In May 2016, the Allegheny Conference Board released its landmark study, Inflection Point, which focused on the future of labor supply and labor demand in the Pittsburgh region. The report documented workforce opportunities and challenges that we face in western Pennsylvania as a result of our demographics coupled with the exponential change in technology, which is impacting and transforming virtually every occupation in our economy, in addition to creating entirely new industries.

In December 2017, the Allegheny Conference Board issued its first annual update, Inflection Point 2017-2018, which not only validates the currency of key metrics in the original report (e.g., potential workforce shortage of 80,000 by 2025; our region is losing 50% of the 40,000 postsecondary students who graduate each year), but also uncovers some key findings resulting from new regional investments. More specifically, autonomous vehicles, additive manufacturing, robotics and the ethane cracker have the potential to add substantial new job demand, particularly in engineering and high-skilled technician positions. These new regional investments may very well place added pressure on an already constrained labor pool, where similar skills are in demand and highly coveted by employers.

It is also clear that baseline, or “soft” skills (I actually prefer to refer to them as essential skills) such as communication, problem-solving and customer service continue to grow in importance. While technical skills in a chosen field are important to secure a first job interview, they fundamentally are viewed as table stakes. Essential skills not only give the employment candidate an edge in the interview, they also position that candidate for future success within an organization.

These ongoing workforce opportunities and challenges need to be addressed by employers, educators (including parents), and the public sector/government. From an employer perspective, there is an opportunity to accelerate efforts and shift HR practices to address growing competition for talent. A significant number of employers continue to seek higher levels of credentials and years of experiences from candidates than the job actually requires.

This creates an opportunity for employers to take a fresh look at hiring practices and challenge themselves to determine whether the job posts may have inflated education and experience credentials. Also, given that our region’s workforce is one of the least diverse of any benchmark region, recruiting practices may also consider and include sources of diverse talent.

Educators, on the other hand, need real-time career awareness tools to better prepare students for the occupations and skill demands of tomorrow. The Inflection Point update continues to show that the highest-demand occupations are under-enrolled in our high school career and technical education programs.

Furthermore, educators are in a unique position to contribute to and make an impact in the region’s talent pipeline by working with business/industry. For example, educators can collaborate with companies who require similar workforce needs and develop curriculum and training to fill existing skill gaps. Educators and industry alike must equally stress the need for everyone to have digital skills, work-ready behavioral skills and the ability to continue to learn and grow on the job.

Educators and industry also can position the region’s high-demand talent from our colleges and other markets by beginning or expanding internship programs and hire from that pre-tested pool.

There is an opportunity for all stakeholders to become investors in talent rather than consumers of talent. This can be accomplished by providing clear paths to upward mobility for all by investing in training and career pathways so our region’s workforce can keep pace with skills demand. This includes examining new sources and pathways for non-traditional candidates to enter organizations

Collaboration between employers, the education system and the public sector/government is needed to build a talent pipeline relevant to the region’s workforce and the skills and competencies that are being articulated by marketplace demand.

By Dmitri D. Shiry, Managing Partner – Deloitte, Pittsburgh