Pittsburgh Technical Institute's environment motivates teachers as much as students
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Bob Donaldson, Post-Gazette photos
Beth Rice, right, of the Pittsburgh Technical Institute admissions staff, takes prospective student Jesse Snack of Chartiers Valley High School through a faculty office area during a tour of the school.
There are hardly any doors in the administrative offices at the Pittsburgh Technical Institute, all desks are roughly the same size and the walled conference rooms are built with see-through block glass.
The school's 170,000 square foot North Fayette facility, opened in 2000, encapsulates the open and accessible atmosphere that employees there cited in voting the school the best mid-sized place to work in a Post-Gazette online survey.
While school is in session, the building pulses with nearly 2,000 full-time students and about 300 faculty and staff members. Classrooms are filled with medical dummies, computers and artwork as students pursue certificates and two-year associates degrees in fields as disparate as surgical technologies, graphic design and travel and tourism administration.
By and large, those degrees translate quickly into jobs -- flashing signs show that almost all of the 695 graduates in the last year have found employment -- which makes PTI employees excited about their own jobs.
"It's good to work with a positive thing," said Colleen Maxwell, an office assistant in graduate services. "All these kids are going into their futures. It's amazing what they do here."
The school started Downtown in 1946 offering courses solely in "management engineering."
Over the last few decades, its course offerings have broadened as enrollments has increased, from drafting in the 1960s to computer-aided drafting in the 1980s to computer programming in the 1990s to medical specialties in the last few years.
Ten years ago, PTI began the conversion to an employee-owned company. It is now 48 percent employee owned, and eventually plans to become entirely so.
Over the course of their first seven years, employees gradually become fully vested in the ownership plan, and each year they receive a statement telling them how many shares of stock they have accumulated, and how much the company is worth. When they leave, the shares are "sold" and they take the money.
"We believe that it gives a sense of ownership," said Terry Farrell, senior vice president for finance and information technology. "Everybody looks upon themselves as an owner. You think about turning off the lights."
With employees as "owners," the company also tries to be flexible in accommodating special requests.
For the last five years, for example, Peggy Martin has been working four 10-hour days per week to ease the commute to North Fayette from her home in Trafford. When she wanted to carpool with a co-worker, PTI allowed that employee to change her schedule as well. "They always tell you your family comes first," said Ms. Martin, an accounting assistant.
Workers at other mid-sized businesses firms that ranked well on the survey also praised flexibility and family-friendly policies. "Commuting from the east side of Pittsburgh to our Downtown office is the least favorite part of my work day," said Tom Flynn, an employee at real estate services and money management firm Jones Lang LaSalle, which finished second in the Post-Gazette survey. "The physical commute is mitigated by Jones Lang LaSalle putting in place the technology that affords its employees the opportunity to telecommute, which makes for a grateful and productive workforce."
Workers at other mid-sized firms also cited their relationships with their co-workers as one of the highlights of their jobs. At PTI in particular, the open office environment draws co-workers together.
"For me, it is just about people," said Eileen Riley, vice president of education, as students, faculty and staff all mingled around near her desk. "We believe in our students and believe in each other."
Pittsburgh Technical Institute instructors John Wyland, left, and Jim Northrop huddle at Northrop's desk in the school's office area.
Click photo for larger image.
First Published March 20, 2007 12:00 am