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Workforce & Childcare Matters in PA

May 26, 2021 – The business community used to look at child care through an early learning lens but now sees it clearly as a workforce issue,” said Gene Barr, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business & Industry, a panelist in a one-hour webinar on May 26 that was part of PWDA’s PA@Work series connecting leaders to collaborate, strategize, build capacity, and identify innovative solutions that lift up Pennsylvania workers, employers, and communities. You can find resources from this  Learning Series here. 

PWDA Executive Director Carrie Anne Amann moderated the panel, a one-hour webinar that was part of its PA@Work series connecting leaders to collaborate, strategize, build capacity, and identify innovative solutions that lift up Pennsylvania workers, employers, and communities. Her guests were Pennsylvania Chamber of Business & Industry President and CEO Gene Barr, Kari King, President and CEO of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children (“PPC”), and Janet Ward, Executive Director at Westmoreland-Fayette Workforce Investment Board (“WFWIB”).

“The COVID-19 pandemic brought into sharp relief the problems families for years have had with child care,” Amann said. “With 20,000 daycares closing during the pandemic and childcare operators incurring more than $325 million in losses, these problems have now multiplied exponentially.”

Barr, who currently is a member of the Pennsylvania Early Learning Investment Commission and co-chairs Governor Tom Wolf’s Keystone Economic Development and Workforce Command Center, said that availability of quality early learning and child care options for parents continues to be a concern for members of the PA Chamber but the pressure to develop workable solutions has intensified.   

“The business community used to look at child care through an early learning lens but now sees it clearly as a workforce issue,” Barr said. “We had jobs unfilled before the pandemic and there continue to be to be jobs going unfilled now for a variety of reasons including the additional federal unemployment compensation incentives as well as a lack of available child care.  We can no longer waste talent in Pennsylvania; we need to make it possible for everyone to work, including parents.”

King, whose nonprofit and non-partisan organization works to improve the health, education and well-being of children and youth in the Commonwealth, said that the pandemic has created opportunities to build up the child care industry stronger than it was before.

“We have the chance now to make the connection between the critical issues of child development, child health, early childhood education not just with the long-term strength of the economy but also with the importance of parents being able to work outside the home,” King said.

Ward, who leads one of Pennsylvania’s 22 federally-mandated workforce development boards, said that her service territories of Westmoreland and Fayette Counties have both an aging population and ongoing population loss. She said the pandemic has only exacerbated the difficulties employers face in finding employees.

“The adjustments that many area employers made during COVID got them more comfortable with alternative arrangements like work from home or part time schedules,” Ward said. “But we still have industries that need employees on site and child care is critical for those employers.”

King thinks the time is right for public policy change, in large part as a result of the personal experience lawmakers and other public officials have had with child care in their own families.

“Before, it was hard to explain the link between child care and work; people saw it as an education or child development issue,” King said. Now, she added, she has had lawmakers pull her aside to share their families’ own struggles to find child care during the pandemic.

The panelists agreed that innovation on child care should be led by industry. But they also said that government must make supporting child care a higher policy and funding priority.

As examples of employer-led innovation, Barr cited Giant’s plan to build an onsite daycare center at its Carlisle headquarters. King mentioned Sheetz’s partnership with Bright Horizons on the Little Sproutz Early Learning Center at its operations support center. Similarly, WFWIB, Ward’s organization, co-locates its PA CareerLink™ center with a Head Start program.

The panelists urged Pennsylvanians to become advocates for more accessible and higher quality child care.

“Don’t brush this issue off now that the pandemic is winding down,” Ward said, adding that it will not go away, and we will not solve the problem by ignoring it.”

 

PA Workforce Development Association