PITTSBURGH, Oct. 30, 2013 – Workforce development leaders and strategists from community colleges worked with the state Senate Democratic Policy Committee today to devise a better strategy for delivering trained employees to Pennsylvania’s energy, manufacturing and other industry sectors.

The policy committee travels the state to gather varied and, sometimes, groundbreaking ideas about how to respond to the commonwealth’s more pressing issues.

Today’s workshop, which was held at the request of Sen. Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny), aimed its microscope at the problems employers continue to have in finding enough skilled workers who can fill key positions.

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“The time has come to recognize that a four-year college education isn’t the only path to a good job and family sustaining career,” Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton), chair of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, said at the at the Green Tree Municipal Center meeting. “Community colleges, technical schools, apprenticeship programs, employer-sponsored programs and military careers have become viable choices and should no longer be viewed as the ugly step-sister to a four-year college education.”

“We met to discuss what is working in the greater Pittsburgh area,” said Fontana. “While college remains a vital thoroughfare for developing trained and critical-thinking graduates, there are other alternatives that have – and will – deliver the highly trained employees many in-demand industries are now seeking.”

At Alcoa, Paul Harris, the company’s human resources manager, said high school students too often lack the soft skills needed to be a good employee; things like coming to work on time, being able to take constructive feedback, and knowing how to properly dress for the job.

“We’ve got to find a way to cause our young people to think when they come to work,” Harris said.

Alcoa Foundation Principal Manager Scott Hudson said 65 percent of his company’s workforce is not college educated, so it’s important that some solution be presented to help high school graduates be better prepared.

“(Our employees) are certificate, skilled trades, operators and technicians, so we have a lot at stake, and we have a lot to offer in terms of our leadership and experts,” Hudson said.

Other panelists, like Catalyst Connection President and CEO Petra Mitchell, urged committee members and education leaders to better blend technical and soft skill instruction and to rethink the concept of career and technical schools and how they play into community colleges.

Community College of Allegheny County Vice President of Workforce Development Alicia Booker said even people with college degrees are turning to community colleges like hers to develop real world work skills.

Others who testified today before the Senate Democratic Policy Committee included William Generett Jr., president and CEO, Urban Innovation21; Stefani Pashman, president and CEO, Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board; Steven Shivak, president, SMC Business Councils; and Cheryl Begandy, director of education, outreach and training, Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center.