Letter to the Editor: Industry Partnerships; A Winning Strategy for Republicans and Democrats

Instead of using corporate welfare and tax breaks to lure individual companies from other states, Pennsylvania’s industry (training) partnerships bring companies in the same sectors together to invest in core and cutting-edge skills designed to make entire industries more competitive, nationally and globally.

For Pennsylvania’s over $600 billion economy, industry partnerships are a bipartisan, business-labor, and public-private approach that works effectively and quickly.

* Republicans like industry partnerships because they aren’t corporate welfare or a top-down bureaucratic program. They slash unemployment by giving workers skills industry really needs. They require matching funds, and they make Pennsylvania companies more competitive, all at an affordable cost.

* Democrats like industry partnerships because they increase worker skills, wages and advancement opportunities, again with proven results at an affordable cost.

* Companies like industry partnerships because they lower per-worker costs for core common-needs trainings, speed acquisition of critical skills in short supply, and unlock unexpected payoffs from company-to-company learning about workforce retention, internal job-promotion, and other effective practices.

* Unions like industry partnerships because they upgrade worker skills, increase career advancement, and encourage companies to take the mutual-gains high-road to profitability based on high skills, high performance, and high wages.

In industry after industry, and region after region, strategic industry partnership initiatives abound. In southwestern and south central Pennsylvania, for example, industry partnerships linked to regional manufacturers’ associations have revived apprenticeship programs serving dozens of employers and now train up to 100 new apprentices annually.

In the Philadelphia region, industry partnerships with ties to the Chester County Economic Development Council – in health care, IT, manufacturing, agriculture, bioscience and energy – move smoothly across the often-siloed worlds of workforce development, economic development and education. Even with reduced state funding, they engage over 600 employers and train over 1,000 workers annually while exposing over 3,000 youth to career development opportunities.

In the Lehigh Valley, industry partnerships are at the center of Pennsylvania’s most effective career, technical and community college training programs, providing that vital connection to employers necessary to make a real difference to regional economies.

Industry partnerships were launched by Gov. Mark Schweiker and expanded by Gov. Rendell; but the 2008 recession and resulting state budget cuts have reduced funding to under $2 million. Even with the opportunity to leverage private funds, spending less than 33 cents per Pennsylvania worker per year is not an adequate state investment in the foundation of a 21st century industry-connected skills and career infrastructure.

Gov. Wolf’s FY 2015-2016 state budget proposes a restoration of $10 million in funding for industry-partnership training that is supported by hundreds of companies, unions and other organizations.

Pennsylvania was one of the first states to embrace the industry-partnership model. Our successful model has been copied by a growing number of other states and helped shape new federal workforce laws.

Few legislative actions have more deep-rooted, cross-pollinated philosophical underpinnings than industry partnerships. Ten years of data show that industry partnerships cut corporate and union trainings costs as much as 60 percent while requiring a cash match that puts real private enterprise skin in the game. Instead of retraining unemployed workers lacking updated skills, industry partnerships keep workers on-the-job while upgrading their skills, certifications and knowledge.

It’s been rewarding to see these partnerships help grow regional economies, boost the bottom lines of businesses and enable workers to find and retain jobs and advance their careers to the next levels. In 2011, Pennsylvania achieved a great milestone as state legislators recognized the high return on investment delivered by industry partnerships and voted unanimously, in both chambers of the General Assembly, to enact the industry-partnership program into Pennsylvania law. You can join hundreds of other industry-partnership supporting companies and other organizations at http://bit.ly/1QqRrr6

Often, we get defined by our differences and disagreements. But today we face escalating global competition, an economy still rebounding from the deepest downturn since the Great Depression, and a trade deficit growing yet again. More than ever, we need to find common ground and principles that bring us together.

Industry partnerships not only bring industries together but also build bipartisan business/labor collaboration that can strengthen Pennsylvania’s economy more broadly. Let’s work together and restore funding for stronger industry partnerships.

Submitted by Kelly Lewis and Stephen Herzenberg.

Kelly Lewis is a former Republican state lawmaker and tech industry advocate, and now principal of Lewis Strategic. Stephen Herzenberg is an economist and head of the Keystone Research Center. Keystone Research Center.

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