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Pennsylvania Community Colleges Fuel Workforce

Vast educational network partners with businesses to help keep the talent pool flowing throughout the Keystone State.

By Teree Caruthers on July 2, 2022

Harrisburg Area Community College in Pennsylvania

The vast network of community colleges in Pennsylvania remains a cornerstone of the Keystone State’s workforce development efforts.

More than 75% of community college programs are in areas identified as high-priority occupations by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry. The state’s community colleges work with around 1,500 businesses and provide more than $10 million in customized training annually to help meet the needs of high-demand industries, such as energy, health care and advanced manufacturing.

“Our community colleges are the largest providers of public, postsecondary and workforce education,” says Elizabeth Bolden, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges. “And they regularly collaborate to ensure that the commonwealth has a highly qualified, trained workforce.”

“Community colleges are the foundation of the commonwealth workforce development system.”

Elizabeth Bolden, Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges

TEAMing Up

In Western Pennsylvania, for example, the Community College of Beaver County partnered with the Tri-State Energy and Advanced Manufacturing (TEAM) Consortium to respond to the growing need by employers, such as Shell, Kennametal Inc. and DMI Cos., for skilled workers in energy and advanced manufacturing. The college offers the only North American Process Technology Alliance-associated process technology program in the region.

Colleges are also partnering with each other to offer workforce training programs spanning entire regions rather than just one area. For example, Northampton Community College, Luzerne County Community College and Lehigh Carbon Community College have joined together to form the Pennsylvania Advanced Training and Hiring (PATH) program with a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to work with regional employers to develop curriculum and offer apprenticeships and mentoring opportunities.

And colleges are collaborating with businesses, too. Lehigh Carbon Community College (LCCC) partners with Amazon to train apprentices in advanced manufacturing, part of Amazon’s nationwide mechatronics and robotics apprenticeship program.

Partnership With Amazon

More than 700 apprentices have completed the Lehigh Carbon Community College program as of 2022.

“This kind of partnership is the way of the future as the college works to meet the needs of a changing and demanding workplace,” says Linda Baker, executive director of College Relations for LCCC.

Baker says the college plays an integral role in workforce development primarily because the training students receive in the classroom directly aligns with the needs of businesses and the community.

“The college has honed relationships that benefit both employers and students, developing resources including CareerLink, nonprofit agencies, and small and large businesses,” Baker says. “Academic majors at LCCC are organized into career paths, bringing to the forefront the career opportunities and transfer options that students can take. Advisory committees composed of professionals in the field work directly with faculty to ensure that the degree program curriculum is relevant and follows the demands of the industry.”

Reading Area Community College
Reading Area Community College

On the Right Path

The state’s community colleges also play a pivotal role in helping prepare middle and high school students for college and careers. Through dual enrollment and career readiness programs, students get a head start toward high-paying jobs.

Community colleges regularly partner with secondary schools, career and technical centers, and the commonwealth workforce development system to educate students and families about local career opportunities. Career awareness programs, mentoring opportunities and other programs, such as the Challenger Learning Center in Montgomery County designed to create a STEM talent pipeline, help spread the word, Bolden says.

LCCC is one of the largest providers of dual-enrollment courses for local high school students in the region.

“Students learn of opportunities through career and success coaches, job fairs, information fairs on career pathways, the Career Development Center and the Workforce and Leadership Development team,” Baker says. “We hold career-focused panel discussions, develop employer FAQ videos and hold tours and classroom visits for students to learn firsthand about the careers they are interested in.”

A Smart Choice

Bolden says community colleges also offer families affordable access to higher education, which positively impacts students’ quality of life. Tuition is the lowest of any public option in the state, he says, and students who are interested in getting a baccalaureate degree can save as much as $20,000 on the cost of their education if they start at community college and transfer to a four-year institution.

“Community colleges pride themselves on being the most affordable and accessible postsecondary option in Pennsylvania,” Bolden says.

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