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Workers with basic skills in high demand, Pa. employers say

October 12, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - People with up-to-date technical, computer and mechanical skills always are in demand, but one refrain heard from employers at Wednesday's Business Education Roundtable was the need for employees with "soft skills" as basic as showing up on time.

Representatives from about 100 businesses, schools and colleges broke up into small discussion groups during the meeting to list the kinds of training they need to remain competitive. Franklin County has had Pennsylvania's lowest jobless rate for 16 consecutive months and the problem for employers has been finding qualified workers in a tight labor market.

"The reason you can't find good people is ... the good people are working," Franklin County Area Development Corp. President L. Michael Ross said after the meeting. Many of those now unemployed are people with "barriers to employment," such as lack of transportation, or physical and mental disabilities, Ross said.

That is why it is important to support continuous training and retaining of those in the work force so that they are educated in new technologies and more productive, Ross said.

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"Too many students lack the skills to effectively communicate with customers," said Dana Baker, superintendent of the Fannett-Metal School District. That includes basic business etiquette such as being on time, dressing properly and having a good attitude, he said.

As for school districts, Baker said they are facing a "massive knowledge drain" as Baby Boomers approach retirement age.

Districts are raiding each other for nurses and face a shortage of bus drivers as well, he said.

In addition to people who "get up in the morning and come to work," Laura Krzeminski of Advanced Recycling Technology in Chambersburg said manufacturers need people who are quality-conscious, have leadership and supervisory skills and are self-motivated.

"Post-high school education is a necessity for us," said John Gray, the deputy commander of Letterkenny Army Depot. "We do not have the work force being fed into us in the numbers we need."

A few months ago, Frick Co. in Waynesboro, Pa., was in such need of welders that it advertised for them in New Orleans, said John P. Ansbro, the company's director of marketing and business development. While such skills are a necessity, he said anyone with the right attitude and a willingness to learn is going to advance.

"Find attitude and we'll teach them the rest," Ansbro said.

Robert Garraty, the president of the South Central Workforce Investment Board said his group has created consortiums to meet specific training needs for industries, including building and construction, manufacturing, health care and logistics.

Six area colleges and the Franklin County Career and Technology Center had representatives at the roundtable who outlined the work force development courses and programs offered for businesses.

"We're trying to tie ourselves to the high-priority occupations," said James Duffey, the career and technology center director. Through its partnership with Penn State Mont Alto, Duffey said the school offers college credit courses in a number of trades.

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