Central to the missions of both the Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board, Inc. and the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation is the goal to improve the business climate by creating growth opportunities for our region. And key to creating growth opportunities for current business and industry – or attracting new business, for that matter – is the quality of the existing workforce. Is the available labor force adequately educated, trained and capable of tackling whatever challenges exist in a high-tech world? Or will an employer be forced to look outside the region to fill skilled jobs?
More than 70 percent of Pennsylvania jobs today require workers with education beyond high school, yet only about half of our current workers have this education level. Jobs requiring only high school credentials are disappearing and those that do remain do not pay wages sufficient enough to raise and support a family. To address this issue, we must ensure our labor force has the education to compete; this means not only graduating from high school, but acquiring some type of postsecondary education as well, whether that be a two or four-year-college, technical school or work-placed training program.
In order for Pennsylvania to compete successfully in today's knowledge-based economy, we must engage every available worker, including those young people who have dropped out of high school. We need to ensure a continuous pipeline of qualified workers – in the Lehigh Valley and across PA. Re-engaging high school dropouts will increase the number of workers available to fill high-skill, high-demand occupations.
If the nearly 120,000 16-to-24-year-old current dropouts in Pennsylvania were to re-engage and earn their high school credential and attend some college, instead of costing more than $80 million each ear in publicly-funded programs, they would contribute more than $1.1 billion a year in tax revenues.
We urge our leaders to do more to help young people who have dropped out of high school. Reconnecting high school dropouts to their education and the skilled workforce will turn dropouts into productive, taxpaying citizens and enhance our region's - and the state's - economy.
Eugene D. Ervin is the Chairman of the Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board, Inc. Phil Mitman is the President and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation.