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Business leaders decry drug issues in hiring

| Sunday, May 12, 2013, 7:33 p.m.

YORK — Business leaders said Gov. Tom Corbett was right when he said Pennsylvania employers are having trouble finding prospective workers who can pass a drug test.

That was the consensus among members of several business groups who held a conference call last week to discuss challenges facing companies with open positions, according to The York Dispatch.

Taking part on Thursday were the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, the Pennsylvania Business Council, the Pennsylvania Manufacturers' Association and the National Federation of Independent Business.

“What the governor said is absolutely valid,” chamber President Gene Barr said.

Federation state director Kevin Shivers said many employers are having trouble filling jobs despite the state's 8 percent unemployment rate.

“They don't have the skills, and drug testing is a problem,” Shivers said.

David Taylor, executive director of the manufacturers' association, said the issue is of greatest concern in the manufacturing industry, where workers may deal with volatile chemicals, bladed instruments, extreme temperatures and other potentially hazardous conditions.

“To operate a safe workplace, manufacturers need a drug-free environment so nobody gets hurt or killed,” Taylor said.

Taylor said, however, that applicants failing drug tests is not the biggest challenge manufacturers are facing. He said he has heard of manufacturers having to go through hundreds of applicants to find hires, since many potential ones lack science, technology, engineering and math skills as well as other basic skills.

“They don't have the internal discipline to show up on time, and they can't pass a drug test,” Taylor said.

Democrats this month heaped criticism on the Republican governor for suggesting that too many residents remain unemployed because they cannot pass drug tests.

In an April 29 interview, Corbett cited anecdotal evidence that the drug testing issue is part of the reason the state's March unemployment rate was 7.9 percent, down slightly from February but still more than the 7.6 percent national rate.

Democrats portrayed Corbett as out of touch with people who are looking for work and took him to task over cuts in state aid to public schools in 2011 and his ongoing refusal to accept an expansion of the state's Medicaid program that the federal government would underwrite initially.

Dave Patti, president of the business council, said the drug issue has been a problem for more than 20 years.

“There are 25 million Americans with an addiction problem. That's twice the size of our cancer problem, but only 10 percent of people with addiction problems get treatment,” Patti said. “The governor was just repeating things we have all heard many, many times.”

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