State Rep. Jim Christiana, running for U.S. Senate, spoke about the need for trade job skills at the PTR Baler and Compactor plant.
By Tom Beck
State Rep. Jim Christiana, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, recently visited the PTR Baler and Compactor plant in Port Richmond, where he was given a tour of the facility and talked with Mike Savage, the company’s president and CEO, about the economic needs of Savage’s business and others like it. Christiana represents the 15th Legislative District, located in the Pittsburgh suburbs.
Savage and Christiana talked extensively about the need for workers who are skilled in trade jobs. Savage noted PTR has co-op programs with four schools in the city of Philadelphia — Randolph Skills Center, Thomas Alva Edison High School, Mercy Career & Technical High School and Ben Franklin Tech Partners. He said the company has had great success in obtaining new workers from such programs and could use more of them.
“Randolph Skills Center is averaging at about a 92 percent graduation rate from their CTE [Career Technical Education] program, which is amazing to me,” Savage said. “We all believe that if you give somebody a direction and a path, especially in the trades, they’re going to work really hard and they’re determined to get there.”
Both Savage and Christiana agreed blue-collar jobs weren’t encouraged enough by a generation of parents.
“Unfortunately, my parents devalued a blue-collar job even though that’s what they had,” said Christiana. “They didn’t go to college. Growing up in Western Pennsylvania, it was, ‘You’re going to go to college, you’re going to go to college, you’re going to go to college.’ Why? ‘Because I don’t want you working shift work. I don’t want you working in the mill.’ The problem is the devalue of a really great job and a pretty good situation.”
“My dad was a fireman for 42 years,” Savage said. “I used to hear it every day. ‘You don’t want to be a fireman. Go to college.’ And I think that we skipped a whole generation, potentially, of people that we could have gotten engaged in manufacturing.”
Christiana stated he felt the link between K-12 education and higher education has a “frayed” relationship with businesses, which he referred to as “job creators.”
“We hear from job creators that even after kids go to college or [when they come] out of high school, they’re not ready for the jobs that are available,” he said.
Savage also said a lack of productive immigration policies were another thing keeping employers from finding capable workers.
“I think we have to make it easier for more people to come in legally and assimilate into America,” Savage said.
According to Savage, workers at PTR can take English and welding courses and have opportunities to learn how to read blueprints and make more money. He feels immigrants who come to the country legally should have those same opportunities at companies like PTR.
“I agree with Mike that we need to upgrade our legal immigration system,” said Christiana, “but I don’t share in the premise that both candidates in the Republican primary for the Senate agree with that. There are a lot of folks [with] campaign rhetoric that is divisive and it has blurred the lines between illegal immigration and legal immigration. And it’s just anti-immigrant in many ways. And it’s not productive, it’s not realistic, and it’s completely unfair to blur those lines and it ignores one of the greatest challenges facing businesses today and that is [the fact that] there is a workforce crisis.”
Christiana is running against Lou Barletta in the Republican primary for Sen. Bob Casey Jr.’s seat. Casey is running unopposed on the Democratic side. The primary is May 15. ••