Career planning, workplace readiness and STEM learning programs prepare the region’s future workforce
A strong workforce is a cornerstone of the Pocono Mountains economy, but as that workforce ages and the job market grows to include more positions requiring specialized skills, the region’s education and business communities are working together to ensure future generations are prepared to fill in-demand jobs.
“The baby boomers are retiring en masse and in great numbers, and unfortunately, we do not have the skilled workers to replace them. Schools can’t do it alone. They need the support of business and industry,â€ says Joann Hudak, chair of the Wayne Pike Workforce Alliance and education consultant for the National Center for College and Career Transitions or NC3T, a nationally recognized company with expertise in career readiness, technical education and helping communities bridge the gaps between education, workforce and economic development.
On the Right Pathways
In Monroe County, NC3T has partnered with the four school districts, Monroe Career and Technical Institute, East Stroudsburg University, Northampton Community College, businesses and community organizations to address the shrinking workforce. In 2019, the group formed the Monroe Career Pathways Coalition, which links schools and industry in order to introduce students at an early age to careers in the region.
Hudak says the coalition leaders hope efforts will increase graduation rates and college and trade school enrollment as well as help students develop those soft skills that are so important to career success.
“There’s definitely a gap in workplace readiness skills, or what we used to call soft skills. That is a consistent concern that I hear no matter where I go in the state,â€ she says.
“That’s why employer engagement is so important. We want students to have opportunities for job shadowing or internships so they learn about the world of work before they even decide on a career.”
Cosmas Curry, Stroudsburg Area School District superintendent, says he hopes the Pathways Coalition helps students realize the many career possibilities available right in their own backyard.
“We recognize that there’s a portion of our students that leave the county every year after graduation when they go off to college. But there is also a good percentage that may not go off to college, and we want them to realize that they can have a successful career in Monroe County even if they don’t go to a traditional four-year college,â€ he says.
Building Up STEM
“There are a lot of careers that require technical training, such as computer science and computer programming. We need 1 million programmers in our national workforce right now. That’s where we as educators can assist by putting in our curriculum coding courses and STEM courses,â€ Curry adds.
The Carbon, Schuylkill and Luzerne STEM Ecosystem is just one example of educators and the business community working together to create STEM learning opportunities for students. The system, organized by Lehigh Carbon Community College, unites schools, industry and economic development organizations to connect students to STEM career paths and arm them with employable skills.
“By that, we mean problem solving, teamwork, collaboration and understanding the design method because so many of those skills are what the businesses and industry in this area say we’re going to need if we’re going to have a strong workforce,â€ says Jeanne Miller, owner of Miller Educational Services and the CSL Learning Ecosystem lead.
Among the Ecosystem’s key programs are SHINE, a 42-week after-school and summer program that spotlights STEM careers, teacher trainings and educator- in-the-workplace opportunities.
“It’s important that all students possess those STEM skills to be competitive for 21st-century jobs in northeastern Pennsylvania. But that also means that all teachers need the tools and strategies to help equip students with those skills,â€ Miller says. “We’re also creating a parent toolkit because if we’re going to make a difference in these students, excite them and motivate them, we need parents to understand where the jobs are, what education is needed, what skills are needed and where their kids can go to get those skills.”