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How to train your employees on anything from language skills to leadership, while Pa. foots 75% of the bill

By April 18, 2023April 25th, 2023No Comments

(This column originally appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer)

Pennsylvania has programs to help its local business owners identify opportunities around workforce, education, training, and economic development needs by offering matching funds of up to 75% of these costs to employers through its PAsmart Industry Partnership Grants program.

“Basically any group of businesses of any size within certain industry sectors in the commonwealth are eligible for the funding,” says James Martini, the executive director of Pennsylvania’s Workforce Development Board. Industry groups include healthcare, technology, nonprofits and manufacturers.

Karla Trotman, the CEO of Electro Soft, a small Montgomeryville-based manufacturer with more than 30 employees, says she’s used money from the grant program to provide training, including helping her employees to improve their English, learn about the supply chain, improve higher level management and leadership techniques, and finesse their technical writing.

Trotman has also used the funds to pay for consulting help and training for employees to operate specific types of equipment. Other types of training can include technical skills for plumbing and heating and specific skills related to salesmanship, logistics and transportation. Management qualification programs like ISO are also eligible for reimbursement.

“We really don’t put a lot of restrictions on the training and the state provides the funding, so we take advantage of whatever is needed to help run our business effectively and provide skills to our employees,” she said.

Your business must be located in Pennsylvania and you must be a member of a group that has already received funding from the state.

There are 25 such groups who together received approximately $5.5 million in December (and are likely to receive more funding in the future, pending budget approval). According to Martini, the industry groups are used as a conduit for disbursing the funds so that the money can be better spread out.

“It’s more efficient to do it this way,” he said. “Basically any group of businesses within a certain industry sector can put in an application for an industry partnership alongside other public partners like education and training institutions, economic development folks and the local workforce development board.”

Electro Soft belongs to the Southeastern Pennsylvania Manufacturing Alliance (SEPMA), one of the 25 groups that receives funding under the program and then reimburses its members for their training needs. So does Polysciences, Inc., a 240-person contract manufacturer in the healthcare industry which is based in Warrington.

Polysciences relies heavily on the workforce development grants to provide training for their employees, and even uses some of the funds for an apprenticeship program that has helped groom future workers. Jennifer Tenfelde, the company’s executive director of human resources, manages a number of training programs simultaneously and works closely with company managers and supervisors to determine the type of training that’s needed by their staff.

“I’ve got a spreadsheet that tracks data for all of the trainings we’re doing, everything from the start and end date to the employees involved and funding and billing status,” she said. “We have employees getting upskilled on analytical instrumentation and even HR recruitment, it’s all over the place.”

She also noted that compliance and providing the right documentation can sometimes be challenging, which is why she makes sure to get approval in advance and, like Trotman, relies heavily on the help provided by SEPMA.

The program has become extremely valuable to smaller companies like Electro Soft and Polysciences that are struggling to find and keep skilled workers.

“We’re not a large enterprise corporation and we don’t have the big budgets or the specialized knowledge to pull something together on our own,” says Tenfelde. “This program allows us to give our employees access to critical education that we ordinarily couldn’t provide.”

Trotman says that the funding has also enabled her company to hire more employees.

“Because of this program we’ve cut our training budget in half. It’s opened up opportunities for us to bring on more people because as we’ve ‘up-skilled’ our existing workers we can hire less skilled people at the entry level,” she said. “It’s been an amazing way for us to expand our workforce.”


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