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Labor chief laments worker 'mismatch'

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By Thomas Olson
Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The "mismatch" between worker skills and those required for available jobs is perhaps the biggest challenge these days for industry and organized labor, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

"The jobs of today and the jobs of tomorrow will require worker training," she said. "Our long-term prosperity depends on training workers."

Solis spoke before about 250 people attending a forum, "Industry, Trades & Skills," at the Community College of Allegheny County's campus in the North Side.

Even with unemployment at 8.2 percent, there are 3 million jobs unfilled, Solis said. She and others on a panel of speakers emphasized science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, education.

Solis said more than 400,000 Americans are enrolled in more than 20,000 worker training programs, including about 100 registered apprenticeship programs in Allegheny County. They lead to good-paying jobs, such as skilled welders and electricians, she said.

"Those jobs can't be outsourced to other countries," Solis said to hearty applause.

Peoples Natural Gas Co. CEO Morgan O'Brien, also on yesterday's panel, said one of his worries is the number of people who are retiring from the natural gas industry these days. They have valuable skills that are not being replenished by younger people fast enough, he said, especially given the opportunities in the region's growing Marcellus shale gas industry.

O'Brien said his company and other gas utilities in Western Pennsylvania will each need to hire "hundreds" of people in the next couple of years.

Solis recalled advising her younger sisters years ago to look into an engineering career, "and they looked at me like I was crazy," she said. "Now, one is a computer engineer, and the other is a chemical engineer."

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