Airport Workforce Efforts Attract National Attention

Roundtable of local, national leaders laud training programs to fill labor needs

By gmastrangelo

Published February 5, 2024

Read Time: 3 mins


“All means all.”

That’s what Miguel Cardona, U.S. Secretary of Education, said in response to a conversation about creating an inclusive, diverse workforce in the Pittsburgh region.

Cardona was one of many local and federal leaders who participated on Tuesday in a roundtable discussion about workforce development and education at the Community College of Allegheny County.

The leaders heard directly from CCAC student Parker Cornelius and Lisa Gilmore, a recent graduate of Pittsburgh International Airport’s PIT2Work training program.

Since graduating in November, Gilmore has become a Registered Apprentice with the Carpenters Union, and she credits much of her success to PIT2Work. In the program, she met union leaders, was mentored by union members and was ultimately able to pick the career path she wanted to pursue.

“It’s not always easy getting into the unions, so this program gives us the opportunities we need to get recommendation letters and hands-on training,” she said during the roundtable discussion. “It’s really important because the minority in the unions are women and Black women, so it’s important for these programs to help us get out there and bring resources to my community especially.”

Gilmore called her participation in the roundtable discussion “mind-boggling.”

New Allegheny County Executive Sara Innamorato, who also attended the roundtable, watched Gilmore graduate just days after she was elected. Attracting young people to the Pittsburgh region is key to its success, she said, adding that PIT2Work stands out for attracting both diverse and multigenerational students.

“We have to invest younger and younger and bring people through K-12,” Innamorato said. “But we also need to look at people who have been floundering in their current jobs and say, ‘How do we recognize your needs and how do we create opportunities and pathways?’”

The roundtable event, held at CCAC’s new Center for Education, was a who’s who of regional and national leaders. Cardona and Innamorato were joined by Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su; PIT CEO Christina Cassotis; Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey; Partner4Work Chief Officer of Policies and Programs Susie Puskar; CCAC President Dr. Quinton Bullock and Pittsburgh Schools Superintendent Wayne Walters.

Su highlighted one PIT2Work student who, after working only one week at his new career post-graduation, has made more money than he ever did in a month at his previous jobs.

“When there’s good jobs, people will do them, and when there’s partnerships with unions and others to do the training programs,” she said. “That has worked for a very long time.”

Building a workforce

Last year, the White House selected Pittsburgh as one of five Workforce Hubs across the country. In July, Su accompanied First Lady Dr. Jill Biden to Pittsburgh International Airport, where she and her team learned about the PIT2Work workforce initiatives, the new on-site childcare center and the new terminal program.

The airport’s PIT2Work program was developed in partnership with Partner4Work and the Pittsburgh Gateways Introduction to the Construction Trades. The pre-apprenticeship training program gives participants access to hands-on learning, providing the skills they’ll need to succeed in careers in the trades.

“How do we use our actual infrastructure project to attract people into the skilled trades who may not have had that opportunity?” Cassotis asked. “We built a childcare center, we worked to increase transportation options, and we have gone out actively with partners in this entire community as well as worked with the schools at 2nd, 5th and 8th grade.”

Puskar says employer engagement is key in developing unique job training programs. Since much of the five-week PIT2Work program is hosted on site at PIT, participants get the chance to talk to airport leaders, including Cassotis.

“These are programs that have really intentionally been developed with employer buy-in to say if someone goes through these programs and gets these skills, there’s a job, and a good job, at the end of it,” Puskar said.

Su emphasized the Biden administration’s goal to build a stronger America through infrastructure. But she and the administration believe infrastructure goes beyond physical roadways.

“I think of our workforce system as infrastructure too. It’s the infrastructure that connects people to the good jobs they want and need and employers to the people they want and need,” she said. “We need that infrastructure to be as strong as our physical infrastructure.”

At PIT, creating a strong workforce has always been a primary goal.

“When we started thinking about building this new terminal back in 2016, we knew that we wanted to build the builders and the building,” said Cassotis. “We have always been focused on workforce.”

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