House GOP leaders tout bills aimed at strengthening bonds between higher ed, private employers

Flanked by students attending Dauphin County Technical School, Pennsylvania’s GOP House leadership on Monday encouraged the passage of a package of workforce development bills at a news conference at the state capitol.

House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, said the 11 bills are aimed at improving the commonwealth’s workforce development programs and strengthening relationships between higher-education institutions and employers.

Cutler said the bills, which received bipartisan support and are advancing to the Senate, were not created in a vacuum.

“We’ve been with employers who tell us they can’t find qualified workers to fill open positions,” Cutler said during the afternoon news conference. “We’ve sat down with unemployed workers looking for a job, but without the specific skills needed to succeed for some of these opportunities.”

Cutler added, “We’ve visited with students … who may not be sure which classes to take because they don’t know which skills or industries provide the best opportunities.”

A news release issued by the GOP House leadership after the news conference delved further into the rationale behind the specific bills.

Cutler and other House leaders pointed to Gov. Tom Wolf’s focus on workforce development during his budget address. The group also noted a recent report from the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, which concluded that “finding qualified candidates” was the No. 1 concern in a recent survey.

Republican members of the House have sponsored six of the 11 bills within the package. One example is HB 522, which Rep. Mike Tobash, R-Schuylkill, sponsored.

HB 522 establishes the Career and Technical Education Investment Incentive program. As proposed, it offers state tax credits to career and technical partnership organizations.

Among the bills with Democratic sponsorship are HB 393, from Rep. Patrick Harkins, D-Erie. It calls on the Pennsylvania Department of Education to work with other state agencies – including the departments of Labor and Industry and Agriculture – to improve career pathways.

HB 393 in its current inception calls on the agencies to maintain an online career resource center for students, parents, educators and school officials. The portal, as proposed, would host various pieces of information, including such data and statistics as employment opportunities and compensation.

At the news conference, House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, said the package will give Pennsylvanians “the dignity of providing for themselves and their families.”

“We need our young people to contemplate these opportunities,” Turzai said. “I just think it is the right direction.”

Wolf’s calls to more than increase Pennsylvania’s minimum wage by 2025 was brought up during a brief question-and-answer session after the news conference.

In response, Cutler said, “I’d rather focus on these sorts of career-sustaining jobs.”

During the news conference, Cutler and Turzai said the package of bills would give muscle to jobs that pay beyond the commonwealth’s current minimum wage.

“The goal is simple,” Cutler said. “Provide a pathway for as many Pennsylvanians as possible.”