Back to Work PA isn’t just a slogan or a mind-set. It is Gov. Tom Wolf’s new workforce and economic development plan.

“Pennsylvania needs a comprehensive, forward-thinking plan to jump-start our economy and support our workforce,” Wolf said on Monday morning, while unveiling details of the effort during a virtual media briefing.

Pennsylvania, like much of the world, has been concussed economically by the pandemic. Workers, businesses and communities have been adversely affected, and the governor’s blueprint is designed to enhance recovery and foster the seeds of economic growth.

“Back to Work PA will make strategic and comprehensive investments to build a stronger and more diverse workforce, and support Pennsylvania businesses while attracting businesses to the commonwealth,” Wolf said in a statement.

The program is part of Wolf’s legislative plan for 2021, which prioritizes reducing taxes for working families and businesses, and investing more money in education and workforce development.

The workforce plan is based partly on recommendations made in the Keystone Economic Development and Workforce Command Center’s annual report, which was published in January 2020. Back to Work PA, according to the governor’s office, would be funded by a “common-sense extraction tax” on the natural gas industry. (That tax proposal previously was part of the Restore PA plan of 2019.)

The new plan calls for supporting workers most impacted by the pandemic, addressing inequities, providing resources to develop talent in high-demand occupations, and focusing on jobs that lead to family-sustaining careers. Among the initiatives are:

• Investing in rapid re-skilling, skills upgrading and skills transfer;

• Investing in programs to enhance digital literacy skills;

• Expanding registered apprenticeship programs to include non-traditional occupations such as health care, child care, information technology and manufacturing;

• Expanding education and training opportunities that support middle-skill jobs and the skilled trades;

• Transforming workforce development services, including individualized career coaching and enhanced wrap-around supports;

• Supporting child-care stabilization by increasing child-care subsidies, assisting employers seeking to develop or expand on-site child care, assisting child-care centers to expand services during non-traditional work hours, and eliminating child-care deserts.

• Supporting innovative programs that help reentering citizens obtain credentials and access employment opportunities.

Wolf’s plan also intends to make high-speed internet access available all across the state, with a focus of building it out in unserved areas.

Jennifer Berrier, acting secretary of Labor & Industry, was among a group of officials who accompanied Wolf on the briefing. She said: “We know that no two jobs are exactly the same, no two workers are exactly the same, and no two businesses are exactly the same.

“The individualized services in the governor’s Back to Work PA plan connect job-seekers to the education or training that will set them up for success in the labor market, while also helping businesses connect to the skilled workforce they need to thrive.”

David Callahan, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, which represents a number of natural gas companies, is opposed to Wolf’s proposed tax on the industry. He said in an email:

“Gov. Wolf and his team simply don’t get it. Pennsylvania already has a severance tax – it’s the impact fee, which has funded $2-plus billion for community and environmental programs across the entire commonwealth over the last several years.

“It was disappointing to hear the governor once again call for additional energy taxes that will harm consumers, local jobs, American energy production and the commonwealth’s ability to recover from the pandemic.

“If the governor was serious about accelerating our economic recovery – which should be a top priority for every policymaker – he’d be focused on growing and encouraging natural gas production, infrastructure and use, not punishing this critical industry and its hardworking women and men that are helping combat this pandemic.”

Business Writer

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won eight individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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