Audrey Russo

Every year, the Pittsburgh Technology Council releases its “State of the Industry” report to track the trajectory of southwestern Pennsylvania’s technology sectors, including data about its workforce.

This data provides us with a panoramic view of how technology, startups, life sciences, advanced manufacturing, hardware and universities reflect the density of employment across southwestern Pennsylvania.

The aggregated data provides us with a directionally correct snapshot of the transformative impact of the new world of work. It also reinforces that the investments in startups, as well as the in-house growth of newer skillsets for publicly held companies, has provided returns on our region.

While the release of this data has an 18-month lag to allow for conclusive compilation as per our sources, as well as some data not being reported, it does allow us to craft policy and programs that cultivate economic impact. The highlights reflect that more than 23% of our workforce is employed in companies that primarily are leveraging or building technology-based solutions and services.

Is this a time where democratization of information, education and access might, for the first time, be inclusive of a wider array of people? And might we, across southwestern Pennsylvania, lead the world in demonstrating that we facilitate access to life-sustaining opportunities through innovative educational tactics?

With the rapid transformation of work – including automation of repetitive skills and in-house (as opposed to contract services) acquisition of more complex, high-skilled positions such as computer scientists with advanced degrees – this data tells us that we are approaching a rapid new era of skill requirements. Almost one in four people working are employed in a technology or health services company. And this same employed population represents more than a third of the region’s payroll.

The importance of investing in the retooling of skills across our lifespan becomes more of an imperative. We are now seeing that companies like Google and others are now committed to hiring people without four-year college degrees.

At the same time, more than 11,000 students have graduated with degrees in science, technology and engineering, with 76% of these graduates receiving degrees from University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. Yet the demand for these skills remain at an all time high, across the nation, not just our region.

To me, this means that there are tremendous opportunities for community colleges, code schools and high school-intensive programs in computer science to afford access to more opportunities that have been deemed more inaccessible. But is this an era reminiscent of our industrial revolution when education was not the door opener for jobs?

Or is this a time where democratization of information, education and access might, for the first time, be inclusive of a wider array of people? And might we, across southwestern Pennsylvania, lead the world in demonstrating that we facilitate access to life-sustaining opportunities through innovative educational tactics?

Technology drives the optimal performance of all companies. I predict that in three years, this report will reflect that half of all employed people will be working in these companies. That certainly means prosperity, but it also means new strategies for education and continuous skill acquisition while simultaneously preparing for jobs that do not exist today.