LIMERICK — A group of local small business owners sent a message to Pennsylvania Secretary of Labor and Industry Jennifer Berrier on Thursday — we need help getting help.
At a meeting hosted by State Rep. Joe Ciresi, D-146th Dist., Berrier met with Tom and Jane Perkins, owners of TP Trailers; Paul Sawchuck, owner of Garage Sawchuck; Rick Wojton, the owner of Wojton’s Nursery and Leonard Evans, who owns several car repair businesses and restaurants, including Coventry Pub, Jack Cassidy’s and Limerick Airport Hotel.
All told Berrier that they are struggling to hire and retain workers for their businesses.
“Blue collar jobs aren’t what they used to be. You can make a lot of money doing this job,” said Tom Perkins.
Part of the problem, according to business owners, is that young people seem less interested in careers in local businesses. Or, once formed, they do not stay, representing a waste of time and financial investment for the owners.
“I have retired teachers working for me, people who are in their 60s and 70s, and they know how to work,” Wojton said. He lamented the loss of a landscaper training program at the Western Career and Technology Center school where the Spring-Ford, Pottsgrove and Upper Perkiomen school districts educate their students in the trades.
Pointing to difficulties getting students interested in certain careers, Ciresi, who was part of the Spring-Ford School Board when that program was canceled, said the problem was simple: there weren’t enough students enrolled. “It was a great program, I loved it, but when we closed it, we only had eight students enrolled and we had to make a tough decision,” he said.
Sawchuck said it sometimes seems like training young people to work in his garage isn’t worth it because of the large number of them quitting or moving on to other jobs. Training a worker in the field of auto repair can take several years, given the complexity of vehicles in recent years.
“A lot of us invested in young people, and we lost money,” said Tom Perkins.
Sawchuck noted that some of the auto repair equipment used at Western Center needs updating. Tom Perkins said the same thing about some welding equipment there.
Jane Perkins said the younger generation doesn’t seem familiar with the perseverance work ethic. “Amazon and things like that made everything immediate. It’s an instant world now,” she said.
Sawchuck agreed, adding that “schools don’t teach kids a good work ethic,” noting that it’s not uncommon for potential employees to not even show up for a job interview. He said that of the 30 or so Western Center students he’s hired, only one remains in his garage.
Berrier’s first suggestion was to look at “the apprenticeship model,” and she mentioned state programs that can help with that, as well as using PA CareerLink offices to find qualified employees, including those who may have a criminal record.
“The labor market is tightening, that’s a fact,” she said.
The state on Friday announced $297,000 in new funding to help Local 354 plumbers and pipefitters meet the demand for a certified, well-trained workforce in 14 western counties. of Pennsylvania.
“Supporting Local 354’s apprenticeship program will help develop talented workers for in-demand careers in the Commonwealth,” Governor Tom Wolf said in a news release announcing the funding. “Apprenticeship programs like this allow Pennsylvanians to earn a living while learning the skills they need to get secure, well-paying jobs.”
On average, Pennsylvania graduate apprentices earn an annual starting salary of $70,000 and have the potential to earn $300,000 more than other workers over their careers, according to the press release.
With funding from Pennsylvania Pre-Apprenticeship and Apprenticeship Scholarship Program, plumbers and pipefitters, Local 354 will be able to pursue a five-year apprenticeship program. Apprentices learn welding, pipefitting, plumbing and HVAC while receiving on-the-job training under the supervision of journeypersons.
The Wolf administration invested an additional $11.7 million through the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) Pre-Apprenticeship and Apprenticeship Grant Program.
The program aims to increase the availability of apprenticeships to Pennsylvania employers to help them recruit and develop their talent. Pre-Apprenticeship and Apprenticeship Program funding is provided to eligible applicants in an effort to achieve the goal of increasing accessibility to apprenticeships statewide. Eligible uses of funds include expenses related to education that complements on-the-job learning.
Pam Hacker, who works in Ciresi’s office and worked for decades as an electrician for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said that when she started the union she organized a “camp of Apprenticeship Training” which gave potential members a taste of what they should expect as an apprentice. “who helped weed out those who were never going to stay. Me? I liked it.”
Berrier noted that women have left the labor market in greater numbers than men during the COVID-19 pandemic for various reasons, including childcare, thus increasing the labor shortage in the country. ‘State.
She also suggested accessing programs that specialize in retraining veterans for new careers, noting that Pennsylvania has the fourth highest percentage of veterans in the nation. “I’d hire a veteran in a heartbeat,” Sawchuck said.
Another state program that can help business owners is called “skill AP,.” she says. Offered through the state’s CareerLink program, Skill UP PA offers up to 4,000 free online courses, giving employers a head start on training new employees and job seekers a leg up. advance on improving their list of skills.
“A lot of employers don’t know about this program,” Berrier said. Apparently that included some of the people sitting at the table with her.
Evans suggested creating a program that could save students money. “Rather than have them spend $50,000 to $60,000 at these tech schools, bring them to us and let us train them,” he suggested. In many cases, these trainees would use the latest equipment and gain real-life experience while being paid, instead of paying technical schools.
There are complications with such programs, Tom Perkins said, including that his company’s insurance company says having young people in a truck, even if they’re not driving, is a big plus. risk and therefore charges higher premiums.
But there are certainly benefits, such as saving the public the cost of constructing new buildings or expanding technical school buildings, which need to be staffed and maintained, Tom Perkins said.
“We are not looking for handouts from the government, we are just looking for help,” he said.