Not all economists buy the notion that states are suffering from a skills gap – the phenomenon of having plenty of open jobs but not enough skilled workers to fill them. Some say those jobs would fill up fast if the wages were higher.
But Secretary Alan Walker, head of the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development, said newly minted welders and commercial truck drivers can make more than new teachers, for example.
“We have all these state teaching universities,” said Walker, citing a statistic oft-cited by Gov. Corbett. “We’re turning out all these teachers, but if you look at the out-migration, that’s probably one of the biggest out-migrations of our talent pool, are teachers who are educated in Pennsylvania and have to go elsewhere to find work.”
At a recent teachers expo – for vocational education teachers – Walker said the reason for the persistent skills gap is a social stigma that discourages people from opting for an education in a trade.
“Everybody wants their child to be a doctor or a lawyer or have a four-year degree or whatever,” he said. “We’ve got to get past that.” A cultural shift is needed, he said, so the focus can move to what the marketplace needs, not which jobs come with more prestige.
When asked if spurring that shift is such a priority that it will mean more funding for the state’s 14 community colleges, Walker said he’s not sure.
“I know the governor is really high on vocational education, and I know he would certainly fight to support at least level funding,” he said.
The current year’s budget level funded community colleges, and added half a million dollars for regional community college services. Last fiscal year’s budget cut state funding for community colleges by 10 percent, or about $24 million.
Pennsylvania’s most recent unemployment rate was 8.1 percent in October. It was the second month in a row the rate hovered above the national unemployment rate.