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Hazelwood Green workforce efforts must clear roadblocks to living-wage careers | The Homepage

By Juliet Martinez, managing editor

Indea Brimage always saw herself working in a medical setting.

“Every time I go to the emergency room or to a doctor's office, I'm like, ‘I’d look good behind that desk,’” she said.

The 33-year-old from West End was working in the hospitality industry when she found out about a training course for personal care representatives in the UPMC system. Oakland-based Innovation District Skills Alliance was offering the three-week course. She applied and was accepted.

On Oct. 6, she graduated and was getting ready to start working in the burn unit at Mercy Hospital.

A brown-skinned, smiling woman with her hair pulled back holds a certificate of completion.
Indea Brimage on Oct. 6 holds the certificate she earned in the Innovation District Skills Alliance personal care representative training. The program creates each three-week training based on positions its partners, including UPMC, need to fill. On this day, Ms. Brimage was eager to start a new job in the burn unit at Mercy Hospital. Photo by Juliet Martinez

The University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University are moving forward with major development projects on Hazelwood Green. These institutions have heard Hazelwood residents say they want access to greater educational and career opportunities as the former site of LTV Coke Works has its 21st century rebirth. Each has its own approach to creating on-ramps to careers that pay well and offer opportunities for advancement.

But in neighborhoods where many residents live in poverty, job seekers may find those on-ramps blocked.

This article touches on how the two universities are approaching workforce development. It also explores how some local experts address the challenges job-seekers may face.

Robotics and biomanufacturing

First Lady Jill Biden visited Mill 19 on Nov. 9 to highlight workforce initiatives in Pittsburgh.

“In many ways Pittsburgh has always been a part of this transformation,” she said, “where iron ore turns to steel and steel to prosperity. And today you’re still transforming, turning old steel mills into a training center for the jobs of the future.”

The Biden administration designated Pittsburgh as a Workforce Hub in May. The administration highlighted the city’s leadership in advanced manufacturing, robotics and biomanufacturing. If these terms sound familiar, it’s because they have been coming out of the mouths of the university teams leading new developments on Hazelwood Green.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh’s BioForge facility will work on mass producing medicines that work at the gene and cell level. ElevateBio, a leader in this field, will occupy the majority of the 85,000-square-foot building.

Heidi Ward, Pitt’s director of planning for community and life sciences integration described the university's approach in an emailed statement. Community and university leaders are working on a workforce development plan to “ensure a thoughtful and inclusive future” for Hazelwood and the region, the statement said. They are looking to support employers to create “robust and intentional career pathways.” They also plan to raise awareness through schools and afterschool programs. The statement said they are looking for training programs that would help them fill entry- and mid-level jobs. They also plan to address barriers like transportation and the need for childcare.

ElevateBio has committed to hiring and training more than 170 new employees. About half of those will need a trade school, community college or bachelor’s degree. ElevateBio will recruit from these kinds of programs. They will also teach and train them on the job for the positions.

Researchers at CMU's Robotics Innovation Center will develop, build and test robots that could fill a variety of needs. The 150,000-square-foot facility will include a 1.5-acre fenced yard where researchers can test robots and drones.

A university spokesperson emailed a statement saying the university understands residents want more opportunities for education, training and employment, and that CMU “has a powerful role to play in supporting and creating these opportunities.” The university commits to helping companies recruit and train workers, and will support K-12 curricula that promote understanding of these fields. The statement stressed the university's commitment to developing training, certification and degree programs in community colleges, and collaborating with unionized workers.

The statement said it is too soon for the university to know how many jobs the facility will create. They do not yet have plans to help job-seekers with childcare or transportation. But they commit to supporting residents to address those challenges as the project moves forward.

Engaging the community

Gilbane | Mosites is the contractor in charge of building the robotics facility. The company is recruiting people in Hazelwood who want to enter the trades. They also want to find subcontractors and small businesses owned by women and minorities to work on the site and provide services to workers. (See ad on Page 16.)

Project manager John Wattick and marketing manager Cary Morris said the company does this kind of community service on every project.

During an October Zoom call, they described walking Hazelwood’s business district. They met business owners and asked how they can work together to strengthen them.

“The Hazelwood community is a very proud community. They want to be engaged,” Mr. Wattick said. “Maybe by bolstering those businesses it will promote Hazelwood and inspire others to open a business there.”

This approach focuses on a neighborhood’s existing small business community. But when people without family or school connections try to enter a new career, they can be in for a bumpy ride.

Clearing the on-ramp

Job seekers like Ms. Brimage are facing more barriers than ever, according to Jewish Family and Community Services career services director, Becky Johnson. Her organization partners with Innovation District Skills Alliance to support the trainees.

“Housing stability, transportation access, childcare,” she listed. “And do they have the time — financially and in terms of family — to sit through a cohort like what we've got going on here?”

Ms. Brimage said the $600 stipend she earned during the training, along with $100 gift cards at the start and finish, made it possible to pay her rent while she completed the course.

The program also supplied her and her fellow trainees with laptops so they could participate in the online portions of the training.

Ms. Brimage had the advantage of previous exposure to the kind of healthcare clerical work she trained for. Not everyone has that knowledge about possible new careers.

So exposure is vital, according to Lance Harrell. He oversees workforce development, diversity and inclusion efforts for the Master Builders Association of Western Pennsylvania. The construction trade group represents 255 general contractors and accounts for about 80% of commercial construction in the region.

It is hard to recruit younger people who have no exposure to the construction industry, Mr. Harrell said during a conversation over Zoom in October. Many have never seen someone in their family or neighborhood do construction work.

Gender stereotypes also interfere with recruitment.

He pointed to the World War II-era “Rosie the Riveter” campaign that helped women see themselves in trade jobs. He wants images of modern women working in the trades to become commonplace so young women can see themselves as carpenters, plumbers, electricians and welders.

Mr. Harrell said when he runs an ad campaign or gives presentations in schools and community meetings, he is looking for people who have a passion for building. He also visits partners like Industrial Arts Workshop in Hazelwood. (See ad on Page 6.)

Ms. Brimage said organizers of workforce programs should post flyers in places where youth hang out, in hospitals, clinics and community centers, and over social media. She found out about the Innovation District Skills Alliance course on Facebook.

But even when people connect with these programs, they can find the career on-ramp blocked. Mr. Harrell said he thinks of these not as barriers, but as hurdles.

“A barrier is an immovable obstacle that cannot be overcome, but a hurdle can be overcome with a bit of effort,” he said.

People wanting to enter the trades need a valid driver's license and a high school diploma or GED. They need math skills, he said, and reliable transportation.

Once they are hired, it can be hard to get used to working outdoors and the seasonal nature of the work.

Mr. Harrell said the skilled trade unions, community partners and the Master Builders Alliance are developing support groups and mentorship programs for people who are new to the trades, or who are the only woman or person of color on a crew.

This effort lines up with the Good Jobs Principles the city endorsed in November. These include a special focus on disadvantaged worker populations. The principles prioritize on-ramps to good jobs and careers, supportive services and training that promotes an inclusive culture and workplace environments free of harassment and discrimination.

Several local organizations are already putting these principles into practice.

Literacy Pittsburgh offers GED and math tutoring to adults.

The Trade Institute of Pittsburgh offers life coaching and case management and financial education. They also have housing for homeless apprentices.

Community Kitchen Pittsburgh is a Hazelwood institution that pays people to learn culinary skills. Trainees get life skills classes, and free transportation and uniforms. Case managers help with referrals for supplemental services.

These organizations understand that once someone signs up for a training course, they may need help to complete it and get started in their new career.

Ms. Brimage said she likes knowing she can rely on that ongoing support from Jewish Family and Community Services.

“The best thing about it is they said that they will be there to help for the future,” she said. “So if we ever need any more information, resources or have any questions, we'll be able to reach back out to them.”

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