University of Pittsburgh
July 7, 1998


Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH, July 8 -- Recommendations for creating a system that trains workers in skills employers need, matches workers with available jobs, and effectively uses the area's human resources to fuel regional growth and progress are contained in a report released today by the Working Together Consortium.

The report was prepared by the Workforce Development Project Oversight Committee as part of the Working Together Consortium's "Connecting Students and Workers to the Jobs of the Future" initiative, with the support of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance. Chaired by Mark A. Nordenberg, chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh, and composed of business, education and civic leaders, the Oversight Committee reviewed the workforce needs of Southwestern Pennsylvania, benchmarked the efforts of other parts of the country, and identified key actions to address the region's needs.

The regional workforce development initiative reflects the fact that workforce quality is a major and growing concern for many employers. "Perhaps more than any single factor, the availability of a skilled labor force affects crucial business decisions; notably whether to remain in our region, whether to move into our region, whether to expand in our region, or whether to go elsewhere," Nordenberg said.

He noted that the committee's report emphasizes the need to create a workforce system that will be a "decisively positive factor" for businesses faced with these decisions. To accomplish this, Nordenberg said, will take innovation and cooperation. "Our region has a great tradition of working hard. To meet the challenges of today's world, we must also work smarter and more effectively together. This will be crucial to the economic vitality and quality of life in our home region."

The report notes that technological advances in the workplace require constant upgrading of skills. At the same time, growth in the number and variety of employers makes determining training needs more difficult. While the region is strong in the number and diversity of training providers, including community colleges, private and proprietary schools, and colleges and universities; the lack of coordination among these entities is confusing to both employers and job seekers. There are also other area organizations, in addition to the training providers, that make important contributions to workforce development and economic development, but their efforts do not add up to a coherent workforce development system that supports regional economic growth.

As part of its work, the Oversight Committee examined the practices of selected regions around the country to determine the key aspects of successful efforts. Integrating workforce development and economic development was found to be an essential element in promoting the economic vitality of a region. Other key research findings included in the report are: "one-stop" career centers can improve the quality of services provided to customers, customized job training can be used as a primary economic development tool, explicit definitions of skill levels required for particular jobs contribute to good training programs, industry action groups can be formed to help meet workforce needs, industry involvement can help connect disadvantaged workers to job opportunities, and program accountability is a necessary component of a good workforce development program.

The report states that an assessment of Southwestern Pennsylvania's workforce development and delivery systems revealed many positive features. Important among these are a tradition of industrious employees, a community of regionally committed employers, a rich array of training providers, and a state government that is concerned and increasingly creative. However, the existing system also has its limitations. Too often, employers must struggle to find the qualified workers they need, and too many of the region's young people feel they must go elsewhere to find meaningful and rewarding work.

"Based on the self-assessment and the benchmarking that was carried out by the Oversight Committee, it is clear that our region cannot afford to maintain the status quo. We must modernize and improve our workforce development efforts if we are to compete effectively in satisfying the needs of existing, expanding and newly attracted businesses," Nordenberg said.

He added that the recommendations in the report are designed to ensure that "we preserve our place as a leader among the regions of the world and as an attractive home for our own people."

The recommendations in the report for "building a 21st century workforce in Southwestern Pennsylvania" are:

• Those industries identified as presenting special potential for regional economic growth should be targeted for workforce development support.

• Employer-driven industry action groups should be mobilized to help shape training programs and advance economic development goals.

• The Southwestern Pennsylvania economy should be given a "jump start" through the aggressive pursuit of funding that already is being made available by the Commonwealth and the federal government.

• Regional leaders should strive to eliminate funding barriers that impede economic growth.

• In both economic and workforce development, a customer-friendly business environment should be established to enhance regional progress.

• To compete effectively with other regions, the role of Southwestern Pennsylvania's community colleges in workforce training should be more clearly defined and appropriately supported.

• Southwestern Pennsylvania should become a leader in the use of "new knowledge" to assess both occupational needs and worker skill levels.

• Computer technology should be used to effectively link interested workers with job possibilities through a regional one-stop career center system.

• Human capital is too precious to waste, and Southwestern Pennsylvania must take full advantage of all of the human talent available to the region.

• Southwestern Pennsylvania must ensure that regional investments pay off by subjecting itself to appropriate standards of accountability.

Nordenberg commented that these recommendations can guide the region as it moves forward to build the workforce for the 21st century. "As we work together, we must sustain the qualities that long have defined the character of our region -- strength and honesty and a willingness to work hard. But we also must add the skills training so essential to outstanding job performance in the modern workplace, the systems that can more effectively link qualified job seekers to available positions, and a service environment clearly delivering the message that this is a wonderful place -- for businesses and for their employees -- to live and to grow," he said.

The Workforce Development Initiative was undertaken at the request of the Working Together Consortium, a volunteer collaborative of community leaders committed to addressing the challenges facing the economic vitality of Southwestern Pennsylvania. The Consortium will monitor the implementation of these recommendations and report back to the region on the progress made.

The other members of the Workforce Development Project Oversight Committee were: James R. Agras, chairman and ceo, Triangle Tech Group; JoAnne E. Burley, campus executive officer, Penn State-McKeesport; William J. Ceriani, manager, LMI Database/Automated Systems, Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry; Murray G. Dickman, president, Pennsylvania Manufacturers' Association Foundation; Irma E. Goertzen, president and ceo, Magee - Womens Hospital; Thomas W. Golonski, president and ceo, National City Bank of Pennsylvania; I.N. Rendall Harper, Jr., president and ceo, American Micrographics Company, Inc.; Martha Lester Harris, advisor to the Governor's Office for Workforce Development; John Mack Kingsmore, president, Community College of Allegheny County;

Also Alan Lesgold, executive associate director, Learning Research and Development Center, University of Pittsburgh; Dennis S. Meteny, president and ceo, Respironics, Inc.; Barbara K. Mistick, director, National Education Center for Women in Business, Seton Hill College; Thomas J. Murrin, dean, A.J. Palumbo School of Business Administration, Duquesne University; Timothy Parks, president and ceo, Pittsburgh Regional Alliance; Jack W. Shilling, president, Allegheny Ludlum; William E. Strickland, Jr., president and ceo, Bidwell Training Center; Franklin Tugwell, executive director, The Heinz Endowments; Richard H. Webb, vice president - university advancement, California University of Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania Economy League staff members providing assistance to the project were Robin Anderson, program manager; Connie Reiter-Kreps, policy analyst; Richard Stafford, executive director; D'Ann Swanson, program manager, and James Turner, managing director. The project received financial support from area foundations.