B. Braun has 60 jobs for which it cannot find qualified workers, a lament shared by many manufacturers and high-tech companies in the Lehigh Valley.
That is why the Bethlehem medical equipment manufacturer recently participated with a dozen other local companies in the Educator Externship, state-funded program provided through the Lehigh Valley Workforce Development Board.
The two-week program, which ended Wednesday, enabled industry leaders from companies such as Lutron Electronics Co., Bimbo Bakeries USA, Victaulic, ATAS Manufacturing and Crayola to talk to several dozen educators from schools in Lehigh and Northampton counties about the skills their workers need to have – particularly in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.
The program afforded teachers and guidance counselors a chance to spend time at the companies, observing the manufacturing process and learning about the kinds of jobs available and the skills required, from being able to read a ruler to calculating a trigonometry problem.
Clyde K. Hornberger, former executive director of Lehigh Career & Technical Institute and a consultant to the workforce development board, said until companies articulate what their needs are and get those skills taught in schools, “It’s all just words.”
The idea behind the Educator Externship is designed to do just that, to fill in the gap between the needed skills and what’s being taught in schools, said Nancy Dischinat, executive director of LVWDB. After completing the program, teachers will develop curricula based on the skills companies said workers need. Their plans will be shared with the statewide program for other educators to use.
“Manufacturing jobs are going unfilled at all levels, from entry level to Ph.D.,” said Rex Boland, vice president and general manager of B. Braun’s Allentown operations.
Like many of the companies, Dick Bus, president of ATAS International, a metal roofing, wall and ceiling manufacturer in Upper Macungie Township, said not all of the jobs his company has available require a four-year college degree. Bus said his father, who started the company, had a seventh-grade education.
“There are young kids out there that need the guidance not to go to college right away,” Bus said.
Donnie Brensinger, a health and wellness teacher at LCTI who spoke to representatives from Victaulic, Palram Americas and Cetronia Ambulance Corps, said they provided good examples for him to give students when they question the relevancy of studying certain subjects, including English to math.
“Instead of saying, ‘just because it’s important.’ We can give examples when they will use it,” Brensinger said.
Boland encouraged the educators who attended the news conference Wednesday at the Pennsylvania CareerLink Lehigh Valley office in Allentown to tell students there are alternative paths to obtaining a college degree that won’t burden a student with a mountain of debt.
Boland said he would have encouraged his nephew, who has an engineering degree and $60,000 in college debt, to pursue it differently. His recommendation: attend a vocational technical school, followed by a two-year community college, and finish with a four-year degree at a university that has a cooperative agreement with those colleges, such as the one at Bloomsburg University, which has agreements with Lehigh Carbon Community College, Northampton Community College and Reading Area Community College, among others.