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Expert: Skills shortage 'has become a crisis'

Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
Barry Novotny (left), manager of technology operational excellence at Kennametal and an innovator in Kennametal's Young Engineers Program, talks to Greater Latrobe Senior High seniors Maggie Kisick, Haley Morella, Jacob Artuso and Drew Hanna about rapid prototyping on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012 during their Young Engineers class.

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A staggering gap between the skills manufacturers need and those that young workers possess is prompting business and industry leaders in Pennsylvania to step up to the plate.

According to the Governor's Manufacturing Advisory Council, an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 jobs each year go unfilled because employers can't recruit people with the necessary skills.

“There needs to be a much stronger connection in the schools between education and the marketplace. ... The gap between skills actually needed and those available has become a crisis,” said David Taylor, executive director of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association.

With more than 25 percent of the 575,000 workers on Pennsylvania plant floors 55 or older, the gap could soon widen.

Taylor points to Unity-based Kennametal Inc. and its Young Engineers program as an example of an industry-driven solution that could help bridge the gap.

Every semester, the program, begun in 2011 as a partnership between Latrobe Area High School and Kennametal, puts a group of about 18 promising high school juniors and seniors through 15 weeks of twice-weekly meetings in the company's Unity facility.

Carlos Cardoso, Kennametal president and CEO and a member of the Governor's Manufacturing Advisory Council, two years ago tasked the staff of the Kennametal Foundation with structuring a program to introduce students to the potential of manufacturing.

Since then, Kennametal has replicated the Young Engineers program — now graduating its third class of Latrobe students — at the company's Solon, Ohio, plant. It could become a model used throughout the company.

“When people are thinking about careers, they are not necessarily thinking, ‘I want to go to manufacturing,' ” said Erica Clayton Wright, Kennametal public affairs manager.

David Patti, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Business Council, said that could change if businesses join schools to communicate their message.

“You can get a history degree out of Princeton and I can get your $30,000-a-year to $35,000-a-year, if you say ‘Do you want fries with that' (job),” Patti said. “But if you have a two-year welding degree from Penn Tech (the Penn State College of Technology), I can start you at $65,000 to $80,000 a year.”

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com.

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