HARRISBURG – The Senate Labor and Industry Committee, chaired by Senator Camera Bartolotta (R-46), and the Senate Education Committee, chaired by Senator Scott Martin (R-13), today discussed the importance of adult education for workforce development at a joint public hearing.
During the hearing, the committees heard many success stories of Pennsylvanians who were able to achieve their professional dreams and begin earning family-sustaining wages despite previously struggling.
One barrier to success – as noted in testimony submitted by Sheila Ireland, deputy secretary for workforce development for the Department of Labor and Industry – is a low level of literacy. “We know that eradicating illiteracy would yield huge economic benefits. If all U.S. adults were able to move up to at least the minimum proficiency level for literacy, it would generate an additional $2.2 trillion in annual income for the country, equal to 10% of the gross domestic product.”
According to the U.S. Department of Education, about 130 million U.S. adults aged 16-74 years old lack proficiency in literacy.
Increased literacy is strongly tied to increased compensation. For every 400,000 adults who earn a high school diploma, we gain $2.5 billion back in taxes and reduced expenses, according to testimony submitted by Marcus Hall, director of workforce development for Beyond Literacy.
In addition to improving literacy rates, workforce development programs also provide basic education skills in math to prepare students for career-specific coursework. For example, Literacy Pittsburgh teaches Math for the Trades in partnership with the Builders Guild of Pennsylvania’s pre-apprenticeship program.
The programs offer great training opportunities, but they must be packaged in a way that is accessible to adult learners.
“To obtain the knowledge required for those jobs, adults need education-to-career pathways that fit into the spaces of their lives, meet them where they are, allow them to leverage their experience to accelerate learning, and enable them to thrive – financially and otherwise,” Rebecca Watts, regional vice president in the northeast for Western Governors University, explained in her testimony.
“Adult education benefits the recipients who are able to transform their lives and truly put themselves in control of their destiny, as well as our local communities that are improved when resources for low-income residents are used at a lower rate,” Senator Bartolotta said. “Instead, after they receive training and begin to experience the American Dream, people begin to contribute financially for the benefit of others.”
As the Commonwealth struggles with critical staffing shortages exacerbated by the pandemic, particularly in the health care industry, adult education can be a key solution.
Tec Centro offers affordable classes, including multiple training programs for positions in the health care industry, to low-income students who are underemployed and unemployed. The programs allow students to gain self-sufficiency and break the cycle of poverty while filling in-demand positions that are critical for the benefit of Pennsylvania communities.
“I am proud of the incredible work Tec Centro has done for our Lancaster community, placing more than 1,400 individuals in permanent employment since 2014 while generating $27 million that was driven back into the local economy,” Senator Martin said. “Tec Centro is a remarkable example of what we hope to accomplish, and I commend them for their work.”
In addition to the organizations mentioned above, the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Pennsylvania Association for Adult Continuing Education, Literacy Council of Lancaster-Lebanon, Peirce College and the Manchester-Bidwell Training Center also provided testimony.
Click here for more information from the hearing.
CONTACT: Eric Kratz (Sen. Bartolotta’s office), 717-787-1463
Terry Trego (Sen. Martin’s office), 717-787-6535