Finding childcare is one of the biggest challenges working parents face. For workers at Pittsburgh International Airport, it just got easier.
PIT unveiled its brand-new childcare center, run by La Petite Academy, on Friday. The facility will be open for infant, toddler and preschool care.
In addition to providing childcare, the center will give children a STEM-focused curriculum that connects academic skills to real-world applications. The center also offers indoor and outdoor play areas and electives, like a Grow Fit program that helps children build healthy habits. The facility is open to children of most airport workers, including construction.
Today, airport leadership, state officials and representatives from partner organizations that helped fund the childcare center—like the Hillman Foundation, Benedum Foundation and Trying Together—gathered at a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the new facility.
County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said the new childcare center “will make it easier for people to build their careers” at PIT, adding “this childcare center enables the airport authority to amplify regional workforce development.”
Before construction of the childcare center started, ACAA CEO Christina Cassotis surveyed the ACAA community to find out what obstacles prevent people from working in aviation. They cited childcare and transportation as the top two.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic drove men and women out of the workforce, and women, especially women of color, are not returning at the same rate as men, according to experts.
The new childcare center is a step toward bringing them back and building a more diverse and inclusive workforce at the airport, Cassotis said. She credited Chief Human Capital Officer Lisa Naylor for her work and vision on the project.
“We are very focused on making sure we’re providing equal access to opportunity, and we’re breaking down the barriers and providing the kinds of meaningful benefits that will really allow people to say, ‘Yeah, I could see myself investing part of my career out there,’” she said.
Childcare is part of a workforce development strategy at PIT that tackles three major barriers to entry for people entering the workforce – childcare, job training and transportation. The airport recently graduated 12 students from its PIT2Work job training program last week – a course design to promote careers in construction and skilled trades by leveraging the airport’s new terminal program. Many of the graduates started work at their new jobs this week.
The airport also partnered with Pittsburgh Regional Transit to increase bus access.
‘Taking care of people’
Sean Sondreal chief business development officer of La Petite’s parent company, Learning Care Group, recognized the adversity working parents face when it comes to finding childcare.
“Between 20 to 30 percent of childcare capacity has disappeared since the pandemic started. This was an issue five or six years ago; it’s a larger issue today,” he said.
Political support from Fitzgerald and other elected officials in the region helped make the center a reality after more than five years of development.
“The number of workers with school-age children has been steadily rising. As such, affordable child-care is an increasingly popular draw in getting more people—especially women—back into the workforce,” said State Rep. Valerie Gaydos in a statement.
“I applaud the airport for their family-friendly policies and for providing employees with access to affordable, quality childcare right onsite. This will not only help with expanding their workforce but enable parents to be only a few steps away their children. It’s a win-win for families and the airport.”
There is state tuition assistance available for families sending their children to the center for those who qualify for it.
“We have an obligation to make sure we take care of the people who build the buildings—that we build the builders as well as the buildings. Everyone deserves access to quality childcare,” Cassotis said.
For now, the childcare center will be open Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and can host up to 61 children at a time. Cassotis hopes to expand these hours, and eventually she’d like to see the facility open 24/7 to provide access to employees who do not work during the day.
“It’s good for workers, and it’s good for business to provide convenient, high-quality, and affordable childcare on the job,” said U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio. “Bridging the childcare gap is crucial for working parents and kids alike, our economy, and for businesses to retain great people.
“The opening of La Petite Academy Childcare Center marks a historic moment for Pittsburgh International Airport, and I hope it will serve as a model for other employers in Western Pennsylvania and across the country.”
“The ACAA and La Petite Academy should be commended for this great accomplishment. The Covid-19 pandemic exposed many gaps in our economy, with access to childcare being one of them,” said State Sen. Devlin Robinson in a statement.
“This project is an example of how we can close those gaps to help strengthen our economy. I hope to see this childcare project open the door to more men and women joining the trades to help build the new terminal.”
The new center is creating a lot of buzz around the airport.
Trudi and Ben Shertzer enrolled their son in La Petite as soon as they could. Since becoming parents in November, they have struggled to find childcare for 8-month-old Hunter.
“We were going through the process of trying to find a daycare and really finding out how hard it is to get into a daycare. Until you start looking at it, you don’t realize the waiting process that’s there,” said Ben, PIT’s Wildlife Administrator.
Until the center officially opens, Hunter stays with a babysitter as a temporary solution. Trudi, an Operations Duty Manager, said La Petite Academy is convenient, affordable and has all the features other daycares offer, plus more.
Because the center is right on PIT’s campus, Ben and Trudi can even stop by and visit Hunter during the day if needed. The childcare center also has an app, SproutAbout, that gives parents access to live cameras in each room, so they can check on their children without ever leaving their workspaces.
The two are thrilled to have access to childcare so close to their workplace, and they consider it another benefit of working at the airport.
“It makes you feel like you want to be here, and they want you to be here. They’re investing in everybody’s futures,” they said.
Other airports paying attention
PIT joins the Los Angeles and San Francisco airports as one of the few to offer on-site childcare facilities, and PIT’s new center is already garnering interest from other airports.
During her visit to PIT in July, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden called the new childcare center “revolutionary.” She said it will allow people to “pursue the careers they want without having to worry about finding care for their kids.”
Cassotis said Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport who wanted to know more about the new facility, and Orlando International Airport is also considering offering employees childcare. Meanwhile, construction for a childcare center at the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport is already underway.