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Lack of skilled workers tops concerns of Corbett panel

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In Duquesne on Tuesday state Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary C. Alan Walker talked about boosting manufacturing. Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
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Training manager Allison Black led the tour of an electrical laboratory at U.S. Steel's Mon Valley Works training center in Duquesne with state Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary C. Alan Walker, state Sen. James R. Brewster and Reps. Rick Saccone and Bill Kortz, Allegheny County Councilman Bob Macey and, behind Saccone, county director of economic development Dennis Davin. Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News

Manufacturing is responsible for more than 12 percent of Pennsylvania’s economic output.

But the sector faces challenges here and across the nation, the co-chairman of a state advisory council on manufacturing said Tuesday.

“On one path, it’s leading our nation’s steady economic recovery,” Kennametal Inc. CEO Carlos M. Cardoso said in Breinigsville, Pa. “On another, our nation’s manufacturers face a skilled worker shortage of over 1 million jobs we’re struggling to fill … with 2.7 million baby boomers slated to retire in the next decade.”

Cardoso was among 24 members of an advisory council named by Gov. Tom Corbett to find ways to boost manufacturing statewide.

Among 15 recommendations it made on Tuesday to the governor and the General Assembly deal with a growing scarcity of skilled employees.

“A key part of the message is that to pursue a college degree or manufacturing career is not an either-or choice,” Cardoso told workers at the Westport Axle Corp. in Breinigsville.

“Manufacturing adds more than $70 billion in value each year to our state’s economy and employs more than 570,000 Pennsylvanians,” said Corbett, who also attended the event. “The company we are visiting today will be adding more than 500 new jobs.”

Cardoso said, “We need parents and guidance counselors to understand that manufacturing is a path that leads to higher education because these are jobs of technicians, not laborers. They can make a good living out of high school, and take advantage of higher learning paid for by their companies.”

Cardoso and state Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary C. Alan Walker were co-chairs of the advisory council, with help from the Team Pennsylvania Foundation.

Walker spoke at the U.S. Steel Mon Valley Works Training Hub in the Riverplace City Center of Duquesne, the former U.S. Steel Duquesne Works property. Other briefings on the advisory council’s findings were held in Hanover and Philadelphia.

Walker said manufacturers were responsible for $31.2 billion in exports from Pennsylvania in 2010. He also said a “reshoring” movement brings jobs back to the state that previously were moved to other countries.

“Hershey is bringing a lot of its manufacturing back from Mexico,” Walker said.

He said there were “61 ideas, large and small,” grouped under 15 recommendations on boosting manufacturing made to Corbett and the General Assembly.

The advisory council held meetings over nine months, and its recommendations cover five areas: opening new markets here, overseas and in energy fields; work force education; innovation; providing access to capital; and “making government work better for manufacturers.”

Among “talent and work force” recommendations is an “adopt a school” program and “industry-led standardization of skill needs and curriculum.” The panel also recommended creating “measures and support systems for educators and school districts.”

Unity-based Kennametal has more than 150 jobs available in the United States, more than one-third of them in production. Spokeswoman Christina Sutter said those jobs include openings for skilled machinists.

The advisory panel’s report as posted on the Team Pennsylvania website had seven recommendations under the category of “developing and implementing a strong statewide energy plan.”

The panel would explore creation of a shale gas power authority such as Recharge NY in New York state.

“A goal should be to have Pennsylvania energy costs be the lowest and most stable in the United States,” the report said. “In partnership with the natural gas industry,” the council urged development of “combined heat and power projects to benefit manufacturers.”

It also urged “infrastructure improvements to ensure cost-effective market access for manufacturers,” the use of tax reform and improved collaboration between business, government and trade organizations.

Corbett formed the council in November, saying he wanted it to identify and prioritize top issues confronting the state’s manufacturing sector.

The Team Pennsylvania Foundation, a nonpartisan nonprofit, was created in 1997 under Gov. Tom Ridge “to bridge the gap between government and the private sector and allow both sides to partner for the betterment of the Commonwealth.”

The advisory council’s members represented heavy machinery, minerals, pharmaceuticals, plastics, steel and textile industries.

Council members with Pittsburgh area ties include Ellwood Group Inc. CEO David Barensfeld, whose business is based in Ellwood City; Trafford-based Hamil Manufacturing Co. CEO Jeff Kelly; and U.S. Steel Senior Vice President Mike Williams.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1967 or [email protected].

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