A Workforce Development Agenda for Pennsylvania's New Governor: Building the Infrastructure of a Leaning Economy

Dr. Chris Benner
Stephen Herzenberg
Publication Date: 
January 1, 2003

Employment and training programs in Pennsylvania and the United States have been criticized for their perceived failure to improve job opportunities for workers or address skill needs of employers. Some observers have called workforce programs a waste of money.

The report summarized briefly here, commissioned by Governor Schweiker, takes a different view.

Based on interviews with 50 workforce policymakers and practitioners across Pennsylvania, the report concludes that a well-functioning learning and career infrastructure is a critical resource for future competitiveness and economic opportunity in Pennsylvania. By learning and career infrastructure we mean institutions and networks that span multiple employers and educational providers, enabling workers to acquire work-relevant knowledge and gain economic security and career advancement.

This learning and career infrastructure will not emerge automatically via the magic of the market any more than did the infrastructures that fueled growth in the “old economy” – a reliable telecommunications and utility infrastructure, the interstate highway system, a stable financial system. The state must help foster its development.

In the knowledge-based economy of the future, the regions that build the most effective learning infrastructures will enjoy the highest living standards and the best quality of life. Regions that invest too little or ineffectively will see their economic position deteriorate.

The Current Situation and Challenges Ahead

Pennsylvania’s workforce development system does need a major reinvention. This reinvention will involve shifting away from fragmented programs targeted at particular groups of disadvantaged or dislocated workers. It will include government playing a more strategic and catalytic “system building” role -- identifying opportunities for collaboration that can make the workforce system generally more efficient and effective.

Our interviews reveal that, during the past four years, spurred by the need to implement the 1998 federal Workforce Investment Act, the Pennsylvania workforce system has taken the first major steps towards just such a reinvention.

Many leading workforce practitioners have crossed a conceptual Rubicon: they now view the role of public workforce dollars in broad and systemic terms, not in terms of helping small numbers of disadvantaged or dislocated workers find new jobs.

One practitioner suggested a government workforce role analogous to that of the Federal Reserve in financial markets, with public dollars used to make regional “human capital” markets function more efficiently. While years of hard work lies ahead translating this idea into practice, it is a huge step forward and provides a foundation for the workforce initiatives of Pennsylvania’s next Governor.

Leading Pennsylvania workforce regions are approaching a range of “second stage” challenges associated with operationalizing the idea of system building. In this stage the challenge is to use public dollars to identify institutional gaps in the human capital market and then encourage employers and other actors to come together to fill these gaps.

Practitioners anticipate a major role to be played by partnerships linked with key industry clusters. A central role of these partnerships is to aggregate employer demand, and provide coordination and transparency in the labor market that is often lacking. These partnerships can serve as incubators for the spread of best practice and the generation of new ideas.

To the extent that more money is distributed in larger amounts to fewer “strategic” initiatives, a lot hangs on local ability to judge good from bad projects, and to withstand political pressures to fund the latter. State government leadership and peer learning among leading workforce practitioners must both play a key role in ensuring success in meeting these second-stage challenges and ensuring a good public return on new directions in workforce spending.

Some workforce regions in the state are well ahead of others. The state faces an additional challege to provide technical assistance to organizations and regions that have struggled to implement new workforce policies.


The next four years will be critical in terms of whether government, including workforce development practitioners, can lead the building of a Pennsylvania skill-formation and career system second to none. With that in mind, this report offers the recommendations below to Pennsylvania’s new Governor.

1. Build on the efforts of the Ridge and Schweiker administrations.

2. Encourage local WIBs to draw their employer and labor members from leading industry training partnerships.

3. Promote collaboration and teamwork on workforce issues among state Departments including by establishing an interagency “high road” workforce and economic development team in the new Administration; housing the staff for the State Workforce Investment Board (SWIB) within the Governor’s Policy Office; and requiring all Departments to gain approval of their workforce program strategic plans and annual budgets from SWIB.

4. Promote professional development and the spread of best practice to help WIBs and Career Link staff reinvent their role in workforce development.

5. Fund a labor workforce development institute that will build the capacity of labor unions and worker associations to strengthen the Pennsylvania workforce development system.

6. Seek matching foundation funds to create a Pennsylvania Network of Sector Practitioners (PNSP) modeled on the National Network of Sector Practitioners.

7. Launch the “give back a week” program whereby business leaders and top operations manager would commit 40 hours in a year to collaborating with the strengthening of the learning infrastructure on which their companies depend.

8. Shift workforce dollars toward a new “Growing Faster” initiative that would seed-fund and strengthen high road training partnerships linked with key industry or occupational clusters in regional economies.

Rather than requiring new state dollars, Growing Faster could be done through an expansion of the state’s Critical Job Training program, creatively mixing state and federal dollars and supplementing them with foundation support.

The overall pool should have enough flexibility that dollars are available not only for training but also for the pivotal task of building employer (and where relevant, union) commitment to new partnerships. Growing Faster should include funds to support:

  • Regional high road manufacturing training partnerships that serve as one component of the Agenda to Revitalize Manufacturing (ARM) that Governor Rendell outlined in his campaign;

  • A technical and information worker initiative that builds on the learning and career networking that already take place within the occupational communities to which these workers belong;

  • New school-to-career programs linked with construction apprenticeship programs and with new apprenticeships in technical and information occupations;
    Partnerships to promote good jobs and good care in long-term care, early education and child care, and mental health-mental retardation services;

  • Regional “magnet hospital” partnerships that improve organizational practice, jobs, careers, care quality, and cost-effectiveness within Pennsylvanians acute care industry.

9. Consider the potential of funding workforce development using the unemployment insurance system or tax credits for employer contributions to qualifying industry-linked training partnerships.

This document is an on-line summary of a Keystone Research Center report. The entire report is available for download as a PDF file at the KRC Web site www.keystoneresearch.org © 2001 Keystone Research Center