Workforce developers react to job report

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As the New Pittsburgh Courier reported last week, the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board analysis of jobs posted in the greater Pittsburgh area found that most available jobs require more than a high school diploma, but less than a college degree.

The top occupational clusters in the study; Management; Computer and Mathematical; Sales and Related; Office and Administrative Support; and Healthcare Practitioners and Technical, all offer average wages well above the $28,500 considered to be a family-sustaining wage.

saleem-ghubril
SALEEM GHUBRIL

With these unfilled positions in several fields requiring, in some cases, no more than on-the-job training, and in others less than even a two-year degree, the Courier asked workforce developers if their job counseling and training efforts should alter their focus and if so, how.

Saleem Ghubril, executive director of the Pittsburgh Promise scholarship program said the report’s results were not exceptionally surprising.

“That is why, early on, we changed the Promise grants from strictly two-year and four-year degree programs to any post-secondary program,” he said. “Now, you want to do a six-month welding, or nine-month cosmetology program, go, prosper,” he said. “The Pittsburgh Public Schools is paying greater attention to career and technical education.”

Urban League of Pittsburgh President and CEO Esther Bush, who taught job readiness classes at Coppin State University in public schools in Baltimore, said even though the report notes thousands of unfilled jobs, it is actually a hopeful sign for unemployed African-Americans in the region.

In particular the report sites skill sets that are in demand are transferable between and among various fields.

“The good news is that all those people complaining that there are no jobs for unspecialized workers are mistaken,” she said. “A good old-fashioned work ethic—wake up on time, get to work, and volunteer to learn new things—that’s still very much in play.”

Bush said foundations and government funding agencies should look at reports like this more frequently in order to provide employment programs the flexibility needed to address local job availability.

“Job training programs are not always attuned to the available job market because funders are not always as agile as they should be,” she said.

The Community College of Allegheny County sees the report as supporting their efforts to build a workforce tailored to the local market.

The college’s accredited associate’s degree programs provide a foundation for many of the top fields in the TRWIB study, from computer information technology to administrative assistant to several management programs.

“Employers report that a lack of suitable skills is the biggest hurdle to filling these open positions,” said Charles Blocksidge, Ph.D, executive director of the CCAC–Allegheny County Workforce Alliance. “Thankfully, CCAC provides affordable access to the necessary training for the top occupational clusters and jobs, from short-term certificates—some as fast as 24 days—to nationally recognized associate’s degrees.”

Laura Fisher, senior vice president for special projects with the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, said the regions aging demographic means, while we need to train engineers and skilled professionals, these jobs cannot be ignored because “we don’t have any children to spare.”

“We don’t have the option of either/or, we need both,” she said. “Instead of young people just trying to be what some advisor says, they should look at what they do well, and look at how that can translates into a variety of jobs.”

Melanie Harrington, CEO of Vibrant Pittsburgh, a newly formed diversity and workforce initiative, said, in addition to her mandate to recruit and retain highly skilled minorities to enhance the region’s economic development, she plans to implement an “elevation” initiative to address getting African-Americans into the kinds of positions highlighted in the TRWIB report.

“We need to create the pathways to these opportunities, utilize the operational supports we have in our partner organizations and get financing aligned,” she said. “There is great potential in the people here, and that’s what the elevation piece of our plan is about.”

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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