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CAEDC discusses how to retain a vibrant workforce

The Cumberland Area Economic Development Corporation focused discussions on attracting and retaining a vibrant workforce during its quarterly alliance meeting Thursday in Mechanicsburg.

With employers and multiple higher education representatives gathered into the lobby of the TownePlace Suites hotel, CEO Jonathan Bowser and former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry Julia Hearthway explained what must take place in order to bridge the gap between employers and the education system.

Bowser said that one of the reoccurring concerns brought up by employers in the county was their difficulty in filling desired positions.

“Former secretary Hearthway spent a lot of time, as she alluded to, really trying to figure out what is the best way — efficient way — to be able to kind of fill the skills gap,” he said. “One of the things that I think she really talked to that resonated — at least well with me — was you got to be able to have both sides have a little bit more skin in the game.”

Bowser said employers and school systems need to work to solve issues with which employers are currently struggling.

“Partnerships are great, but you know, enhancing those partnerships to the point where you have a memorandum of understanding to where you are in the school, to where the school has kids at the employers’ locations — that’s really what I think we are really trying to achieve here. Maybe we don’t have a skills gap like we think we do, but maybe what we have is a partnership gap.”

With that in mind, Hearthway said what she wants those in attendance to remember from Thursday evening’s meeting is an emphasis on solidarity between business and education.

“I think everyone understands and accepts that business and education need to connect,” she said. “What I’d like them to walk away with is that those need to be real solid connections. Not just meet-and-greets, not just shadowing, real solid connections where they’re interacting in meaningful ways that help teach individuals new skill sets and give businesses the type that they need.”

Hearthway went on to say that she is not necessarily saying that the partnerships and connections that are currently in place are not meaningful, but she believes there needs to be an urge to get down to the brass tacks of the connections where both the individuals as well as the employers are prospering for the better in a life-changing manner.

As far as the future of workforce development goes, Bowser feels that the area has a bright future. Bowser said that multiple factors such as the cost of living, the degree of education in the workforce and the hard-working mentality that the southcentral Pennsylvania workforce possesses makes for a successful path in order to bridge the gap between the two groups.

This article was published in the Sentinel and on Cumberlnk.com

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