Op-ed: Financial stability doesn’t depend on going to college

State Rep. Jared Solomon discusses career options for youth that don’t involve going to college.

Get to talking: Jared Solomon (second from right) meets with state workforce development leaders. SOURCE: JARED SOLOMON

By State Rep. Jared Solomon

When I coached my community basketball team, many of my kids were struggling with difficult situations at home — — parents not in the picture and no adult guidance — — and in addition many had learning disabilities. Others had many talents and interests and were ready to pursue them rather than going to college.

What options do these kids have if they still aspire to build a family-sustaining career?

Right now, they, sadly, are few. It can depend on your age or your high school – — — some do offer excellent career technical education programs. What if these youngsters had a variety of career pathways laid out before them in the comfort of their current high school? Pathways that led to skills, certifications, apprenticeships, jobs and careers in occupations right in Northeast Philadelphia?

This is what I and colleagues of mine in Harrisburg are trying to create. Fortunately, not only is there bipartisan energy and spirit in this important area of workforce development, but there are models here in our own state ready to scale up.

On March 29, I welcomed Gary Laird, president of the Chamber of Commerce in and around Hanover, York County. Gary shared his experience in pioneering a new so-called “Pre-Apprenticeship” program that last year was the first of its kind approved by the state Department of Labor & Industry.

His Chamber brought together four of the biggest employers in the area — Elsner Engineering Works Inc., KLK Welding, R.H. Sheppard Co. Inc. and Utz Quality Foods Inc. — each of which was struggling to fill job openings.

The Hanover Area Chamber linked them with two local school districts to design and deliver a curriculum to local high school seniors that kicked off last fall. After one year of the pre-apprenticeship program in the high school with one of the companies, they graduate into a second year with that company as a paid employee and apprentice within the company.

I cannot wait to visit Hanover later this spring to see firsthand this great work.

It is not rocket science, but it is an innovation we sorely need in Northeast Philadelphia and around the commonwealth. That is why I brought Pam Henshall from our own Chamber and one of our largest employers, the Defense Logistics Agency, to talk to Gary as well as with personnel from the state Departments of Labor & Industry and Community & Economic Development.

It is also why I am pushing my Schools to Work Pipeline Act (HB 1522) and am an enthusiastic co-sponsor with Republican Rep. Ryan Mackenzie of his CareerBound pilot program (HB 25). We are working closely with leaders in the House like Republican Rep. Mike Tobash and the Education Committee to push a package of bills that change the way we prepare our young people for their future. And I am a huge booster of Gov. Tom Wolf’s pledge of $50 million to support CTE and workforce development.

Some say election years are not times to get big things done. But with the bipartisan spirit we have, and the commitment we share to helping young people, I know we can make a real difference for the students of Northeast Philadelphia. ••