Skilled Labor Maintains Our Way of Life - By State Rep. Mike Jones, 93rd Legislative District
Fact - manufacturing accounts for more than 20% of York County jobs, more than double the state and national averages. Manufacturing jobs pay an average of 12% more than other sectors, and for every dollar spent on manufacturing, we add another $1.89 in supporting sectors. In other words, manufacturing probably accounts for close to 45% of our local economy, and underpins our quality of life.

Fact - our traditional, four-year universities receive taxpayer dollars while 45% of their students will have no degree in six years.

We have a workforce crisis, and not treating it as such will result in deterioration of our manufacturing base and way of life. At present, we are failing to train enough students in the necessary “middle skills.” The majority of our workforce requires something more than a high school degree but less than a college degree. What we have now is too many students with college degrees, tens of thousands of dollars in debt, no job in their field or a job that doesn’t require their four-year degree. Even more concerning are the unfilled jobs that equate to lost opportunities for students and for all of us. When we can’t provide the necessary skilled and semi-skilled labor, our beloved manufactures look elsewhere, while we cannot attract new investment and new jobs. This hurts our economy and our families, as adult children and grandchildren leave the area for other opportunities.

The solution? We NEED colleges and universities, but we REALLY need to recognize the disservice of perpetuating the “college for everyone” mindset. Honestly, college is a perfect option for some but a terrible investment for others. The average college graduate will now be 55 years old before they catch an average trade school graduate in lifetime earnings. Trade school grads typically earn more than college grads, enter the workforce much sooner, carry far less debt and have a shorter path to possibly owning their own business.

Where once career and technical education (CTE) was viewed as a way to minimize the risk of students dropping out of high school, we are finally realizing and fully embracing CTE as a means of increasing a student’s employment and earning potential. The work being done by Dr. Dave Thomas and his staff at York County School of Technology is phenomenal. County high schools that are now embracing non-college career pathways also deserve credit. They realize what our future looks like.

The goal of every high school student who ponders life after graduation should be to follow a career path he or she can flourish in and enjoy. For everyone, that path may not include college, just as it is true CTE is not for everyone. Somewhere along the line, the reality of finding where the jobs are has to be realized. Millions of jobs in the United States that pay an average of $55,000 per year and require shorter and less expensive training are going unfilled.

Careers that touch virtually every sector of the economy are available to students who pursue vocational education. Globalization and innovation are redefining the knowledge and skill expectations for 21st century workers. Between 2012 and 2022, there will be more than 50 million job openings for CTE graduates.

With our rich manufacturing tradition, York County is fittingly leading the way in sharpening Pennsylvania’s focus on CTE. In 2015, Rep. Stan Saylor authored House Resolution 102, which established the select subcommittee on Technical Education and Career Readiness to investigate, review and make recommendations concerning career training programs.

The subcommittee’s first and current chairman, Rep. Seth Grove, continued the initiative that led to last month’s overwhelming passage by the House of a package of legislation designed to enhance opportunities in CTE. I am hopeful the Senate will pass them, and Gov. Tom Wolf, who vetoed a similar package of legislation last session, will have a change of heart this time.

These bills need support on the homefront. Telling young people the only road to success is the “four-year university track” is a disservice to them, their families and our community.

This is not a commercial for CTE, but rather an endorsement of good planning by students, parents, teachers and guidance counselors. Ask yourself questions like – what truly is the right fit? What is the potential for employment? How much will it cost and how much debt are you willing to take on? Where is the job market headed?

We’re told the tide is turning in both schools and homes, and that is good news. Exploring all options increases the possibility of a good quality of life. From a family perspective, children and grandchildren who choose a path that includes CTE would seem more likely to stay in the area and work for and with their friends and neighbors. From a community perspective, these young people enter the workforce earlier, thus ensuring and strengthening the tax base, which means our community as a whole stands to benefit.

Representative Mike Jones
93rd Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Scott Little
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