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PA Chamber backs Governor on workforce comments

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The Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry said Gov. Tom Corbett raised a legitimate workforce concern when he mentioned some employers’ challenges in filling positions due to drug testing requirements.

“We frequently hear from member companies that this is absolutely a problem for them,” PA Chamber President Gene Barr said. “It is especially an issue for industries that have a zero tolerance policy on drug and alcohol use.”

Barr said it is hard to measure the extent of the problem because employers don’t necessarily track when job applicants stop pursuing employment when they learn of drug screening requirements. However, this frustration – along with challenges in finding potential employees with basic and specific skill sets necessary for the job – is often raised when meeting with members.

Barr said one member recently related that their company announced to a room full of applicants that one of the requirements for hiring was the successful passage of a drug test. At that statement, a number of the potential applicants got up and left the room.

Local economic development officials also appear to be aware of the problem.

Barr, who was a guest speaker at the Pennsylvania Economic Development Authority conference this morning in Harrisburg, said nearly 75 percent of attendees raised their hands when asked if they were aware that drug screening results were impacting employers’ ability to fill open positions.

Barr stressed that discussions about the broader issue of drug use as it relates to employment is valuable to current and future generations of workers.

“Why would we not want to have a conversation about letting young people know that there are consequences for recreational drug use?” Barr asked. “They need to understand that they could miss out on good-paying jobs from companies that due to liability concerns must have zero tolerance policies.”

The ability to pass background checks, including drug testing, and having the necessary skills are all pertinent issues that must be addressed in a broad conversation about workforce development, job creation and employment.

“The over-reaction to the governor’s statement lends nothing to a reasoned debate,” Barr said.

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