$3 million grant aimed at bringing tech skills to manufacturing

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U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis met with emerging entrepreneurs at Carnegie Mellon University Thursday, but she wasn't interested in the development of the inventions, per se, but in the development of the workforce needed to manufacture the new products.

The labor secretary announced that the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board was awarded a $3 million grant to help new industries and unions work together to train the workers needed to manufacture the next generation of inventions that are coming out of CMU and other local universities.

"Organized labor knows how to train workers effectively," Ms. Solis said.

Bernie Lynch, who wrote the grant request for the Downtown-based board, said the unions have a long tradition of training workers through their apprenticeship programs.

Jared Cohon, president of CMU, said one of the weak links to having products produced locally is that workers are not trained in high-tech manufacturing.

Richard Bloomingdale, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, said years ago there was a huge tool and die industry in Pennsylvania but the work has been off-shored, so training in tool and die work has faded away. "We need to reconnect the inventors and the folks with the new ideas with the workers," he said.

The partnership of high tech and hard hats has already started.

Colin Huwyler, CEO of Optimus Technologies in Garfield, has been working with the training program for the International Union of Operating Engineers to teach the union members how to produce the parts needed to convert diesel engines to use bio-fuels. Along the way Mr. Huwyler has received his own education in that what works in the lab doesn't always work in manufacturing, so the process of building the diesel to bio-fuel converter had to be refined.

Ms. Solis, whose federal department also encompasses the Bureau of Labor Statistics, said there are more than 12 million people unemployed, and that number needs to come down.

In Pennsylvania, 475,000 were unemployed in May, which is the same number as in April, leaving the state's unemployment rate at 7.4 percent, according to a report from the State Department of Labor and Industry released Thursday. While the unemployment rate is set by a survey of households, a separate survey of employers had much worse news: The state lost 9,900 jobs during May.

Last month alone the state lost 3,700 manufacturing jobs, 2,300 construction jobs and 4,300 jobs in the leisure and hospitality industry. Governments in the state cut 3,300 jobs.

The $3 million grant to the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board was on the smaller side of the workforce initiative grants awarded by the Department of Labor Thursday.

The West Central Job Partnership Inc. in New Castle received a $6 million grant to train workers in gas drilling and advanced manufacturing, according to U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire, D-McCandless.

In Ohio, The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services in Columbus was awarded $12 million, the largest of the grants awarded; and the Workforce Initiative Association in Canton received $6 million.

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Ann Belser: abelser@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1699. First Published June 15, 2012 12:00 AM


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