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Amazon’s HQ2 Will Hire 50,000 People, Can Pittsburgh Deliver?

Mark Lennihan
In this Dec. 20, 2017, file photo, a clerk reaches to a shelf to pick an item for a customer order at the Amazon Prime warehouse in New York.

Wherever Amazon chooses to locate its second North American headquarters, or HQ2, the company expects to hire 50,000 people over the next 10 to 15 years.

While Pittsburgh boasts more than 50 post-secondary institutions and a high proportion of people holding bachelor’s degrees, the region annually loses half of graduating college students. But local workforce and economic development groups say Pittsburgh is unique: the region has gotten a head start on working together to address education issues and to understand gaps in the labor market.

In 2016, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development released a study called “Inflection Point,” that analyzed the region’s workforce. At a meeting to discuss the yearly update, Dmitri Shiry of Deloitte said the region is better positioned than most to meet the future of work. And it's thanks to a demographic quirk.

“We have one of the oldest populations here in the country,” said Shiry, who led the study’s working group. “Some of the things we are beginning to experience our colleagues across the country will also experience, but just at a later point in time.”

By 2025, Pittsburgh could be short 80,000 workers because of retiring baby boomers and shifts in demand created by technological changes. But Shiry said by teaming up, the region is getting a jump on boosting its workforce.

That running start can be attributed to what Vera Krekanova Krofcheck calls Pittsburgh’s talent infrastructure. Krekanova Krofcheck is chief strategy officer for the area’s workforce development agency, Partner4Work; she points to more than 50 post-secondary institutions, as well as programs such as the Pittsburgh Promise for high schoolers and the Remake Learning network. She added many employers are open to providing on the job training.

And there’s something else: Krekanova Krofcheck said no city in Amazon’s top-20 list has 50,000 perfectly suited employees just hanging around.

“Everybody would have to combine sort of the homegrown talent and talent attraction,” she said. “I think Pittsburgh is uniquely positioned because there are the ingredients to mix the perfect sauce.”

The biggest challenge will be helping people understand what jobs are available and what they really require, said Krekanova Krofcheck.

“In a way that they can relate to it, to not only see, ‘I would like that,’ but ‘I could be good at it,’” she said. “We are kind of slow to communicate to job seekers what the new opportunities are.”

Laura Fisher of the Allegheny Conference agreed. While Pittsburgh is a leader in robotics and technology jobs, most people don’t view those jobs as being open to them.

“What’s been hidden in some of the excitement around these industries are the opportunities for high-skill, high-wage jobs that do not require a four-year degree," she said. 

Automation, additive manufacturing and robotics are creating new jobs as well as rapidly changing existing jobs. Both Krekanova Krofcheck and the Allegheny Conference agree lifelong learning will be imperative to helping people find and retain employment.

And demographically speaking, Krekanova Krofcheck said many people overlook mid-career workers. They have a lot to offer, she said. Don’t discount them.

Margaret J. Krauss is WESA’s senior reporter. She covers development and transportation, and has produced award-winning podcasts on housing, work, and Pittsburgh’s lesser-known history. Before joining the newsroom full time, she covered the challenges facing Pennsylvania cities as a statewide reporter, and spent another life as an assistant editor for National Geographic Kids Magazine in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at mkrauss@wesa.fm.
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