The jobs are here. Where are the workers?
By Bill O’Toole, NEXT Pittsburgh
Between 2011 and 2016, manufacturing employment in the Pittsburgh region dropped by nearly five percent, even as manufacturing sales rose year after year. The jobs are there, but workers with the right training are not.
The numbers come from a new report from Catalyst Connection, an Oakland-based nonprofit dedicated to supporting small-scale manufacturers. The report, based on manufacturing data and interviews with 111 business owners conducted during the spring of this year, is the latest voice in a growing chorus of experts sounding the alarm on the region’s growing skills gap.
“This report confirms that manufacturers are hiring thousands of workers at all levels of their organizations, with one-third of open positions being entry-level and not requiring a degree,” says Petra Mitchell, Catalyst Connection president and CEO. “We simply don’t have enough individuals in the pipeline to fill the manufacturing jobs available.”
While neighborhoods linked to Pittsburgh’s research and technology sectors have boomed in the last several decades, local civic and business leaders remain frustrated that gains from these sectors have not spread to other parts in the city.
Local advanced manufacturers in particular, who supply the underlying components for the city’s robots and self-driving cars, report having thousands of entry-level positions unfilled.
Speaking to researchers from Catalyst for the report, business owners reported that the lack of staff led to increased costs and lower profitability during the reporting period.
While the report focuses on the manufacturing industry, a 2016 study from the Brookings Institution notes that the gap persists across a range of sectors.
“For example, compared to the national average, the region performs 204 percent more research in medical science but employs 91 percent fewer workers in pharmaceutical preparations,” says the report. “Similarly, the region performs 225 percent above the national average in computer science research but has 36 percent fewer jobs in software and 59 percent fewer in data processing.
While local nonprofit groups like Catalyst Connection and the Manufacturing Assistance Center in Homewood continue working to connect local talent with manufacturing jobs, the report emphasizes that the business world must do more to reach out to potential workers.
“Companies are investing in new technology, and expect these investments to maintain or increase the need for skilled employees,” says Mitchell. “However, the need for engagement between training providers and companies is crucial in order to match the growing need for skilled workers.”