Shapiro announced $44B budget that gives, and takes away

Pa. Gov. Josh Shapiro
Pa. Gov. Josh Shapiro PHOTO/PACAST –

Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro introduced his first budget plan to the state’s legislature Tuesday, promoting a spending plan he called conservative, that would save taxpayers money. 

The $44 billion 2023-2024 budget would increase spending by about 4 percent. 

But he focused first on a big reduction. 

He started by proposing the elimination of the state’s cell phone tax. 

“In today’s world, practically everyone has a cell phone – and being connected to the rest of the world is critical to economic stability, safety, family and success,” Shapiro said. “By eliminating the cell phone tax, we will save Pennsylvanians $124 million every year.” 

He called for an expansion of the Property Tax Rent Rebate Program for seniors and those with disabilities. 

He noted that the rebate program has not been updated in 17 years. 

“I want to raise the maximum rebate for seniors from 650 dollars to 1,000 dollars. And I want to increase the income cap for renters and homeowners to 45,000 dollars a year,” he said. 

Under his plan, nearly 175,000 more people would quality for the rebate. 

He also addressed the needs of business, calling on the legislature to speed up the reduction of the state’s Net Income Tax. 

“The budget also makes a significant down payment on innovation and economic development. Like a 50-percent increase in the Manufacturing Innovation Program, which connects our universities 19 with our businesses to find new solutions and spur innovation,” he said. 

Shapiro pointed to Allentown, which he described as a city with a thriving Hispanic population, and said the budget would address funding to support women- and minority-owned businesses. 

“For the first time ever, the commonwealth is going to put sustainable state funding into what’s known as the Historically Disadvantaged Business Program. We’ll provide long-overdue funding for women and minority-owned businesses across this commonwealth, to support their growth and open new doors of opportunity,” he said. 

Nothing that agriculture brings in $132 billion a year in revenue in Pennsylvania, he said the budget addresses farmers that have been dealing with an avian flu outbreak, which has contributed to skyrocketing poultry prices. 

“Under the leadership of Acting Secretary Redding, the Department of Agriculture is working to improve biosecurity efforts on our farms and make farmers who lose birds whole. Pennsylvania is the only state with a fund of $25 million to help fill the gap in covering losses from this terrible disease – and I want to put another $25 million into that fund this year,” he said. 

The budget also calls for a new Organic Center of Excellence to help the state’s 52,000 farms stay on top of the latest farming techniques. 

Shapiro also said the state’s $7.25 an hour minimum wage needs to be increased to $15 per hour. 

“It’s lower than that of 30 other states – including every single one of our neighbors,” he said, noting that the minimum wage hasn’t been increased in 14 years. 

He also vowed to continue to make improvements to the unemployment compensation system, which has been riddled with problems and delays. 

He said that a year ago, workers’ compensation had a backlog that was over 100,000. It’s currently down to 33,000, a number he said he’d still like to see improved. 

Childcare was another area he said needed a boost. 

He said the state economy loses nearly $3.5 billion a year because of a lack of childcare options. 

Pennsylvania has nearly 4,000 unfilled child care jobs and 38,300 children on waitlists. 

To address the issue the budget calls for a $66.7 million investment in Child Care Works to give more parents access to stable child care for their kids. 

Addressing education, he proposed nearly $1 billion in new money for public schools, including a free school breakfast program and pledged a half a billion dollars over the next five years for environmental repairs and upgrades in schools. 

The budget will need to be approved by the state house and senate and would go into effect July 1. 

State grant to fund manufacturing career camp programs

Governor Tom Wolf announced new funding for Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs (NBT), a charitable foundation of the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International, through Pennsylvania’s Manufacturing PA Training-to-Career Program (MTTC) to introduce students to careers in manufacturing through Summer Manufacturing Camps throughout Pennsylvania. 

“It is vital for Pennsylvania students to gain exposure to all types of career paths, including manufacturing,” said Wolf. “The Wolf Administration remains committed to supporting the manufacturing industry in many ways. Investing in opportunities that allow our future workforce to explore all aspects of the industry ensures that Pennsylvania will remain a competitive location for existing companies to succeed and for new manufacturers to plant their roots.” 

The $79,050 in MTTC funding will be used to hold six Summer Manufacturing Camps in 2022 and 12 camps in 2023. The camps, held in partnership with different schools and organizations across the state, each have a unique focus.  

Through the 18 camps held in 2022 and 2023, as many as 360 students will be exposed to careers in manufacturing with partnerships being created with as many as 60 manufacturers and local businesses across Pennsylvania. 

“Summer Manufacturing Camps have been proven to be effective in building a pipeline for the next generation of manufacturing professionals,” said NBT Foundation President and CEO Ed Youdell. “We’re proud to partner with Governor Wolf and the Pennsylvania MTTC as we encourage young students to pursue stable and rewarding career pathways by expanding manufacturing camp programs throughout the state. Today’s investment in tomorrow’s skilled workforce is a promising sign to manufacturing employers across Pennsylvania.”  

NBT’s Summer Manufacturing Camps increase public awareness of manufacturing careers in the region in which they are held and provide a fun and enriching setting for students to engage in manufacturing. Through this exposure, NBT hopes to help contribute to a boost in enrollment in technical education and vocational training programs and to help recruit a future manufacturing workforce. 

Governor Wolf’s Manufacturing PA initiative was launched in October 2017 and since then has funded 71 projects and invested more than $15.8 million through the Manufacturing PA Training-to-Career Grant program. 

Training-to-Career grants support projects that result in short-term work-readiness, job placement, or the advancement of manufacturing.  

The Manufacturing PA Training-to-Career Grant program works collaboratively with local manufacturers to identify and teach missing essential skills for entry-level applicants seeking manufacturing employment, engage youth or those with barriers to career opportunities in manufacturing, and or advance capacity for local or regional manufacturers. 


Digital literacy grants aimed at helping job seekers

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry is working to improve digital literacy skills for job seekers with an additional $1.53 million in Digital Literacy and Workforce Development Grants to support local programs. 

“L&I is focused on providing Pennsylvania’s workers with the skills they need to effectively navigate the technology platforms used in today’s workplaces,” said L&I Secretary Jennifer Berrier. “These additional Digital Literacy and Workforce Development Grants will help ensure that our workers develop the basic digital skills they need to apply for jobs and perform essential duties in their new career.”   

This funding is in addition to the $1.3 million digital literacy grants announced earlier this year. 

The new round of grants will provide local workforce programs grants of up to $45,000 each to promote digital competency, which also includes the ability to search and apply for online jobs, upload and submit a résumé via email, and the ability to develop and maintain a professional profile on networking sites. 

This round of grants expands the groups that are eligible to receive funding to include local workforce development boards, public libraries, library systems, district library centers, non-profit agencies, including community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, or small businesses meeting certain criteria. 

Grant applications are due Dec. 21 and are only available to those organizations which did not receive funding in the first round of grants. 

The grants are 100 percent federally funded by federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Statewide Activity funding. WIOA Statewide Activity funding can be used to help job seekers and workers access employment, education, training and support services to succeed in the labor market.   

Additional details and the grant application can be found on L&I’s website. 

Lehigh, Lancaster workforce programs get boost from state

Members of the Manufacturing Resource Center’s Lehigh Valley PA Dream Team. PHOTO/SUBMITTED


The Manufacturers Resource Center of the Lehigh Valley has received $192,500 in funding to develop two programs to improve technical education to fuel the manufacturing industry’s innovation needs.

It was one of two recipients of funding through the state’s Manufacturing Training-to-Career program, which aims to boost awareness of careers within Pennsylvania’s manufacturing industry and support companies is identifying and training a skilled workforce through targeted programs and services.

Lancaster County Career and Technology Foundation (LCCTF) was approved for $187,000 in funding.

The MRC will use the funds to develop the STEAM program and the PA Dream Team program to engage and recruit potential future employees and provide on-the-job training following graduation.

The STEAM program will work with five local high schools and 10 local manufacturers and the PA Dream Team program will work with 12 local manufacturers in two pilot programs.

“MRC is eager to develop a program that gives high school students the opportunity to collaborate with area manufacturers and get the word out to graduating seniors about lucrative careers in advanced technology through the STEAM Club initiative,” said Karen Buck, MRC’s manager of workforce initiatives.

The funding for LCCTF will help the foundation work with volunteer committee LancasterMakes, to engage middle school students and increase awareness of manufacturing careers before students begin choosing high school pathways.

LancasterMakes will acquire professional services to support fundraising and marketing efforts and to increase participation availability for Manufacturing Day. The foundation aims to grow participation to 100 host companies and 5,000 host students by 2022.

“Our goal is to reach every middle schooler in Lancaster County to provide them with knowledge and experiences of the many career pathways in manufacturing,” said Jennifer Baker, executive director of the foundation. “This project will also allow us to strengthen partnerships with our local manufacturing businesses and provide them with opportunity to meet and engage with the county’s future workforce.”

Berks Tec Centro partners with IBM for workforce education initiative

The Berks Latino Workforce Development Corp., which now goes by the name Berks Tec Centro, said it has teamed up with IBM to provide assistance to both job seekers and entrepreneurs, many of whom are trying to reinvent their career because of the pandemic.

The assistance, which is being offered at no charge, is part of IBM’s new “SkillsBuild Reignite” career readiness and economic development initiative.

It provides accredited learning content from IBM along with free, personalized one-on-one career development coaching from volunteers through IBM and other local experts.

“For many, the start of a new year leads to new resolutions,” said Darleen Garcia, executive director of the BLWDC. “In an economically challenged city like Reading, where issues related to educational attainment, literacy, food security and neighborhood stabilization existed prior to the pandemic, residents remain hopeful for tangible change and access to opportunities.”

Organizers gave the example of entrepreneurs looking to create plans to re-launch their business.

Such individuals can work with mentors to refine market research, engage with experts regarding economic development grants and financial management and learn about the latest digital marketing techniques.

Job seekers will have the opportunity to tap into job referral networks; gain practical experience with hands-on projects and learn about workplace trends.

They can also brush up on professional skills such as resume-writing, time management, communication and collaboration; and take in-person and online classes that are relevant to both tech and non-tech jobs.

Anyone interested in the program can go to the BLWDC website, www.blwdc.org to learn more or enroll in the virtual learning courses.


Pennsylvania makes $4.7M in grants to boost workforce training

A number of regional workforce development programs will benefit from $4.7 million in PAsmart Next Generation Industry Partnership Grants.

The Next Generation Industry Partnership grants work to bring together multiple employers in the same industry to collectively provide targeted job training so that students, workers and job seekers get the skills to work in those industries.

Among the recipients is the Greater Reading Advanced Manufacturing Next Generation Industry Partnership, which works do develop local manufacturing talent pools and promote both manufacturing and the Berks region to attract talent to industry.

Another recipient is the Smart Energy Initiative of Southeastern PA, which serves Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lancaster, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton and Philadelphia counties. It focuses on the promotion of growth of the “smart” energy industry by providing comprehensive workforce and economic development services to partnering companies.

There were a total of 28 regional partnerships that received funding from the grant pool.

“Employers need skilled workers now more than ever,” said Gov. Tom Wolf. “My administration created PAsmart to help close the skills gap and allow more people to get the education and training they need to get better paying jobs. Strengthening job and skills training continues to be a priority and the 28 grants announced today further enhances that goal.”

The governor’s office noted that this funding is in addition to $6.5 million in PAsmart grants awarded to expand apprenticeship job training.

Those grants support registered apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship through ambassador networks, build a diverse talent pipeline in the construction and building industry.

State announces $300K grant program to link schools to businesses

To bolster job training opportunities, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry released $300,000 in grants to help connect businesses and school districts.

Labor & Industry Secretary Jerry Oleksiak is encouraging local workforce development boards in the state to apply for funds to implement Business Education Partnership programs that help provide career-related experiences and opportunities for students through such things as soft-skills development, internships, workplace shadowing and career mentoring.

“Last year the commonwealth funded Business-Education Partnership grant activities to serve nearly 32,000 individuals across Pennsylvania,” Secretary Oleksiak said. “These partnerships benefit employers by educating tomorrow’s workforce about the career and technical education job opportunities that exist and provide students with a solid first-work experience that puts them squarely on the path to future success.”

Eligible applicants include local workforce development boards not currently operating a 2019 BEP project. Lehigh Valley and Montgomery County workforce development boards were strongly encouraged to apply.

The Business-Education Partnership grants from L&I are funded at 100 percent through federal money made available from the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act.

Additional details and the grant application can be found on L&I’s website. The deadline to apply is Oct. 30.

Workforce initiatives balance present, future needs

The strong economy has been making it difficult for businesses that need qualified and skilled technical workers. And while some established workforce initiatives with a long-range focus are paying off, other efforts are underway to match workers’ skills with specific jobs in the shorter term, several observers said in recent interviews.

Efforts centering on the emerging workforce, such as students in high school and those attending trade or technical schools, started years ago, said Darlene J. Robbins, president of the Northeast PA Manufacturers and Employers Association, which is based in Pottsville.

“Every region of every county is providing some type of programming,” Robbins said.

Her group has had particular success with the Your Employability Skills, or YES, program. The program teaches students some of the soft skills needed on the job, such as how to interact with co-workers, what constitutes a good work ethic, and ensuring basic levels of math and language skills. In addition, stakeholders consistently are holding job fairs, career fairs, factory visits and other events to connect workers with employers, said Robbins and Courtney L. Fasnacht, executive director of the Northeast PA Manufacturers and Employers Council Inc.

While such efforts are helpful, they are directed at the future, while the needs of employers often are immediate, several observers noted. Those needs are spurring efforts such as a website called CampusEd, which acts sort of like a LinkedIn but for students in high schools, community colleges, universities, and trade schools, as well as adult learners. The target market includes students who are trying to get specific training to fill the exact needs of employers, said Megan McInroy, an attorney who is a co-founder of CampusEd.

The platform, which is still being developed for the Central Pennsylvania and Lehigh Valley regions, allows students or workers to create online profiles and then list their academic achievements, professional skills and training – as well as “badges” that attest to a specific skill or course – that an employer can review while trying to make a perfect match, McInroy said. The concept is to simplify the matching process. Students can see what training a particular employer might need and then take courses to achieve a badge or certification to keep them on track, she added.

CampusEd is part of New Jersey-based Condensed Curriculum International, or CCI, which formed in 1993 to help colleges train pharmacy technicians, so it has deep experience in job matching, McInroy said.

Michael Watroba, education services coordinator with York-based Education Consulting Associates, said his company has been working with CCI on identifying the markets that would benefit most from the CampusEd platform, including Central Pennsylvania.

Robbins said she is not familiar with CampusEd, which launched in January, but that career-awareness and skills training are cornerstones to efforts to prepare young people for current and future jobs. She noted that the YES certificates – which would be something that might appear on a student’s CampusEd profile – often attract employers because they know that workers will have basic skills training.

She said the YES program started in York County, where it remains in use.

Help wanted

Efforts in York also have focused on harder skills, such as trades-oriented training, said Tom Palisin, executive director of The Manufacturers’ Association, a regional group based in York County.

Palisin said historically low unemployment rates – hovering below 4 percent – are frustrating employers, especially those trying to grow. His group’s annual survey of manufacturers found that 70 percent of respondents intend to hire this year, up from 55 percent in the prior year, he said.

“That’s a big jump,” Palisin said. “The rest said they were maintaining their workforces, and no one said they were laying off.”

He, too, said the need to match skills with the jobs in demand is critical.

“There is definitely a push with matching the skills with the current workforce,” he said. The more training is focused on specific demands, the more likely job seekers can find the best-paying jobs, he added.

Several programs – such as the state’s PA CareerLink – attempt to make those connections, he added.

“The unemployment rate is so low it is difficult to find the time to do the matchmaking,” he said, adding that online services can help employers save time.

One issue is career mobility – going from one job to a new, more lucrative one – which makes it tough for employers to keep up, Palisin said. Still, a lot of companies are focusing on retention by offering better pay and benefits to current workers.

He said 80 percent of those who responded to his survey said they have difficulty finding workers.

“So that is everybody,” Palisin said.

David N. Taylor, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association, said elected officials have been taking a much more proactive stance to confronting the workforce challenges, especially with the creation of the workforce command center earlier this year. The command center includes people from the public and private sector who meet routinely to tackle workforce issues.

The streamlining and consolidation of the myriad jobs programs statewide also should help focus training efforts where they are needed, Taylor said.

Matching employers and people with specific skills is important, he added, but the issues still go a “whole level deeper.” Employers remain frustrated by a lack of math and language skills among new hires, as well as basic jobs skills, he said, so it is important not to lose focus on that.