Advocate for Pennsylvanians
Jennifer Berrier ’02 says the most important thing she does is help other people. As the recently appointed Acting Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, Berrier oversees a department that has grown—and become a lifeline to many Pennsylvanians—in a trying year.
The department oversees unemployment compensation, workers compensation, minimum wage, and the inspections of elevators, boilers, and stuffed toys. It’s a large department with nearly 5,000 employees. With its responsibilities comes the opportunity to impact 14 million Pennsylvanians across the state.
“It can be easy to look at what we do and see it just as a job duty,” Berrier says. “To others, it’s life-changing. It feels pretty great when you can make a positive impact in someone’s life.”
Berrier has been with the department since 2006, but her journey to reach her most recent promotion started when she was a student at York College, she says. From a flexible schedule to professors who pushed her to reach her goals, Berrier found a support system that elevated her.
Berrier is the oldest of five children. When it was time for her to pursue college, she needed to find something that was flexible. Her mother, who raised her children as a single parent, worked several jobs to support her family, so Berrier was needed at home to help watch her siblings.
York College provided the quality education that was important to Berrier, but it also gave her the flexibility to go to classes and stay home when her mom needed her help. Without that flexibility, college may not have been an option.
While she didn’t have a vision for where she wanted her career to go, she did have a strong interest in American history and the evolution of modern politics. She decided to pursue a Political Science degree. After graduation, she set out on a path to pursue law school and attended Widener University Commonwealth Law School in Harrisburg, which allowed her to commute and work part-time.
Her first job after passing the Bar was with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. She started working in employment law, which she found interesting, but after a while, she felt she could make a bigger impact in government administration. She worked for the Executive Offices at Labor and Industry and became a Bureau Director. Gov. Tom Wolf later appointed her to be the Deputy Secretary for Safety and Labor-Management Relations, and she became Acting Secretary of Labor and Industry in December 2020.
“I didn’t realize it at the time, but Gov. Wolf was on the Board of Directors at York College when I graduated,” Berrier says. “His signature is on my degree. In a lot of ways, it feels like things came full circle.”
Leading the Department of Labor and Industry during a pandemic has come with knowing many people need the support that Berrier and her team can provide. She sees her role as supporting her staff with the tools they need to impact the most people. When she thinks about how far she’s come in her career, she’s proud of the work she put in to get here.
“Multitasking is a skill that has transitioned into my professional life, and my college experience helped prepare me for where I am now,” she says. “It was a great start to a career I’m really proud of.”