Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

The new Innovation District Skills Alliance will train Pittsburghers for tech jobs

The equity-minded program aims to help residents from neighborhoods near Oakland join the city’s growing innovation and technology industry while earning "family-sustaining wages."

View of downtown Pittsburgh from the Hazelwood Green development in 2017.

(Photo courtesy of Carnegie Mellon)

Pittsburgh has turned its tech prowess into wealth over the past decade. But not all residents are sharing in the returns. Near where some of the most interesting innovation ecosystem work in the city is happening, a new initiative aims to bring more people into the fold.

Earlier this month, InnovatePGH and a number of local partners launched the Innovation District Skills Alliance (IDSA). The equity-minded program will train residents from neighborhoods near Oakland — including Hill District, Hazelwood and Homewood — to bring them into the city’s growing innovation and technology industries while earning “family-sustaining wages.” Those who graduate from the program will go on to work in jobs within local universities and companies.

Lindsay Powell, the workforce strategies director at InnovatePGH, has been working to create technology training programs to reduce barriers in Pittsburgh’s innovation economy.

“For us, this is a critical mission — to provide access to underserved communities,” Powell said. “The technology and innovation economy has so many benefits and we want to make sure that those who have been excluded are integrated into the workforce.”

Inspired by a similar program run across the state by West Philadelphia Skills Initiative, the accelerated, three- to six-week-long program is expected to enable participants to develop both hard and soft skills to be successful in a selected field and position. Applicants will be selected based on their interest in the roles and how well suited they can be to meet the needs of the employers and succeed in those positions. Participants are provided a $600 stipend and additional support for transportation, computers and hotspots, which they can keep after the program.

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The first cohort of participants in the program will train and hire animal care lab technicians for the University of Pittsburgh. Apps are open now on a rolling basis.

The innovation sector has many jobs that are high paying and do not require a college degree. Making these jobs more inclusive for people of color and low-income residents could help diversify Pittsburgh’s workforce and bring in people who have been largely excluded from economic growth in the city.

“The innovation economy has a great opportunity to be a sort of equalizer in our workforce,” Powell said. “We are working to ensure that BIPOC residents are able to break into these spaces where we know they can be incredibly successful.”

IDSA is funded by local philanthropic partners and community partners, including Pitt and the Jewish Family and Community Services. Powell said Innovate PGH has been working with partners who want to create an inclusive workforce.

“This is not just about ensuring that there are more employees,” she said, “but employees from communities of color and underrepresented backgrounds who feel elevated and supported in these roles.”

Since applications opened, more than 10 individuals have applied and the number is steadily increasing, according to Powell. InnovatePGH hopes to launch several other cohorts in the near future with the help of local community-based organizations, philanthropic organizations, universities and employers.

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