Regional leaders challenged to develop job replacements, keep them in Western Pennsylvania
There are 25,000 open jobs in the Pittsburgh region, and more people are moving here, but that doesn’t mean they won’t go elsewhere in the nationwide competition for talented workers.
“That number is not going down, which highlights that our companies are adding jobs and trying to replace people who are retiring,” said Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of a group whose mission is to promote and support development in the region.
Yablonsky and other leaders of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development say the next big challenge for the region is maintaining its population and workforce as baby boomers retire and competition for young talent grows.
The conference held its annual meeting on Wednesday in the Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland, where it updated attendees on the group’s three-year growth agenda that started in 2012, and a new agenda that begins next year. More than 300 companies and organizations in the 10-county region are members.
The challenge “has been on our agenda for the past three years,” said Yablonsky. The conference created a website to publicize open jobs (imaginePittsburgh.com) and helped to create ShaleNET, a collaborative of schools that are training workers for natural gas jobs, among other actions, he said.
For the upcoming agenda, “I literally met with a thousand of our members in 51 sessions, and the overwhelming issue profit and non-profit members cited was the challenge of hiring and retaining enough people with the right skills and replacing the retirees. It’s going to be front and center,” Yablonsky said in an interview before the meeting.
A positive, he said, is that state figures show more people are working in the region, they are younger and better educated. In 2011, 3,740 more people moved into the region than moved out, continuing a trend that began in 2009, according to the University Pittsburgh’s Center for Social and Urban Research and Pittsburgh Today.
At issue are two age groups, 45-64 and 24-44, said Yablonsky.
“If you compare them, there is 136,000 more in the older group,” he said. “Just to stay even, we’re going to have to figure out how to replace those people.” The percentage of the population 65 or older is projected to rise to 21.9 percent from 16.7 percent in 2010, Pitt figures show.
A second issue is a skills mismatch, Yablonsky said. Of the 25,000 open jobs, two-thirds do not require a college degree. “But many of them require some STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills, and an issue is how we match jobs to people with those skills.”
“Another issue is diversity. The region is the least diverse place in the country, with 13 percent minorit residents compared to the national average of 33 percent,” he said. “The nation is changing, and we have to figure out how to address that, because our kids want to live in a place that is more diverse.”
Doug Heuck, director of regional indicators for Pittsburgh Today, said cities nationwide are competing for talented young people. “As baby boomers age, there are going to be workforce gaps in other cities. It’s a competition for young people to fill their workforce,” he said.
It’s going on in many ways, Yablonsky said. A recent trip to Denver showed civic leaders are focusing on creating a place that’s attractive to young people. “There’s no doubt in my mind that we are competing every day. Just because there are jobs here doesn’t mean that people aren’t going to go elsewhere,” he said.
The Allegheny Conference is coordinating ways to compete, Yablonsky said. One is to identify talent groups on the move and reach out to them with sophisticated advertising and electronic messaging.
An example is the 50,000 people leaving Latin American countries each year, he said. A campaign called Hola Pittsburgh was started last year with the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and other groups as a way to fill job vacancies and stimulate the regional economy.
John D. Oravecz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7882 or [email protected].