Times-Leader: Early education key to developing skilled workforce, strong military
By Bill O’Boyle  June 14, 2016

WILKES-BARRE — Education, particularly early childhood education, can be one of the best workforce development tools in Pennsylvania’s toolbox, Labor & Industry Secretary Kathy Manderino said Tuesday.

Manderino joined Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry officials and military leaders to discuss a new ReadyNation/Mission: Readiness report titled: “STEM and Early Childhood – When Skills Take Root.”

The officials warned of a “workforce skills gap” in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — skills affecting the pool of qualified workers needed today and into the future.

Manderino, Steve Doster (Pennsylvania State Director of Mission: Readiness), Wico van Genderen (Chamber president/CEO), retired Army Major General Joe Perugino, of Kingston, and retired Navy Rear Admiral Tom Wilson addressed a small group gathered at the Chamber’s Innovation Center on South Main Street about the need for additional funding for pre-K and Head Start funding.

The group wants the state budget for early education increased by $90 million to about $256 million — funding, they said, is necessary for a successful workforce development strategy to accommodate 21st century business and military workforce needs.

Citing the Read Nation/Mission: Readiness report, Manderino said, “This report shows the clear impact early childhood education can have on our STEM jobs gap. I want to thank Mission: Readiness and ReadyNation for their work in this clear and comprehensive report showing not just the virtues of early childhood learning, but the necessity of it.”

Both Manderino and Gov. Tom Wolf support an increase in funding for PA early childhood education programs.

Data shows a shortage of STEM workers is looming: nearly two-thirds of Pennsylvania eighth graders are not proficient in math and science, and more than a quarter of students entering the PA State System of Higher Education require remedial education in math and English.

Business and military leaders in Pennsylvania are calling on policymakers to invest more in high-quality early education where STEM skills take root.

According to information provided at Tuesday’s news conference, of the 6,765 children ages 3 and 4 living in Luzerne County, 4,862 live in families below the poverty level and 3,517 of those children do not have access to publicly funded, high quality pre-K education.

Statistics show high quality pre-K programs reduce grade repetition, increase graduation rates, reduce special education placements, decrease crime and incarceration, create a stronger economy and preserve taxpayers dollars.

Van Genderen said STEM-based jobs like computer science and healthcare are expected to grow by 20 percent to 37 percent in coming years.

“They are driving the economy and yet, more than half of Pennsylvania’s employers have reported trouble finding people with adequate skills, training, or education — especially in technical and skilled job openings,” van Genderen said.

Perugino cautioned the U.S. tech-focused military faces similar challenges.

“It is, therefore, troubling to know that inadequate education is a major factor that precludes 72 percent of Pennsylvania’s 17-24 year-olds from enlisting in the military,” Perugino said.

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