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Program trains for tech jobs at Pitt; recruiters focusing on areas near Oakland | The Homepage

By Juliet Martinez

In a classroom with white walls, white crown molding and exposed metal framing on the upper part of two walls, six students sit at a blond wood table with laptops open and cups, markers, papers, pens and other items scattered on the table. The students are young adults. Right to left: A plump, light-skinned person in a green and yellow tie-dye with hair pulled back in a bun leans her face on her hand facing the center of the frame looking intently at her laptop screen; a dark-skinned, bearded person with dreads, glasses and a black shirt faces the center of the frame and looks at his laptop screen while touching the mouse pad with one hand; a light-skinned, dark-haired person in a black shirt faces front at the head of the table, resting their cheek on their left hand and looking down at their laptop screen; a person with light-brown skin and long black hair rests her chin on her hand facing the center of the frame looking at her laptop screen; in the corner of the room behind the students, a light-skinned person with shoulder-length dark hair and a yellow face mask wears a brown top and faces the center of the frame; a brown-skinned person with dark, tightly curly hair, sideburns, short mustache and soul patch has a tattoo on his forearm, wears a white t-shirt and thin gold necklace while facing the center of the frame and looking at his laptop screen; a person with dark brown skin, short black, tightly curly hair, mustache and goatee and glasses with rectangular frames smiles faintly as he looks at his laptop and touches the mousepad. He is facing the center of the frame.
Trainees in the animal care technician cohort that started in August. Photo by Allie Refeer of Jewish Family and Community Service

A new workforce development program located at Hazelwood Green seeks to train Hazelwood, Hill District and Homewood residents for tech-sector careers, then place them at Pitt.

Lindsay Powell is the director of workforce strategies for Innovate Pgh, a public-private partnership focused on advancing Pittsburgh's technology sector with a focus on Oakland. She told me on a recent call that she is excited about working on ways to bring more women and more Black and indigenous people, and other people of color, into tech.

“We know that tech overall needs to be inclusive,” she said. “And not just to create more diverse workspaces, but also... high-paying or high-growth careers.”

The Innovation District Skills Alliance, in partnership with Jewish Family and Community Services, is a new program that will work directly with the University of Pittsburgh to identify careers in or related to the tech sector. The positions must pay at least $15 per hour and come with full benefits. The program works directly with hiring managers to train for the specific jobs the university research facilities need to fill.

The training courses will last between three and six weeks, Ms. Powell said. The first cohort, launched in August, is training animal care technicians. Ms. Powell explained that graduates will care for animals used in clinical research.

“These are the folks that are taking care of the animals that are helping us cure cancer, finding the vaccines for COVID and all the variants yet to come,” Ms. Powell said. “That’s important work, making sure that... the researchers are supported and that the animals are taken care of.”

Trainees in the program will receive a $600 stipend during training, as well as other support they may need, such as a bus pass or gas card. They will also receive training on soft job skills and have access to other resources through Jewish Family and Community Services (JFCS).

“JFCS... supports participants as they learn important aspects of the job they will be applying for, as well as other skills that will help them advance in their chosen careers,” wrote Dana Gould, the organization’s chief operating officer in an email.

He added that trainees get individualized support to overcome barriers to ongoing employment and financial stability. This support continues after placement in a job.

“We coach participants so that they can attain, retain, and advance in the positions they successfully place in,” he wrote, adding that career counseling remains available to program graduates for as long as they want to use it.

Ms. Powell said the program borrows heavily from the playbook of West Philadelphia Skills Initiative, an established workforce development program. The program’s website boasts a 93% placement rate for graduates, 83% one-year retention rate at job placements and a $17.96 average hourly wage for alumni.

But in extending the support graduates receive beyond their first day on the job, the Innovation District Skills Alliance goes beyond what West Philadelphia program offers trainees, she said. Problems like health inequalities, environmental racism and other larger social issues do not go away just because one gets a job.

“We're building out our alum support knowing that people, especially folks with high barriers to employment, may need additional help outside the three- to six-week program,” Ms. Powell said.

For information on upcoming training cohorts, call 347-204-7785, email Ms. Powell at, or visit

Juliet Martinez is the managing editor of The Homepage


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