Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce study: Advanced training center needed for county

The Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday released findings from a year-long study conducted by Hanover Research to determine the needs of an advanced training center to meet current and future occupational training for Lebanon County's growing population.

The study was conducted in three phases:

  • Phase I: Hanover collected demographic, education attainment and labor market data on Lebanon County and the surrounding area as well as information on adult education programs currently available in the area. Hanover determined that there is a significant target population for an advanced training center, currently underserved by the current skills training opportunities in the county. This phase was completed in March 2023.

  • Phase II: Hanover conducted qualitative interviews with Lebanon County employers sourced by the chamber, from a mix of companies in target industries. Hanover identified themes hiring challenges for employers and confirmed a strong appetite for a local training center and the curricula it should offer. This phase was completed in July of 2023.

  • Phase III: Hanover analyzed the curricula and programs at other training centers in Pennsylvania and conducted interviews with leaders at the Lebanon County Career and Technology Center and Harrisburg Area Community College. Hanover identified how other training centers develop their programs, partner with local businesses and educational institutions and different ways they fund their programs. They also confirmed that partnerships with local business were critical in delivering vocational curricula and increasing students' readiness to participate in the workforce. This phase was completed in November 2023.

The chamber received two grants for the study totaling $79,000. The study cost $75,000.

A full presentation on the report will be given in a public meeting on Feb. 21 from 9:30 a.m. until 11 a.m. at the Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce, located at 989 Quentin Rd.

Registration for the event, as well as a full copy of the report, can be found on the chamber's website.

Need for an Advanced Training Program

In its first recommendation, Hanover identified a need to establish an advanced training center in Lebanon County based on population growth and employer perceptions of current resident skills.

The study found that in in 2021, the target population for an ATC, defined as the population age 18-44 with a high school diploma or associate's degree, was 25,000 people. Hanover estimates that by 2033, LVCC's proposed would have to accomodate a population between 23,000 and 32,000.

Hanover estimates that around 47% of Lebanon County's 18-44 year-old population has, or will have by the time they turn 25, a maximum educational attainment of a high school degree. Around 8% of the same population will have a maximum educational attainment of an associate's degree.

Per January 2023 data, Lebanon County had a civilian labor force of 74,700. 72,400, or 96.9%, of that labor force were employed, with the remaining 3.1% being unemployed. Unemployment rates were slightly lower than that of Berks and Dauphin counties, and just .1% higher than Lancaster County.

Despite strong performance in the labor market, both workers and job seekers in Lebanon County face challenges in acquiring specific skill sets required for in-demand roles due to the lack of adult training centers. The workforce population in the county is not sufficient to fill all open positions and many job candidates do not have prior work experience, limiting the candidate pool for non-entry level positions. For other roles, there is a lack of awareness and interest in pursuing training.

Scheduling, affordability, language and commutes and competition barriers compound these challenges, according to the report, suggesting that an ATC should be flexible, affordable, offer courses in multiple languages, and be centrally located.

These challenges are further compounded by scheduling, affordability, language and commuting and competition barriers.

The study also found current training centers in Lebanon County, LCCTC and HACC, do not cover the anticipated employer needs.

Tailoring programs

Hanover's second recommendation was that programs at an ATC should be tailored to teach skill sets that align with the top technical occupations in the county and employers' most in demand skills.

The top technical occupations in the county were broken down into three categories: healthcare, maintenances and repair, and transportation and moving.

Those occupations were further broken down to identify the most significant skills that employers would like to see taught in a Lebanon County training center and proposed programs that would align with those skills.

Keeping communication with business and education communities

The study's third recommendation is to maintain communication with the education and business community.

Communication will help to ease several issues brought up in the study, including the need to for increased education about empowerment opportunities at local training centers and high schools. Employers, the study states, believe that job candidates face difficulty receiving training for in-demand skills because of a lack of awareness and interest in available jobs in the county.

Communications with businesses could also open up for students at the ATC with internship, co-op and apprenticeship programs that give them practical, industry-relevant experiences.

The study recommends that LVCC should consider implementing structured collaboration programs with clear expectations and benefits for business. This could involve regular meetings and opportunities for businesses to have input on curriculum, or initiatives that allow them to invest in the ATC.

Next steps: planning and funding

The fourth recommendation by Hanover is to begin next steps of the process, such as logistics planning, seeking input from the community and determining a funding model.

Daniel Larlham Jr. is a reporter for the Lebanon Daily News. Reach him at DLarlham@LDNews.com or on X @djlarlham.

This article originally appeared on Lebanon Daily News: Lebanon Valley PA Chamber study: Advanced training center needed