The original article was published in the Pittsburgh Business Times.
We’ve all seen the statistics, well-documented in the Allegheny Conference on Community Development’s “Inflection Point” study: a workforce shortage of 80,000 by the year 2025 and a regional economy that, for all its exciting improvements in recent years, is still running behind that of other regions we compete with for both new and existing business.
This shortage of skilled workers threatens to stall our growth.
For fast-growing companies, proximity to talent is crucial. If they
can't find it here, they will locate somewhere else.
The low unemployment rate in Allegheny County might lead one to
the conclusion that the only solution for our looming workforce gap
is to attract more talented people to our region and to convince
young people who have come here to attend our great colleges and
universities to stay here after graduation. Certainly, those
avenues are important to pursue, but there is another path we
should explore as well.
There are communities around our region that have not shared in
the economic boom. In these communities, too many adults have given
up looking for jobs, and too many young people leave school
unprepared for the workforce. If we can create better pipelines
connecting these individuals with job opportunities, training them
to be successful and supporting their efforts along the way, we
will be able to fill a large portion of the gap -providing hope and
opportunity and turning around communities at risk.
This is a challenge that requires the participation of our
business leaders, educational institutions, community organizations
and regional foundations. We need to collaborate on a bold plan to
transform an asset with tremendous potential - the underutilized,
underemployed residents of underserved communities - into fully
functioning participants in our economic success.
At the Community College of Allegheny County, we've had great
success creating and working with industry advisory committees and
with individual companies. Whether it's training welders for
high-demand jobs, powerline workers for Duquesne Light Co., nurses
and allied health professionals for hospitals or workers
specializing in artificial intelligence and robotics for the tech
industry, these and many other partnerships enable us to develop
curricula that are preparing students for real-world jobs.
There are several steps we need to take as a region to create a
productive and effective job pipeline:
1. Business leaders in high-demand industries should create
their own working groups with their peers at other companies to
identify emerging trends and job needs, and map out the skills
required by future employees. Representatives of these companies
need to work collaboratively with two- and four-year colleges and
universities to create programs designed to train skilled workers
who are ready to be hired.
2. As a region, we need to identify new partnership
opportunities and secure new grants that support the collaborative
development of programs that cross county lines.
3. Community-based organizations need to play an active role in
providing input on the structure of job-training programs by
communicating with local residents and mobilizing support when
solid, credible programs are created.
4. The great philanthropic foundations that support so many
civic activities in the region need to be involved as well. The
best training program is of no value to someone who can't get to it
or who can't arrange child care during the hours a course is in
session. Funding for wrap-around support services that enable
residents of underserved communities to access these types of
programs would be an investment that could yield extraordinary
A bold initiative as outlined above requires significant effort
and participation. It will require time and perseverance, but
first, it requires us to be open to new ways of thinking. We need
to convene a small group of organizations and companies that can
play a leadership role in developing a tangible blueprint for
moving forward. I would welcome hearing from representatives of any
of the sectors I've mentioned here who wish to join me in building
a new model for addressing at least a portion of our workforce
needs - and at the same time, realizing the untapped potential of
so many of our citizens.
Quintin Bullock is president of the Community College of