Jill Biden visited Pittsburgh’s Workforce Hub (Photo by Ed Blazina)
By Ed Blazina
PITTSBURGH – Local, state and national leaders gathered in the shell of an old steel mill in Pittsburgh Wednesday to celebrate the progress the city is making as a national workforce hub.
First Lady Jill Biden and Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su participated in a roundtable discussion with local political, labor and education leaders about the program to train disadvantaged people for union manufacturing and construction jobs through expanded apprenticeship and education programs funded through the federal economic stimulus programs. Su said the administration has invested $255 million in the Pittsburgh area in the past two years.
The discussion took place in Mill 19 at Hazelwood Green, a growing industrial park featuring robotics and biomedical engineering where the former Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp. plant once hulked over the Monongahela River.
In her opening remarks, Biden praised regional leaders in many fields for joining together to develop a series of job-training programs to meet the administration’s goals. The workplace hubs will prepare the country for “boundless possibilities that stand ahead for places like Pittsburgh,” she said.
“There is a great, vibrant future ahead for Allegheny County,” Biden said. “It’s a model for other communities… Now, you’re building the future.”
Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey, who touts his administration as the city’s most diverse ever, said during the discussion that he appreciates the positive reinforcement from federal officials. His goal is to change expectations for neighborhoods and classes of people who have been left out in the past.
“How do we lead people who have been excluded?” he asked. “I don’t want them to know the drug game. I want them to learn the organization game, and that’s what we’re doing here.”
Victor Mroczkowski, executive vice president of operations for Re:Build Manufacturing, said his company purposely located its first facility in New Kensington, about 25 miles east of Pittsburgh, because of the high unemployment rate there. The company expects to hire 300 workers for training in advanced manufacturing over the next three years.
Those kinds of jobs will make a real difference in the labor market, said Darrin Kelly, president of the Allegheny-Fayette Labor Council. He, too, praised the joint effort.
“Everybody has taken a sense of ownership for the path we are on,” Kelly said. “This is investing in our no. 1 resource – our people.”
In an interview after the discussion, Kelly acknowledged that right now there are many jobs in service industries that are unfilled and unemployment is low. But he said expects people will notice these jobs are different and will come forward to take advantage of the training programs.
“This is clearly not some token program,” he said. “We know these aren’t just paychecks. These are family-sustaining jobs, the things that let people live a great life.”
Prior to the round table, Gainey and Su held another event where 47 employers, educators and union leaders signed onto what’s called the “Pittsburgh Good Jobs Principles.” Those principles set standards for recruiting, training, hiring, and retaining workers from disadvantaged groups and encourage project labor agreements (PLAs), community benefits agreements (CBAs), and other tools to codify and enforce these ideals.
Su said those principles and the city’s coalition of groups working together are keys to making the program work.
“We need that [job-training] infrastructure to be as strong as our roads and bridges,” she said. “You are creating a model for the nation. Each apprenticeship, each job, makes sure no one gets left behind.”
Wednesday’s round table was a follow up to a discussion city officials, educators and business leaders had in August with Mitch Landrieu, senior advisor to the president and infrastructure coordinator. Biden had been in Augusta earlier in the day for a similar event there.
In Pittsburgh, the city has worked with unions and education facilities to develop a three-pronged program for immediate jobs and continuing training opportunities that will include daycare and other options to help single and low-income parents improve their places in the workforce.
The first step is to create more than 1,300 jobs through 2026 in key areas to support the administration’s stimulus program in clean energy (650 jobs), defense manufacturing for the U.S. Navy (350), advanced manufacturing (300) and building modular homes (50).
Apprenticeships and earn-and-learn programs are the key to the second part of the program, which is expected to train 500 workers in the next few years. That includes construction jobs through separate programs by Partner4Work in the Hill District and Pittsburgh Gateways; cybersecurity training through Carnegie Mellon University, Eaton Corp. and Parkway West Career and Technology Center; and using a $3.75 million federal grant for 300 apprenticeships in clean energy, transportation and broadband infrastructure.
The third prong will expose younger students to potential jobs in robotics, cybersecurity and advanced manufacturing through introductory programs at Community College of Allegheny County, the Advanced Robotics Institute, the University of Pittsburgh and New Century Careers, a training facility on Pittsburgh’s South Side.
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