College Will Be Consortium Leader for $20 Million Statewide Initiative to Rapidly Retrain Laid-Off Workers for Manufacturing, Energy and Health Care Jobs

PHILADELPHIA, Sept 26, 2011—A $20 million federal grant was awarded today to the state’s 14 community colleges to create and enhance educational programs that will quickly retrain laid-off workers in Pennsylvania for jobs in the high-demand fields of energy, healthcare and advanced manufacturing.

Community College of Philadelphia will be the consortium leader and the state’s community colleges will work with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, industry groups and more than 25 companies, such as Exelon Generation and Nestle Purina Petcare, to retrain residents for careers that have been identified as having a high demand for skilled labor.

The $20 million grant is part of nearly $500 million in grants announced today in a telephone conference hosted by Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden, Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis and Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter as part of the U.S. Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training program. These TAACCCT grants can be used to hire staff, buy equipment and develop curriculum, according to federal officials. They also will be used to develop free online learning materials for students.

Biden, a community college faculty member, said the grants will help community colleges team with businesses to accelerate training of residents for “jobs in high-growth industries” and will help to fuel the nation’s economic recovery. Kantor described community colleges as the “backbone of higher education, especially for older adult workers.”

Solis, a former community college administrator, said community colleges are “community assets” and understand the needs of local employers. “These federal grants will enable community colleges, employers and other partners to prepare job candidates, through innovative programs, for new careers in high-wage, high-skills fields, including advanced manufacturing, transportation, health care and STEM occupations,” Solis said.

One of the goals of Pennsylvania’s business/community college partnership is to educate residents in as little as one year to receive industry recognized certificates that will allow them to immediately fill job openings. Over the next three years, the goal is to award more than 2,400 of these skill certificates, particularly in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.

“Our challenge will be to help laid-off and underemployed workers to understand that short-term and long-term skill retraining is essential if they are to meet the labor demands of Pennsylvania employers, who are reporting skills gaps when screening applicants for new jobs,” said Stephen M. Curtis, president of Community College of Philadelphia.

“Fields like advanced manufacturing (Mechatronics) and energy are expected to add more than 16,000 jobs to the Pennsylvania economy by 2018, and we are really pleased that this grant will help us to respond to these workforce needs,” said Alex Johnson, president of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges and of the Community College of Allegheny County.

The 14 community colleges will work together to develop both standardized and customized courses contoured to the labor needs of area businesses and industries. The idea is to quickly create a skilled workforce to meet regional labor demands. Workforce Investment Boards from around the state have identified significant demand for labor in the fields of advanced manufacturing and logistics; energy distribution, production and conservation; and health care technologies, such as medical records and health information technology.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 57 percent of people who work in a trade-related field in Pennsylvania have only a high school diploma or equivalent, and nearly 60 percent of Pennsylvania’s trade workers are 40 to 60 years of age.

“The days of being able to rely on high school graduates to provide economic stability and vitality are over. More than half of all new jobs in the next decade will require a postsecondary certificate or degree,” states the U.S. Department of Education’s March 2011 College Completion Tool Kit.

U.S. Representative Chaka Fattah said the $20 million TAACCCT grant that Pennsylvania received is the largest grant in the nation under the program announced today. Fattah called it a way to “jumpstart capacity-building in the curriculum, particularly focused on training for advanced manufacturing, energy and healthcare related jobs.”

TAACCCT grants support partnerships between community colleges and employers to develop programs that provide pathways to good jobs. Every community college grantee has at least one employer partner – a sponsor that has jobs available and needs trained workers to fill them.

The TAACCCT program also is designed to have a lasting impact on higher education, emphasizing the use of evidence in program design, collection of student outcome data and conducting evaluations to build knowledge about which strategies are most effective in placing graduates in jobs. The TAACCCT grants are part of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, which included a total of $2 billion over a four-year period. The first $500 million – the first installment of the $2 billion – was distributed today.

Pennsylvania’s 14 community colleges include: Community College of Allegheny County, Community College of Beaver County, Community College of Philadelphia, Bucks County Community College, Butler County Community College, Delaware County Community College, Harrisburg Area Community College, Lehigh Carbon Community College, Luzerne County Community College, Montgomery County Community College, Northampton Community College, Pennsylvania Highlands Community College, Reading Area Community College and Westmoreland County Community College.