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    Cultural shift may be part of answer to Pa. ‘skills gap’

    A member of Gov. Tom Corbett’s cabinet says filling Pennsylvania’s “skills gap” will require some cultural heavy-lifting.

     

    Some economists don’t buy the notion that states are suffering from a skills gap — the phenomenon of having plenty of open jobs but not enough skilled workers to fill them.

    They say those jobs would fill up fast if the wages were higher.

    But Pennsylvania’s Department of Economic and Community Development secretary says newly minted welders and commercial truck drivers can make more than new teachers, for example.

    The reason for the persistent skills gap is a social stigma that discourages people from opting for an education in a trade, says Alex Walker.

    “Everybody wants their child to be a doctor or a lawyer or have a four-year degree or whatever,” he said. “We’ve got to get past that.

    “We have all these state teaching universities, we’re turning out all these teachers,” Walker said. “But if you look at the out-migration, that’s probably one of the biggest out-migrations of our talent pool,teachers who are educated in Pennsylvania and have to go elsewhere to find work.”

    A cultural shift is needed, he said, so the focus can move to what the marketplace needs, not which jobs come with more prestige.

    Walker says he’s not sure if spurring a shift is such a priority that it will mean more funding for the state’s 14 community colleges, which offer vocational education in the commonwealth.

    Pennsylvania’s most recent unemployment rate was 8.1 percent in October, the second month in a row the rate hovered above the national unemployment rate.

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