As the Pocono Mountains economy continues to diversify, the region’s schools and higher education institutions are tailoring their programs to business needs, ensuring a steady pipeline of talent flows to growing industries.
A robust network of community colleges and career and technical institutes supports workforce training and in-demand skills development across the region. Northampton Community College, for example, is the lead community college in a three-college grant through Pennsylvania's Partnerships for Access to Higher Education program. The grant supports a program on stackable credentials in manufacturing technology, health care, and transportation and logistics.
“Each participating college focuses on one of those three areas. Northampton is focusing on manufacturing technology and preparing individuals with some basic credentials to move into entry-level positions in manufacturing technology-related fields,” says Matthew Connell, dean of Northampton Community College Monroe Campus. “The college as a practice has advisory boards related to specific programs or academic areas, so we have a technology advisory board that works with us to make sure the curriculum we offer is what the current market reflects.”
Northampton also partners with the state’s CareerLink offices in Monroe and Carbon counties to develop customized training and talent recruitment programs for relocating and expanding businesses. The CareerLink network, sponsored by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry, works to connect job seekers and companies and is a major asset for the business community.
“We also work with economic development professionals who are looking to bring new businesses into the area," says John Casella, site administrator at Monroe County CareerLink. “We also work with our educational institutions to create the curriculum so that we create the workforce that's going to meet the needs of the new businesses coming to Monroe County."
CareerLink worked with Northampton Community College to create a dealer program for the Mount Airy Casino Resort, and as big box retailers have come to the region developed forklift operations programs. When the Tobyhanna Army Depot needed electronic technicians, CareerLink partnered with local colleges to develop the training programs.
Garry Wentz, Carbon County CareerLink administrator, says the CareerLink network is also a major asset for residents, helping address the career planning and development needs for job seekers.
“For customers who have already developed an individual employment plan or who prefer to take responsibility for their own career planning and development needs, we attempt to provide them with access to current job openings, general labor market information, self-service career development tools and resources, and other information on resources that will help them with their career planning needs,” Wentz says. “We also attempt to identify the transferable skills of job seekers, identify potential career ladders available to them with their current skills and experience, and also identify any skill gaps that might be addressed to assist them in achieving their goals.”
Connecting talent to in-demand careers starts early in the Pocono Mountains. CareerLink partners with Youth Employment Service to provide career pathway programs, such as a summer youth work experience program for economically disadvantaged youth, and Project Success, a youth leadership program that helps prepare students for college and careers.
The Monroe Career and Technical Institute (MCTI) works with the region’s school districts to introduce students to local career pathways. MCTI is open to students in grades 9-12 and offers 22 programs that prepare students for high-priority occupations, says Carolyn Shegelski, MCTI director.
Students who successfully complete the three- or four- year program obtain skills related directly to the program’s industry. They also can obtain many industry certifications. Successful students are prepared to get an entry-level job, college or both.
"Many high school students can leave MCTI with 12 or more free post-secondary college credits or Pennsylvania Program of Study credits at participating institutions,” Shegelski says. “Students graduate MCTI with skills they will have for the rest of their lives. Many students enter careers that will provide family-sustaining wages and fulfilling jobs. Others will obtain skills that will get them jobs as steppingstones to higher career goals or skills that will be useful throughout their life.”