A deep pool of highly skilled talent has long been a key advantage of the Pocono Mountains, but as the job market grows to include more positions requiring specialized skills and advanced training, the region's education and business communities are joining forces to keep pace with growing demand.
“Many of the jobs in region are for skilled workers, though they don’t necessarily require a four-year degree,” says Dr. Carolyn Shegelsky, director of the Monroe Career and Technical Institute (MCTI). “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 stepping-stones to higher career goals or skills that will be useful throughout their life."
Shegelsky says MCTI also offers customized job training for employers and works closely with business partners to train prospective employees in current competencies. Bi-annual Occupational Advisory Committee meetings help steer the direction of programming and curriculum, Shegelsky says, and employers provide MCTI with weekly job vacancies to update on their digital employment board.
The Monroe campus of Northampton Community College also partners with employers to keep a pipeline of talent flowing to the growing job market. The college recently expanded its nursing program to include a degree track for registered nurses.
“Right now we offer the LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) program, but, in 2018, we’ll be adding the registered nursing program to meet opportunities created from the development and building of health care facilities in our immediate backyard and across the region,” says Dr. Matthew Connell, dean of Northampton Community College’s Monroe campus. “Similarly, Tobyhanna Army Depot is seeing growth in the number of IT positions it has open, so we’ve ramped up our IT program to offer an associate’s degree in Information Technology with an emphasis on cyber security.”
Connell says the college is also the primary provider of training for the START (Skills, Tasks and Results Training) program for the hospitality industry, one of the region's largest employment sectors. Funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, the program gives students basic hospitality skills and information and knowledge and enables them to get in on the ground floor in a number of the hospitality openings in the Pocono Mountains region.
"With that, we’re giving them the first steps to move up the career ladder in the hospitality industry,” Connell says.
Smart Starts to Workforce Training
Northampton Community College and MCTI partner with area high schools to offer dual enrollment and career planning programs. Students can earn industry certifications or credits toward an associate’s degree.
“Successful students are prepared to get an entry-level job, college or both. Many high school students can leave MCTI with 12 or more post-secondary college credits or Pennsylvania Program of Study credits at no cost,” Shegelsky says.
Workforce development is also supported by Carbon County Technical Institute and Lackawanna College’s Lake Region Center, as well as organizations, such as the Wayne Pike Workforce Alliance. The Alliance has helped establish community career and training facilities and worked with area school districts to create career pathways for students.
“We refer to ourselves as the people part of economic development,” says Lucyann Vierling, executive director of the Wayne Pike Workforce Alliance. “We’re not just looking at an immediacy of need – an employee to fill a position – but rather we’re looking at an overarching strategy, which includes a lifelong learning perspective. We're looking at workforce development from an educational standpoint; we are looking at it from an economic and regional standpoint with regard to infrastructure; and we're also looking at it from an occupational and strategy standpoint.
“What drives me crazy is when people say, ‘Oh, there are no jobs here.’ There are many jobs here and there is a diversity of jobs," Vierling says "We just have to make sure we have people on the right paths to have the skills to fill those jobs.”