More than 290,000 Baby Boomers in Pittsburgh’s tristate region are eligible to retire in the next decade. This will result in a significant shortage of skilled employees across many sectors including IT, business and finance, health care and life sciences, energy and advanced manufacturing. Also in this time-frame, economic growth is expected to create 50,000 new positions, adding up to nearly 340,000 open jobs. This gap is already exacerbated by a continuously shrinking pipeline of would-be workers emerging from our education system.
We knew this was coming, but new research from The Allegheny Conference on Community Development makes it clear that the need to align our student learning and job seeker skills with jobs is far more urgent than we imagined. The Inflection Point: Supply, Demand and the Future of Work in the Pittsburgh Region report provides a forward-looking analysis illustrating which occupations and skills will be in demand over the next decade, and which will decline.
The report title references the point of time on a graph at which a curve dramatically changes, delivering widespread consequences, either positive or negative. In the tristate area, that time is right now. We have a short window in which to act to ensure our economy continues to grow and provide jobs for existing and yet-to-arrive residents.
At its core, Inflection Point identifies the need for Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) education, not as a nice-to-have, but as a strategy to prepare for the fastest growing occupations — such as IT and engineering. This report complements a March 2016 study by RAND Corp. which noted that, while median wages decreased nationally between 2009 and 2013 across all STEM-related occupations and industries, in our region five of six STEM-related occupations saw wage increases. This underscores the scarcity of workers with STEM skills, the pressure that will face employers here and may, in fact, impact their desire and ability to stay here.
Ultimately, the report highlights both challenges and tremendous opportunity if we can align education and training with the emerging job market. Beyond being a warning cry of the dire consequences of inaction, the report is an inspiration to leaders in education, workforce development and the private sector to build smart strategies to keep pace with changing technology and an evolving labor market.
The good news is there are already collaborations building momentum. In 2014, Chevron Appalachia and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation joined with the Allegheny Conference and, more recently, the Grable Foundation to create the Appalachia Partnership Initiative, with RAND as its research and evaluation partner. The API is addressing gaps in skills and the talent pipeline to prepare for long-term economic vitality across southwestern Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia and eastern Ohio. Focused on 27 counties that share a common agricultural, energy and manufacturing history, these are communities where Chevron operates and the API partners advocate. Seeded with a $20 million social investment from Chevron, the API has already attracted an additional $6 million from its partners as well as local corporations, nonprofits and public sources focused on STEM education and pathways to jobs.
Pittsburgh’s Remake Learning Network is also rallying to encourage a deeper understanding of this opportunity. This month’s Remake Learning Days got the word out with nearly 300 events around the region opening our minds to the excitement of problem-solving, making and building.
At this inflection point, the API partners call for policy makers, administrators, K-12 educators, maker spaces, career and technical programs, and colleges and universities to deepen our commitment to learning and training aligned with next-generation jobs that, as the RAND report notes, typically provide better-than-average wages and are filled from a variety of training and education backgrounds.
Our region is exceptionally well-positioned to take on this challenge. We have a making and manufacturing legacy and an exceptional abundance of natural resources that, once again, can mean thousands of family-sustaining jobs. Add to this, a mix of historical assets such as a culture of foundation support, an engaged CEO network and world-class higher education institutions. By building on the spirit of collaboration that is a hallmark of the tristate region, we can meet this workforce challenge and seize a unique opportunity that few other regions can claim.
Trip Oliver is the policy, government and public affairs manager for Chevron Appalachia. James Denova is vice president of the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation. Here’s more information about the Appalachia Partnership Initiative.
, go to www.appalachia-partnership.com