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Penn College hosts ‘Career Pathways’ roundtable

Students eyeing careers in applied technology – particularly the manufacturing, health care and energy components of the American workforce – got authoritative guidance during a Pennsylvania College of Technology-hosted roundtable on April 7.

The event was sponsored by Energy Transfer, which owns and operates one of the largest and most diversified portfolios of energy assets in North America, and drew on the expertise and the experience of six panelists.

Participating in the Career Pathways roundtable, sponsored by Energy Transfer and hosted by Pennsylvania College of Technology, are, from left: Jason C. Fink, president and CEO, Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce; Shannon M. Munro, the college’s vice president for workforce development; Shannon L. Massey, senior vice president and general manager, Lycoming Engines; state Sen. Gene Yaw; Joe McGinn, vice president of public affairs for Energy Transfer; Steven P. Johnson, president of UPMC in North Central Pa.; and Matthew D. Fisher, Williamsport Area School District’s director of career and technical education.
Participating in the Career Pathways roundtable, sponsored by Energy Transfer and hosted by Pennsylvania College of Technology, are, from left: Jason C. Fink, president and CEO, Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce; Shannon M. Munro, the college’s vice president for workforce development; Shannon L. Massey, senior vice president and general manager, Lycoming Engines; state Sen. Gene Yaw; Joe McGinn, vice president of public affairs for Energy Transfer; Steven P. Johnson, president of UPMC in North Central Pa.; and Matthew D. Fisher, Williamsport Area School District’s director of career and technical education.

Offering their perspective – often based on a circuitous, yet character-building assortment of jobs before landing in their current positions – were State Sen. Gene Yaw, who also chairs the Penn College Board of Directors; Matthew D. Fisher, Williamsport Area School District’s director of career and technical education; Jason C. Fink, president and CEO, Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce; Steven P. Johnson, president, UPMC in North Central Pennsylvania (also a member of the college’s board); Shannon L. Massey, senior vice president and general manager, Lycoming Engines; and Shannon M. Munro, the college’s vice president for workforce development.

Penn College proved a fitting locale for the discussion, as its curricular portfolio and job-search tools reflect the breadth of careers spotlighted during the event, which was held in the Thompson Professional Development Center and livestreamed.

“My advice would be to help a student as early as possible with a broad array of options so they can make the best decisions based on their interests,” said Munro, whose purview includes the college’s Plastics Innovation & Resource Center, Clean Energy Center and Apprenticeship Center. “People ask, ‘Is a degree worth it?’ It certainly is, if you pick the right one, and we have a ton of opportunity here to do that.”

“On this campus, we can do an interest inventory with students that don’t have an idea of what they want to do as a career,” she added. “We have 100 degrees here, certainly a lot to choose from, so if they don’t have an idea, we are able to help.

Munro stresses the importance of adaptability, and building on the skill set that employees gain from each of their job experiences.
Munro stresses the importance of adaptability, and building on the skill set that employees gain from each of their job experiences.

“Those types of things on the front end are really critical for helping students, hopefully earlier than high school, to make the right decision about their career path early on. Because we don’t want somebody realizing two years in that this wasn’t the right path. I think it’s also critical that, once somebody has an idea about where to start their path, they go and job-shadow the employers, talk to people who are in that career, learn from them and ask questions.”

She also pointed to the success of the college’s pre-apprenticeships, offered to high school students, and its apprenticeship offerings for those who are already employed.

“Pre-apprenticeship is a program to help people who are undecided about a career path understand the opportunities in a certain sector,” said Munro, who noted that her own work history is scattered among 14 positions in a variety of disciplines. “The entire focus of that program is to help people understand all of the occupations that might be available.

“So if you’re working in advanced manufacturing, you could be an accountant or you could be in culinary, as some companies now offer food options to their employees. A student may choose to go to college, the military or go straight to work. But they will do so having a broad knowledge of the kinds of opportunities that are available.”

Yaw (left), seated alongside the moderator, references his own roundabout career in expressing a necessary openness to change.
Yaw (left), seated alongside the moderator, references his own roundabout career in expressing a necessary openness to change.

Yaw, whose own career led from dairy farming to law school to the Legislature, stressed that a proper foundation – an openness to learning and a commendable work ethic – can support a diversity of experience.

“I think it’s pretty clear that half the people up here started off doing something else, and I think the key that we need to tell students is, they need to have a good base. If you have a good base, you can go all different directions. You may start off as an equipment operator and you may end up doing something else. You have to have that base, and then you can go ‘wherever.’”

Yaw, who chairs the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, also expressed his frustration that government funding for technical education hasn’t reflected talk of the acknowledged benefits.

“The technical part is where it’s happening. That’s where jobs are created,” the senator said. “Our placement rate here is about 98%, which means that we have students that get jobs. We trademarked, several years ago, the phrase ‘degrees that work.’ Now you can play with those words and pick and choose whatever it means, but our goal is to train people to go out into the workforce.”

Among the day’s other takeaways from the free-flowing conversation:

Fink, on the Chamber’s role in linking job-seekers and employers:

  • “We talk a lot about getting connections; being able to get industry connected to students, getting them connected to the colleges, making sure that they’re aware of what resources are around them. I’m making sure they know who is the right person to speak to. Because right now, it is making sure that, as a business, I am getting ready for the next generation, because you look at the aging workforce; a lot of industry is aware of the fact that those folks are in positions who have been there long term and are retiring soon. The other aspect of it is the fact that there are folks who are in positions who say, ‘Hey, I’ve done this long enough. I want to go work someplace else.”

Johnson, on employee recruitment post-COVID:

  • “We’ve tended to be a bit passive in health care. Historically, we wait for somebody to express interest in us and we follow up. We can’t do that when we’re dealing with one of the most significant workforce shortages of at least a lifetime. We need to be going into the schools, bringing them into our organizations, and doing whatever we can to inspire and create opportunities that can be leveraged into a career commitment. In addition to the obvious – doctors and nurses – it’s almost like a city within a city. We have laboratory technologists, we have pharmacists, we have radiologists, we have dietitians, we have engineers and we have some of the most sophisticated air-handling systems that you can install.”

Massey, on using social media to erase myths about manufacturing:

  • “Do you know how quick it is for me to post a YouTube video of ‘Look at how we’re building this product today’ or a picture of our employees doing something inside the factory? There are clean floors, it’s not dark and dingy, it actually has light, it has color, there’s electronics, there’s computer programming. Technology is immersed now, and not just what it was and what some people picture it as. That’s our onus as industry. We own the responsibility to go in and say, ‘This is what we do.’”

Fisher, on prepping students for STEM careers (and including parents):

  • “It truly is a K-12 conversation, helping students start to think about what is in their community … and starting that conversation early. ‘What do these occupations look like, what skill sets do I have that I can go out and do those things?’ So many times, there are sectors of our community that maybe don’t consider an occupation because it’s not presented to them. It’s not something that they experienced in their own lives or they’re not even aware that some of the jobs weren’t even in existence when we were in elementary school.”
The Educational & Emerging Technologies office staffs four cameras, enabling multiple angles for remote viewers.
The Educational & Emerging Technologies office staffs four cameras, enabling multiple angles for remote viewers.
A focus on career readiness
A focus on career readiness

Joe McGinn, vice president of public affairs for Energy Transfer and the day’s moderator, closed by noting two words that came up frequently during the 90-minute discussion: “adventure” and “pride.”

“As you look at a career and career readiness, ultimately that’s what we’re all on, right? Our own individual adventures that cross paths and, hopefully, everyone has a career in life that brings that adventure to it, with the ups and the downs that we all live through,” he told the audience. “I can’t think of something better to wish for anybody that we’re close to than that they have an opportunity to be proud of what they do. You know each day in their life or career when they can reflect at that 30,000-foot level, and say, ‘Hey I did this’ or ‘I was a part of this’ because, let’s face it, most of what we do is part of a team or a bigger picture.”

For more about Penn College, a national leader in applied technology education and workforce development, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.

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