CALLING A WINNING PLAY—Steeler Hall-of-Famer Jerome Bettis joins Mayor Bill Peduto and County Exec. Rich Fitzgerald in supporting a new summer jobs plan for 2,000 youths. (Photo courtesy the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board)

CALLING A WINNING PLAY—Steeler Hall-of-Famer Jerome Bettis joins Mayor Bill Peduto and County Exec. Rich Fitzgerald in supporting a new summer jobs plan for 2,000 youths. (Photo courtesy the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board)

Last year, the City of Pittsburgh’s Summer Youth Employment program had 500 openings. More than 1,300 youths applied.

This year, Mayor Bill Peduto wanted to move the chains and create 2,000 summer youth jobs. So on Feb. 25, he joined Allegheny County Rich Fitzgerald and the Three Rivers Investment Board to announce the Summer of Learn and Earn. They were also joined by someone who knows a little bit about moving the chains—Steelers Hall-of-Fame running back Jerome Bettis.

“I felt it’s important to lend whatever celebrity I have, whatever platform I have, to try to effect change,” Bettis said. “This is not just providing jobs. This is providing an opportunity.”

He said, if not for a similar program in which he participated in as a teen in Detroit, he might never have achieved all he has. He said it allowed him to experience things “that never would have been on (his) radar screen.”

“I realized anything was possible,” Bettis said. “I left my neighborhood and went out into the world. Effectively that summer (and the program) changed my life.”

Along with Bettis’ Bus Stops Here Foundation, the city, county and TRWIB hope to bring that same realization to 1,300 city youths ages 14 to 21 and—for the first time—another 700 from surrounding county communities.

Bettis’ foundation has already begun soliciting corporate sponsorship for the initiative in hopes of raising the $4.5 million needed to pay the participants $1,200 for six 25-hour work weeks. The balance, roughly $800 per participant, would cover administrative expenses.

“There are thousands of economically disadvantaged youths in Pittsburgh who want jobs but don’t have the connections or resources to get them,” said Peduto. “We can provide that opportunity to them and their families, while building a job-training pipeline to the city’s growing network of 21st Century employers.”

Such a job pipeline is needed because, according to TRWIB figures, the number of regional workers aged 55 and older grew by 80,000 in the last decade, while the number of workers between 25 and 44 dropped by more than 100,000. During that same time period, more than half the available youth jobs disappeared.

Fitzgerald said this initiative is critical because even though the county economy is adding about 20,000 jobs per year, many remain unfilled because they don’t possess the needed skills.

“We’re going to have to replace about 100,000 workers in the next five to 10 years,” he said. “With the help and commitment of our many partners in this region, we’ll be able to offer our youth jobs as well as networking opportunities that can provide them with positive relationships with a mentor that can serve them for years to come. We are proud to help play a part in this investment in our young people.”

Stefani Pashman, CEO of the TRWIB, said the program uses a three-tiered design to accommodate the different ages and skill levels of the participants.

No only will it benefit employers by ensuring students at each corporation are matched with jobs that will enable them to complete their work effectively, she said, but it will also train the students to grow into the work over their high school careers.

“By connecting young people to the job opportunities available in this region, we are showing the relationship between education and economic success and setting them on the path to a bright future,” she said.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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