Inflection Point report coverIf you want a glimpse of the challenges facing the American workforce—and some of the potential solutions—Pittsburgh is a good place to start.

Yesterday, I was there for the launch of Inflection Point: Supply, Demand and the Future of Work in the Pittsburgh Region, a report that we wrote with the Council of Adult and Experience Learning for the Allegheny Conference. The report is a comprehensive analysis of current and future demand for jobs and skills in the region.

Pittsburgh faces a daunting demographic challenge: 22% of the workers in Pittsburgh are over age 55 and will be retiring in the coming years, nearly double the number in younger cities like Boston or Austin. At the same time, there are not enough school-age students to meet projected demand for new workers, leaving a projected gap of 80,000 workers over the next decade. In a pipeline without any slack, the importance of aligning workforce supply and demand becomes ever more critical.

To that end, the findings which have emerged from Pittsburg’s urgent challenges hold important lessons for the nation:

  • Employers and Training Providers Must Invest Together: It’s become a trope that training providers should align with employer demand. This mandate to be demand-driven is often taken to mean aligning programs with the particular needs of ‎specific employers. But that’s a far too narrow view. What alignment actually requires is the ability to look across different employers and different industries to understand the jobs and skills of the future. Employers and training providers are eager for ways to be demand driven at scale, though data-driven regional partnerships, not just through traditional, often ad hoc, partnerships. 
  • Focus on Versatile, Cross-cutting Skills: Automation and technological change are pushing certain jobs towards obsolescence. As a result, versatility is an increasingly important attribute for workers. By focusing on skills with value that cuts across a range of roles, training providers can help workers to future-proof themselves as the market evolves and build the skills the open avenues to upward mobility. For example, while demand for drafting jobs is expected to decline in Pittsburgh over the next 10 years, drafting skills are nevertheless essential for Mechanical Engineers and CNC Machinists, two fast-growing roles which power the advanced manufacturing economy. 
  • Focus on How Jobs and Skills Evolve: A key theme that emerged in the research is the hybridization of jobs, meaning jobs and skills which once were distinct specialties have merged together into a new, more complex roles. For example, customer service skills are becoming increasingly important across a range of roles, from LPNs working in residential care facilities to help desk technicians. Training programs – both within firms and delivered by external providers – have struggled to keep up with evolving skill requirements.

Pittsburgh isn’t the only city facing an aging workforce and a hybrid job market, but the impact will be greater. How the city deals with these trends could become a model for a more effective, efficient job market.

Dan Restuccia is Chief Analytics Officer at Burning Glass Technologies.