting certifications, and what types of certifications students can graduate with before they go out into the workforce,” Kryder continued. “What do we need in the region, not just what can we provide…how can this be a win-win for everybody?”
Thompson responded to the question of adult education by citing the Perkins Act, which attempts to increase the quality of technical education, and features an adult-focused side.
“As we look at the financial side of the district, we really need to concentrate on making revenue for the district. How can we meet the need of industry in the area at the same time?” Kryder asked.
Dr. Lonoconus then provided some final thoughts.
He urged those around the table to consider the timetable for change.
“As you’re sitting in your seats, looking down the line, that’s what we really need to start working on now,” he said.
He admitted the “district is in rough shape,” and that the “long-term picture isn’t great.”
“I can get us through next year,” he said confidently, “but then I’m looking at another $5 million in the hole, which means some drastic things are going to have to happen.”
He assured the room that “education will always be the foremost thing that we’re going to rely on and push,” but that there are “going to be some ‘ouches’ as we go along.”
“Our students are great students here at Keystone,” he continued. “They’re well rounded, but it doesn’t show up on the test scores because that isn’t what the tests are looking for.”
He told the group, “The district is looking for your help, as well as how we can help you with your needs.”