February 2, 2023

Developing Our Workforce

Following the recent January 27th hearing on obstacles to opportunity for PA manufacturers it became apparent that finding means to develop PA’s workforce was key to retaining and growing career opportunities within the Commonwealth. To learn more about the resources available, and resources needed, the Policy Committee traveled to Rep. Scialabba’s district (HD12) in Western PA to hear from employers, trades organizations, and workforce development groups. The Committee investigated the traits, skills, and supports our job-makers believe make an ideal employee, and he resources available to develop one’s abilities and achieve their potential within the workforce.

The Policy Committee was joined by both employers and the entities that prepare our workforce for the jobs most in need. Employers struggling to find and retain their workforce opened the hearing with their efforts and concerns, and were then followed by a panel of workforce developers who shared their ongoing efforts to empower Pennsylvanians to pursue family-sustaining careers.

The testifiers that joined the Policy Committee were as follows:

Workforce Challenges Panel: 
Filippo Lombardo - General Manager, Domenico’s Ristorante
Stacy Hepinger -
President and CEO, Right at Home
Jeff Nobers -
Executive Director, Builders Guild of Western PA and Pittsburgh Works Together

Workforce Development Panel: 
Carrie Amann - Executive Director, Pennsylvania Workforce Development Association
Kenny Broadbent - Pittsburgh Steamfitters Local Union 449
Tom Bender - Council Representative, Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters

Agenda – Bios – Testimony

Workforce Challenges

 The hearing began with insight provided by Filippo Lombardo, General Manager of Domenico’s Ristorante, on the difficulty in finding a reliable workforce within the food service industry. Domenico’s Ristorante is a family-owned Italian-style restaurant that has been a staple in Cranberry, PA for nearly 40 years. Even though they are a cornerstone of the community and offer dining, caterings, and event services they struggle to find employees willing and able to work let alone show up to an interview. To address their labor shortage, Domenico’s has needed to unexpectedly close their dining room, offered signing bonuses of up to $5,000, and have utilized all the available mainstream online employment tools. Even with generous salaries, benefits, and upfront incentives the restaurant cannot retain enough staff to remain open 7 days a week.

“We’ve never experienced this sort of staffing shortage in 40 years!”

Filippo Lombardo, General Manager, Domenico’s Ristorante

Stacy Hepinger experiences similar staffing concerns within her home healthcare services. She employs at-home caregivers that enable disabled or elderly Pennsylvanians to live with dignity and safety within their own homes. The men and women that pursue careers in caregiving make selfless sacrifices each day to assure those in-need are fed, cared for, and able to live their lives to the fullest. This service is not only of tremendous mental and physical health benefit to those in-need, but also limits the number of emergency medical visits and the hospital usage their clients would require were it not for their in-home caregivers.

The type of people that enter home healthcare careers must be diligent, caring, responsible, and altruistic. The services home healthcare workers provide is priceless, but their salary still must contend with Medicaid reimbursement caps that limit what a caregiver can be paid. On average, a home healthcare provider is required to provide 20 hours of service per week with out-of-pocket costs averaging $29 per hour, but Medicaid caps reimbursements at around $21 per hour. This disparity in available compensation results in the average starting pay for a caregiver hovering around $12 per hour. Above $12 an hour is possible, but with Medicaid reimbursement the absolute maximum is capped at $21.

With thin financial margins to work with, it is no wonder home healthcare providers are difficult to recruit and retain. Especially once all of the necessary trainings, certifications, background checks, management, and transportation costs are considered. Hundreds of dollars are expended before a prospective employee can be hired and sent into a client’s home. To make the career more appealing Right at Home offers flexible schedules, paid time off, and new hire/retention bonuses to grow and maintain their workforce. Even with these efforts, because of the nature of the clients they serve, Right at Home is struggling to be fairly compensated and pay their caregivers the salaries they deserve.

Stacy believes that incorporating her home healthcare services into local nursing schools or healthcare curriculum would encourage people to pursue these careers. If home health caregivers could receive both financial compensation AND school credits the opportunities offered by Right at Home would be both careers and a steppingstone to further opportunity. The answer to our home caregiver staffing shortage is not simple and will likely require a multitude of incentives, both legislative and cultural, to assure our loved ones retain their safety and dignity within their homes.

“Not only are we looking for individuals to give jobs to, but we also serve seniors. So, we are looking for reliable and responsible people to help those that are truly in need so that we can keep our seniors safe at home.”

Stacy Hepinger, President and CEO, Right at Home 


Following Stacy Hepinger’s testimony the Committee was joined by Jeff Nobers, Executive Director of the Builders Guild of Western PA, to share his insight into the ongoing labor shortage and conclude the Workforce Challenges panel. First and foremost, Jeff made clear that every major metro area in the country is currently experiencing workforce problems, and staffing shortages are being experienced by our healthcare providers, tourism, retail, transportation, and hospitality sectors among others.

Jeff Nobers drew attention to the crux of our workforce issue, our available working-age population. 2/3rds of PA Counties lost population from 2010 to 2020, primarily due to residents moving out-of-state and our falling birthrates competing with the retirement of the “Baby Boomer” generation. So, at a time when we have thousands of unfilled careers we are simultaneously competing with a declining population and a world with a falling birth rate. Addressing these issues will require efforts on multiple fronts, but Jeff Nobers offered the following suggestions to the Committee:

  •   Encourage a diverse state economy and aggressively market the state to industries and businesses throughout the world.
  •   Balance environmental stewardship and economic growth. We need a realistic and consistent regulatory climate and state policies that allows us to grow our economy while protecting the environment.
  •   Streamline the permitting process and regulate all industries fairly and equitably.
  •   Incentivize people to move to and live in PA. Look into home ownership programs, auto registration waivers, waive recreation activity fees, etc.
  •   Market Pennsylvania to those in other states. Just like we market tourism, except we are inviting you to stay and pursue a career.

In his day-to-day career Jeff works with the Builders Guild of Western PA to manage the labor needs of the State’s largest industries. He cooperates with unionized building trades and contractor organizations to provide the needed workforce for whatever the job may be. From his years of experience he has determined that our current labor problem is not that our workforce is inadequately trained, or that we don’t have work to be done, but that we lack the population to meet the demands of our industry. Without a push to draw more working-age and driven people to the State careers will continue to go unfilled.

“The overriding problem is, as a State, we continue to lose our working age population.”

Jeff Nobers, Executive Director, Builders Guild of Western PA and Pittsburgh Works Together 


WATCH: Workforce Challenges Panel Questions
Workforce Development

Carrie Amann, Executive Director of Pennsylvania’s Workforce Development Association, joined the Committee to share the current tools and resources available to those seeking careers throughout the State. PA’s Workforce Development Association is a patchwork of local offices that operate within a greater statewide network to bring together resources, supports, information, strategies, and workforce development partners to recruit and maintain a strong workforce that can support family-sustaining careers. Whether employed, unemployed, or underemployed PA’s Workforce Development Association has tools to assist in your challenge.

Carrie shared some unexpected news with the Committee. By-and-large Pennsylvanians that CAN work ARE working. According to the data PA’s Workforce Development Association has access to, 96% of the available labor force is employed in PA. The largest influence on the availability of a workforce in PA is our shrinking population and the growing “Silver Wave” of baby-boomer retirees. Furthermore, there is a growing number of young adults that have left the labor pool completely and their disinterest in pursuing a career removes them from “available work force” considerations. We’re simultaneously combatting emigration, lack of motivation, and an aging labor pool.

The data utilized by PA’s Workforce Development Association comes from the PA Department of Labor and Industry, but may be up to 18 months old before it can be utilized. This disparity in data collection and utilization disables PA’s Local Workforce Development Boards from utilizing the information to effectively direct local planning and business design. The solution to this problem, proposed by PA’s Workforce Development Association, is to “Free the Data” and provide immediate access to new-hire database information from the PA Department of Labor and Industry which is more timely and accurate.

“Most of PA’s labor force IS working. 96% of the available workforce hold a job.”

Carrie Amann, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Workforce Development Association


The lack of an available workforce does not mean PA is lacking in opportunities to pursue careers. Ken Broadbent of Pittsburgh Steamfitters Local Union 449 joined the panel to share how joining the Steamfitters can enable Pennsylvanians to support their families and be of immense value to their communities. The Policy Committee spent the morning touring Steamfitters 449 Technology Center and learned that Steamfitting is a combination of trades, with the majority being HVAC oriented (40%), work needed on industrial plants (30%), and the remainder being emergency calls to supermarkets, hospitals, stores, and schools for AC and electric needs (30%). At this time, a quarter of all steamfitters are apprentices, with an apprenticeship lasting 5 years.

Pennsylvanians may not be aware of the ways a Steamfitter Union can support them as they pursue a trade. A Steamfitters Apprenticeship Program is essentially free, and all the necessary tools, training gear, and immaculate facilities are funded through $1-per-hour union dues paid by all Steamfitter Union members. From nearly day one an apprentice will find work with tradesmen and contractors that cooperate with Steamfitters 449, and their compensation and benefits will grow as they develop in the trade and pass in-house tests. The apprenticeship system has a proven history of preparing the next generation for the jobs and skills in-need, and delivers without any necessity for state funding. The apprenticeship system works, and we need to encourage younger generations to pursue these opportunities.

“We give someone a job from day one. Our system already works.”

Ken Broadbent, Pittsburgh Steamfitters Local Union 449


Tom Bender, Council Representative for the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters, shared testimony similar to the Steamfitters. If Steamfitting is not for you perhaps carpentry is a viable alternative. Just like the Steamfitters apprenticeship program the Council of Carpenters has a similar tuition free program where a prospective carpenter can specialize in at least 1 of 6 available majors. An apprentice may pursue cabinet making, commercial and residential framing, lathe work, piledriving, flooring, and a career as a millwright. Whether it be a new road, fixing a bridge, or building a hospital the job will absolutely need a number of experienced carpenters with a variety of skills.

Tom shared that PA’s Council of Carpenters is entirely self-funded through union dues, and apprentices can expect to find themselves on a jobsite shortly after beginning their training. The key to encouraging our next generation to pick up a hammer is to get into the schools and school curriculum as early as possible, so the Council of Carpenters has worked to provide outreach and curriculum options for 100+ schools throughout PA. Hands-on activities now begin in 5th grade and are intended to get children engaged and excited about a career in carpentry.

Tom expressed that though the key demographic for new carpenters is the youth of the State the trade is open to anyone at nearly any point in their lives. He shared a story of a middle-aged nurse, burnt out after years of COVID and the anxiety that it caused, who decided to quit her healthcare career and become a carpenter. She was swiftly onboarded, passed the initial in-house tests, and is now an apprentice working on job sites as she further develops her skills. Trade work is a viable career path for all Pennsylvanians, and the Steamfitters and Carpenters provide the necessary know-how and real-world training to bring us into a prosperous future.

“We can go into a classroom and do something hands-on. We’re taking carpentry right into the high schools and middle schools to grow our workforce’s possibilities and potential.”

Tom Bender, Council Representative, Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters


WATCH: Workforce Development Panel Questions 

The challenges facing today’s workforce and employers are daunting, but not insurmountable. The Commonwealth must simultaneously empower the workforce already calling our state home, while encouraging out-of-state residents to set up roots in PA and enjoy the family-sustaining careers that can be found in a wide variety of industries. The Committee concluded the hearing once the challenges facing our job-makers, the careers waiting to be filled, and the means available to develop our workforce had all been expressed. It is clear we must investigate means to bring new people to the Commonwealth if we wish to remain competitive. The Policy Committee will continue to hear from the People and businesses of Pennsylvania to develop sound legislative proposals and action items.