We must align our schools and skills training to fill the jobs of the future as the regional economy evolves and baby boomers retire
May 22, 2016 12:00 AM
By William S. Demchak
Employers, educators, policymakers and the entire workforce across the Pittsburgh region must respond to an alarming wake-up call issued by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development. We are going to be short by tens of thousands of people we will need to fill hundreds of thousands of jobs that are expected to open here over the next 10 years. Without immediate action to elevate, retain and attract talented workers, we run the risk that employers will look elsewhere for the workforce they will need to grow their businesses.
— Inflection Point: Supply, Demand and the Future of Work in the Pittsburgh Region
The Inflection Point report just released by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, spells out the workforce challenge our region faces in sobering detail and puts forth the opportunity that we must seize.
Today, more people are employed in our region than ever before in our history; we have fully recovered from the steel bust of a generation ago and from the Great Recession as well. All of this has been made possible by a highly skilled workforce that is one of the best-educated and hardest-working in the country. That’s the good news.
On the other hand, it’s no secret that we’re on the leading edge nationally of Baby Boomer retirements, and the new research in “Inflection Point” puts specific numbers to it. Over the next 10 years, employers will need to fill 340,000 jobs — 34,000 every year — left vacant by Baby Boomer retirements and created by economic growth.
Those numbers represent a lot of opportunity for our residents, but the math indicates that the number of young people we graduate from the region’s K-12 schools won’t be large enough to meet demand. In fact, we’re likely to have some 8,000 more job openings each year than we have people to fill them. Over 10 years, the cumulative gap becomes 80,000 — that’s 80,000 job openings without workers to fill them.
So what is the solution? If we continue as we have, we will surely see our competitiveness erode. But if we commit to combine our resources, expertise and will to build a highly skilled workforce, with opportunity for everyone, we can meet this challenge head on and make this a defining moment for the region.
As a region, we must embrace our need to elevate, retain and attract talent. We need everyone in the region to be trained and connected to opportunity. There is no simple solution for this, but our future prosperity as a region will depend upon it. That means paths for low-skill workers and the unemployed to develop skills that are in demand, and more employers willing to make bets on young or less-experienced talent.
And we must ensure that everyone coming up through our K-12 system, as well as the students attending our region’s colleges and universities, see an opportunity to build a successful career in southwestern Pennsylvania.
At PNC, we have made a conscious decision to recruit college talent, and as a company we have been well-served by giving a lot of young people their start. They bring energy and new ideas to the workplace. I hope more companies will join us in trying to retain more of the 20,000 college graduates who currently leave our region every year for opportunity somewhere else.
We need to create widespread access to current jobs data and career pathway information, and we also need to build effective tools so that students, as well as adults, understand how their skills and interests align to actual job demand. On any given day, we have thousands of open jobs on the conference’s ImaginePittsburgh.com jobs website, but they may have thousands of different job titles, making real opportunity hard to find.
Even if we do we do a perfect job of aligning the skills of our available workforce to the demands of the regional jobs market and if we successfully retain more of the graduates and others who leave our region each year, we will still have to market our region more aggressively to attract talented people from outside. Other regions of the country are competing directly with us for talent, and we must do more if we expect to remain competitive. The only solution for our region is one that simultaneously elevates, retains and attracts talent.
An important goal for the Inflection Point report was to create greater clarity about the future: where job growth will be and, also important, where it won’t. Looking at the data and talking to more than 130 business and education leaders about what they are seeing in their own companies and industries provided insight about the skills and competencies employers will require over the next decade.
The current levels of un- and underemployment tell us we are not adequately preparing everyone with the skills they need for today’s jobs, and the report’s findings make clear that tomorrow’s jobs, whatever they may ultimately look like, are certain to require even higher skill levels than are needed now.
So the challenge isn’t just a question of numbers. Inflection Point paints a fascinating picture of how technology is transforming every industry and every job, and how it will continue to do so. No occupation or industry is immune, and none will look the same in five or 10 years as technology drives change and reshapes entire sectors.
Technology is in increasing demand for many roles but is also rendering other occupations obsolete. The data indicates that jobs are becoming more complex, blending many different kinds of skills into a single occupation, and in so doing, require more continual training and “upskilling” for every worker.
Technology skills are being required in jobs not considered technology-focused. And customer service skills — even for occupations such as lab technicians, surgeons and certified nursing assistants — are becoming a necessity in jobs that previously may not have been customer-facing.
How should employers, educators and policy makers respond to this?
Employers and educators must work together to determine how we can collectively invest in training and build an effective bridge that will span the significant divide that seems to exist between us. Both are eager for more collaboration and regional scaling of programs that are working to align education and training systems with workforce demand.
A consistent and sustained collaborative process, informed by jobs and skills data that is widely accessible to employers, educators, parents and students, will be an important step toward solving this challenge. At the Allegheny Conference, we have undertaken an effort to build a digital-career awareness hub that students will be able to access to discover and determine career pathways with promise for them.
Policy makers must make it easier for schools to respond to the changing world of work. Students must be able to apply credentials earned at one stage of their career to further education and college.
The Allegheny Conference intends to do its part, but we cannot do this alone. We are taking on the challenge of converting all of the data in the Inflection Point report into a digital platform that can provide a bridge between employers and educators and a gateway for students and workers seeking opportunity in our region. We also will work directly with educators and employers to encourage new partnerships. And we will organize a more aggressive, collaborative program to attract people with hard-to-find, in-demand skills to our region.
Inflection Point identifies an enormous challenge — but also an enormous opportunity — for our region. There are 340,000 jobs to fill over the next 10 years as younger workers take the place of retiring Baby Boomers and fill the new positions employers are creating. We have not been able to promise young people such opportunity in a generation. Now our collective task is to make them aware of it, to make sure they are prepared to take advantage of it and to work together to build an even brighter future for the Pittsburgh region.
William S. Demchak is CEO of PNC Financial Services and vice chair of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.
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