Scott Wagner says schools should steer more kids toward blue-collar jobs
Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner said Thursday that Pennsylvania educators should steer more children toward well-paying blue-collar jobs and away from college.
Wagner discussed proposals to address an anticipated shortage of skilled workers in Pennsylvania during a tour of Rosedale Technical College in Kennedy. He said there soon will be nearly 200,000 unfilled skilled-labor jobs in the state, according to a 2017 report published by the nonprofit Council For a Strong America.
Many of the jobs pay more than $50,000 a year when overtime and bonuses are factored in, he said.
A high school graduate who started a successful trash-hauling business in his hometown of York, Wagner said college educations often overburden students with debt while leaving them unprepared for jobs. He said educators should start talking with students as early as fourth grade about their careers.
“It’s the guidance counselors that are the biggest obstacle,” he said. “They’re telling these kids, ‘You should go to college.’”
Wagner called for more “adult conversations” between parents and children over children’s job prospects and suggested the state should decrease regulations for 16-year-olds who want to work.
Rosedale representatives said employers are desperate for high school graduates with training to take jobs in trucking, auto services, HVAC, welding and other trades.
Elite Gas Field Services, a trucking company based in Midland, started offering to pay tuition for new drivers to get enough of them to meet demand.
“The industry is just starving for drivers and skilled, seasoned drivers just aren’t coming around,” said Brandon Mango, the company’s president.
Mango said drivers average about 55 hours per week making an average hourly wage of $19.75, with time-and-a-half for overtime. He said his top drivers make $85,000 to $90,000 a year.
Gov. Tom Wolf, who attained a doctorate from MIT and bought his family’s cabinetmaking business, has launched several initiatives to expand technical education and trade apprenticeships.
This summer, Wolf launched PASmart, a $30 million initiative to boost apprenticeships and expand skilled labor training in the state, including boosting training in science, technology, engineering and math fields. Wolf has set goals to increase the number of workers with training after high school to 60 percent from 47 percent by 2025 and to double the number of registered apprentices – there are now about 16,000, according to the administration – by the same year.
When asked about those goals, Wagner said he would have to take a closer look at the specifics of the program.
“I think that furthering education is an opportunity for everybody to increase their value,” he said. “If you’re not increasing your value every single (day), you’re falling behind.”
The Council For a Strong America report cited by Wagner advocates for more community college education, and estimates more than 170,000 positions in Pennsylvania will “not be filled with qualified in-state employees who have the educational credentials their employers seek” by 2020.
Wagner said he supports a minimum wage of $9.75, but wants to create more opportunities for people to make closer to $20 per hour.
Wolf, a Democrat, was in Pittsburgh on Thursday supporting a union of building security officers who are seeking a $15 hourly rate in a new contract. Wolf has called on the Legislature to raise the state’s minimum wage, which is $7.25 per hour.
Wolf has signed an executive order to raise wages of state workers under his jurisdiction to $12 per hour this year and to $15 per hour by 2024.
Editor’s note: Early versions of this story indicated that Wolf inherited his family business; he ultimately bought it.
Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Wes at 412-380-5676, [email protected] or via Twitter @wesventeicher.