Skip to content

Panel: Students need more help post-graduation

From the (Lancaster) Intelligencer

Students graduating high school and college can’t find good-paying jobs in Pennsylvania, and employers can’t find skilled workers to fill open positions. The people are out there, the jobs are out there, but the connections are not.

More than 20 business and community leaders met in Montgomery County on Monday [November 20, 2017] morning to discuss those issues and other reasons why the middle-class job market has become an uncertainty for the up-and-coming generation.

“There are unemployed people and there are job openings,” said Guy Ciarrocchi, president and CEO of the Chester County Chamber of Business & Industry. “Two challenges are getting people to the jobs, the transportation, and training them to do the work. There are hundreds of jobs at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, and they can’t find the people with those skills. We need to increase communication to put them in position to succeed.”

Ciarrocchi shared his thoughts during the final regional meeting of Gov. Tom Wolf’s Middle Class Task Force. The Pennsylvania governor created the task force in February to drill deep into the challenges and best practices of job markets throughout the state, taking into account the socioeconomic, educational and institutional obstacles workers face while trying to either break into the middle class or sustain financial stability. The roundtable was held at Merck’s offices in Upper Gwynedd.

A final presentation will be made to Wolf in the next few weeks.

The findings from the months-long analysis will help shape policy decisions, according to a representative from Wolf’s office.

A common theme emerged Monday during the two-hour discussion: Businesses need to find a way to start grooming the future workforce as early as possible. College and high school students stress out over their job prospects, and many schools do not know how to fully prepare them for big decisions.

Brianna Zdradzinski, a first-generation college student at Kutztown University, said the choices are overwhelming, even with the help of her parents. Students without that kind of support at home are drowning in information without anybody to point them in a direction.

“There’s no real guidance,” said Zdradzinski. “We don’t know how to interview and put together a resume, and we don’t know where to go for that training. There’s a lot of pressure starting in high school to figure out what we want to do, but they don’t give us the resources to figure out how to get there. You can’t put that on the students, too.”

“Only a handful are coming out of the city’s career and technical education program with a seventh-grade reading level,” said Eiding. “They can’t maintain a day’s work for their employers and are out of a job by the end of the day. There’s no mentoring after they get out of school.”

The panel generally agreed that partnerships between schools and private industry through internships and job training could go a long way toward giving college and trade school graduates better entry into the workforce.

There was also some agreement that tapping into the overlooked prison parolee population could benefit businesses and neighborhoods. Tracey Fisher, CEO of the International Institute for Advanced Instruction’s Gateway to Re-Entry program, and Jeffrey Brown, owner of ShopRite franchise Brown’s Super Stores, talked about their work together employing capable young men and women who served their sentences but could not find work.

“They come home mentally broken and poor,” said Fisher. “They don’t believe the value in themselves, and they do not see the value in the life or property they are about to take. If you don’t address the issue, the issue will address you.”

Fisher spoke of an instance when five men hung around a corner in Philadelphia and got into trouble. When he approached them and asked if they would rather work for a living than sell drugs, their eyes lit up at the suggestion, Fisher said. He spoke with a manager at one of Brown’s stores, at 67th and Haverford in Philadelphia, and helped the young men get presentable for retail jobs. After working for two weeks, they chipped in from their first paychecks and took Fisher out for dinner, he said.

“They are not animals, these are human beings,” Fisher said. “I spoke with them, gave them some consistency and checking on them. Over time, their friends started seeing them work, and they went out and got jobs. They weren’t selling drugs anymore or robbing anyone, and the neighborhood got safer.”

PA Workforce Development Association