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Hearing focuses on career & tech education expansion

Rep. Jim Haddock (D- Lackawanna, Luzerne) hosted the hearing at Old Forge High School
Haley O'Brien
Rep. Jim Haddock (D-118th) hosted a hearing on career and technical education at Old Forge High School.

The state’s new budget includes a $23.5 million investment in workforce training and vo-tech programs.

The House Democratic Policy Committee heard testimony from education and workforce experts regarding the expansion at a hearing hosted by Rep. Haddock (D-118th) at Old Forge High School.

Dan Kuba, Deputy Secretary for Workforce Development at the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, said the plan is to expand the trades industry not only in terms of access, but to include more professions like computer science and education.

“We’ve heard a lot about the traditional building and constructions and the trades industries in apprenticeship. Governor Shapiro believes that there are a lot of other occupations in the Commonwealth that should be put in this format,” Kuba said. “Because they’re great occupations… and you have a structured environment where individuals coming out of school can walk into an industry making very good wages.”

He explains what will happen with the $6.5 million set aside for apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programming.

“What those dollars do is they are put out in a grant format, and either groups, sponsors, employers, and educational facilities can submit and get these dollars to help build the template, the structure, the training of all different types of occupations in an apprenticeship model,” Kuba said.

Apprenticeship programs include school-based learning, at a tech school or a community college, plus on the job training that allows individuals to earn while they learn.

Dr. Anthony Guariglia is the Administrative Director of Wilkes-Barre Area CTC.

“That benefits the employer in getting a good look at students they can vet who they want,” he said, adding that reimbursement programs like the Business Education Partnership Grant encourage local employers to hire students.

Dr. Anthony Guargiglia, Administrative Director at Wilkes-Barre Area Career & Technical Center, testified before the House Democratic Policy Committee
Haley O'Brien
Dr. Anthony Guargiglia, Administrative Director at Wilkes-Barre Area Career & Technical Center, testified before the House Democratic Policy Committee.

Tech schools are facing a teacher shortage. These educators come from the trades, but they are required to take college courses every year at their own expense.

“That does open up a funding opportunity to try to reimburse maybe some of those instructors to help them,” Dr. Guariglia said. “I think the education is vital, but I do think that it forms an additional expense on the teacher that does form a barrier.”

Erin Keating, Superintendent of the Old Forge School District, also testified, expressing the need to expose students to the trades, especially in middle school.

“Parents have to understand that this is a really viable option for their kids,” she said. “Career and technical education is the way to go right now to go into the workforce and be highly financially successful.”

While Keating proposed ideas to garner more interest, Rep. Tarah Probst (D-189) said that students in Monroe County are on waiting lists for career and technical education.

“There’s not enough of these programs, they’re in pockets of Pennsylvania,” Kuba said. “So at the Department of Labor and Industry, we’re investing these funds in different programs to help create those.”

Superintendent Keating is asking that students be given opportunities to gain the certifications and credentials they need to allow them to go directly into the workforce. She and Dr. Guariglia both believe that dual enrollment opportunities should expand beyond college-bound students.

“We need to make sure we’re looking at: what are the actual graduation requirements, what are the actual core requirements listed in the PA code,” Keating said. “And how do we address them to give them the flexibility that current technical schools need, so that they can make sure their kids are getting their industry credentials and they’re not having to check ambiguous boxes to get there.”