Middle school students need more opportunities to learn about technical education because that's when they're making their career decisions, said the head of a regional trade organization.

By junior or senior year in high school, many students have already decided on their career path, said Tom Palisin, executive director of the Manufacturers' Association.

Tooling Dynamics, a machining and metal stamping facility in York City, recently allowed eighth-grade girls from York City School District's Edgar Fahs Smith STEAM Academy to film GoPro videos about manufacturing.

John Lloyd, president and CEO of regional industrial resource center MANTEC, said those students competed with 13 other districts across the southcentral region for the best video, and this year 22 districts will participate.

Manufacturers are realizing how crucial student visualization is to choosing careers, he said, and Palisin agreed, adding that one local employer noted one of its most engaged tour groups came from a middle school.

Getting students involved earlier was just one of the topics at a House Democratic Policy Committee hearing Thursday, Jan. 31, at the York City School District administration building.

State Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York City, facilitated discussion between policymakers and two panels of local leaders who shared the state of local technical industries and their impact on the economy.

Worker shortage: Manufacturing is the No. 1 industry in the southcentral region, with an annual output of $13 billion — larger than the economies of most countries, Palisin said. 

About 88 percent of manufacturers in the region have difficulty finding workers, but almost 70 percent are actively hiring, he said. And as baby boomers age out, it's more critical than ever to replace them.

He said 107,000 workers will have to be replaced in the next ten years in southcentral Pennsylvania alone.

"The workforce shortage is the No. 1 issue that companies face," Lloyd said. "It is more acute than it has ever been."

Apprenticeships: It's not too different from what happened in the 1970s through the 1990s, he said, but now employers are investing more in apprenticeship programs and focusing on productivity so they can produce more with fewer workers.

In York County, local leaders are stepping up with new opportunities.

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Through a partnership with the Kinsley Education Center, the York County Alliance for Learning has a construction pre-apprenticeship program, which culminates in a certification and a final project — a scaled-down single-story home standing just under six feet.

York County School of Technology worked with the local International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to develop its first state-approved pre-apprenticeship program — now in its first year — which students can complete a year earlier than their adult peers.

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In addition, the York County Economic Alliance is creating curriculum for hospitality apprenticeships to coincide with the completion of the Yorktowne Hotel in 2020 and the new Hollywood Casino York in Springettsbury Township.

Legislatively, Hill-Evans hopes to look into the state ratio requirement of four workers per apprentice, which makes it hard to train more than one at a time, compared to most states, which already have a 1:1 ratio.

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Expanding reach: She said it's also about getting opportunities in front of the right eyes — and policymakers said this includes underrepresented groups such as women and ex-offenders.

York City native Kat Arnold, who worked in manufacturing for more than 30 years, said women need to be offered options — she was asked about taking a drafting class, which jump-started her whole career. 

Ex-offenders in York County can attend expungement clinics, which also connect them with employers who are willing to hire, said YCEA president and CEO Kevin Schreiber.

Victor Rodgers, associate provost for workforce development at Harrisburg Area Community College, said the college's STEP Academy, which teaches professional skills, helps those who come from nontraditional or socioeconomically challenged environments.

He is planning to speak to a few districts within the next month about bringing the program to York County. 

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