Building a Strong Rural Workforce in Pennsylvania

Last week, Carrie Amann, the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Workforce Development Association (PWDA), testified before the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, focusing on workforce development strategies for rural areas in the state. Amann highlighted the critical role of the local workforce development boards (LWDBs) in bringing together education, business, and the workforce to address the state’s workforce needs. Through the PA CareerLink® system, individuals, job seekers, workers, and employers can access public workforce development services at nearly 60 locations across Pennsylvania.

The testimony shed light on key conditions that continually shape the work and advocacy efforts of PWDA. Pennsylvania needs more available workers, with only six unemployed persons for every ten job openings. While the state’s unemployment rate is 4.1%, indicating near full employment, the labor force participation rate is 62%. Pennsylvania needs innovative approaches to workforce development.

Amann emphasized the importance of retaining workers in rural communities, where the lack of labor supply and out-migration have significant impacts. She highlighted two effective strategies employed in rural workforce systems to combat this issue: Summer Youth Employment and Business-Education Partnerships.

Summer Youth Employment

Summer Youth Employment programs, designed to promote career opportunities to youth aged 13 to 24, provide short-term work experiences, internships, and skill development. Through these programs, young individuals gain valuable insights into local career opportunities while employers engage with and strengthen their ties to the future talent pool.

Business Education Partnerships

Amann also emphasized Business-Education Partnerships (BEPs) as a successful approach linking education and employment. BEPs foster collaboration between schools, employers, students, and parents, breaking down silos and creating career-oriented experiences. Despite challenges in federal funding for BEPs, these partnerships have proven effective in facilitating direct engagement between students and businesses, providing students with valuable insights into potential career paths.

Amann further highlighted the importance of aligning education and training with employer-defined skills and competencies. To meet workforce needs, Pennsylvania must explore innovative post-secondary education and training approaches, such as “Grow Your Own” strategies, where businesses team with partners in the workforce development system to upskill and train employees and workers to match the needs of the employers. 


Amann stressed the importance of real-time access to employment and workforce data, urging the passage of legislation to #FreetheData. Timely access to accurate data would enable local workforce development boards and stakeholders to develop effective strategies and address service delivery gaps more efficiently. Right now, it takes up to 24 months for organizations to get workforce data from the Department of Labor and Industry. More timely access to data will help organizations tailor policies and initiatives to better match workers and employers. 

In concluding her testimony, Amann expressed PWDA’s commitment to working with policymakers and legislators to develop and implement strategies that equip workers with the skills needed to succeed in the 21st-century economy. Pennsylvania can ensure its residents’ prosperity by fostering a strong, resilient, and effective workforce development system.

“PWDA looks forward to continued collaboration with stakeholders to drive innovative workforce development solutions and create a brighter future for Pennsylvania’s workforce,” said Amann.