by Dave Gardner
Paths with genuine opportunity are available for youths who choose to climb the employment mountain without formal post-high school education, provided they are ready for a steep climb.
Applicable data from 2018 collected by the American Community Survey reveals a varied educational and work landscape within Lackawanna County, according to Amy Luyster, vice president of the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce. She cited how 38 percent of Lackawanna County residents age 25 or above have attained a high school or GED diploma, 26 percent attended some sort of college, and 27 percent have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Additional data for 2018-2019 collected by the Lackawanna Workforce Investment Board indicated that 39 percent of those working have some postsecondary education. During April of 2019, a total of 3,432 jobs were listed online within Lackawanna County, with the largest industry sectors comprising logistics, construction, business services, advanced manufacturing and healthcare.
“Therefore, some sort of training has been achieved by the majority of our regional workforce,” said Luyster. “If kids go direct to the workforce, various types of on-the-job training including apprenticeships are available, and many companies want this. But the kids have to understand they will start at the ground level and there will always be training needed.”
From an employer perspective, Luyster noted concern exists across the entire spectrum of commerce about employee soft skills. Additionally, career awareness by prospective employees about the types of work now available is a problem, creating a situation where one of chamber’s biggest goals is to create awareness for jobs that exist now.
“We are also constantly questioning if our education needs for the jobs that exist are being met,” said Luyster. “Central to this is the work of Skills in Scranton, our workforce development affiliate.”
An example cited by Luyster of how career awareness and associated readiness skills can be created involves how the chamber formally hosts select educators for a week. The group initially meets with industry partners and HR representatives, then goes on-site at participating company locations for three days to learn the realities of that type of employment.
This is followed by a final day where the participants return to the chamber and discuss the skills needed for the opportunities they have observed. In time, this information is delivered to the students at the educator’s school.
“The program participants can’t wait to create a comprehensive plan for action,” said Luyster.
Reality is dictating that school after grade 12 is not for everyone, with various forms of learning such as hands-on being preferable, according to Christine Jensen, PA CareerLink administrator in Luzerne County. Many kids also avoid college because of the staggering financial costs, or may be academically exhausted but later attend a college or tech school.
Within this scenario, according to Jensen, the present is actually a great time for opportunity at various levels of employment. She noted that during early June more than 741 posts had been made by Luzerne County employers on the on the CareerLink website, listing more than 3,000 jobs.
“One-half of these jobs only require a high school diploma,” said Jensen. “Some offer great opportunities to get right into the workforce. Warehouse and logistics employees may eventually earn $15 to $17 an hour, with the potential to move after specific certifications such as forklift certification.”
For job seekers who desire entrance to quality work, Jensen may recommend tactics such as job training with a mentor or registered apprenticeships. She has personally witnessed how quality employees within an apprenticeship may be offered a deal where they work and also attend community college, with the classroom tuition paid or greatly reduced.
Awareness about true interests for each job seeker is vital, according to Jensen. The middle school years are particularly important because kids at that age are very malleable, making tactics such as job shadowing very fruitful if a student is to understand what is really involved within a specific line of work.
She added that soft skill problems do appear every day with employers concerning specific behaviors such as time management and verbal communications. This is harder to manage than teaching the technical skills of specific jobs, and to help alleviate soft skill problems Jensen’s organization offers workshops.
“Of course, technology education in the workplace and ongoing computer skills are vital,” said Jensen. “Any employee must understand that lifelong education is now a part of the workplace.”
Potential employees with an age of 16-21 years old are now at historic lows, creating a critically small number of people now entering the workforce, explained Helene Mancuso, certified workforce development professional and certified career coach with the Wayne-Pike Workforce Alliance. She also cited how workforce quality is a constant issue for employers, with the situation often fueled by the fact that there has been a definite shift in the values system of young people.
“With the baby boomers versus the millennials in a workplace, differences are very apparent,” said Mancuso. “Employers must consider this, while also considering the needs, priorities and value systems of all work groups. Respect must go both ways, especially when one’s feelings are concerned, but clearly inappropriate behavior must not be allowed.”
Mancuso noted that her organization has been effective at developing vital programs that help to open pathways to employment at various levels. Career coaching and inherent support systems to recognize and develop a path for each individual are invaluable, along with mentors and internships that help a participant to develop work-ready skills and give job candidates true leverage.
“The reality is that most jobs in Pennsylvania require a two-year education, and this must be considered when exploring a career path,” said Mancuso.
Her organization can sometimes offer a job seeker on-the-job training within some fields such as the hospitality industry. The alliance taps into a revenue stream that pays one-half of the new employee’s salary while they train, creating a favorable situation for all parties, especially small employers that are seeking to grow their workforce.
Yet at the end of the work day, skill accreditation, specific training and a demonstration of lifelong learning remain the keys to employment. Partnerships with business for specific training are available, but youthful employees must demonstrate good behavior and never commit “sins” such as complaining about their job to a public audience on social media platforms such as Facebook.
“And yes, a new and unskilled employee can expect to start their job at minimum wage,” said Mancuso. “Lifelong learning is vital to increase compensation.”