If you grew up in the Pittsburgh area before the collapse of the Steel Industry and the city’s industrial base in the 1980’s, there’s a good chance you knew someone who graduated from high school and took a well-paying job in a mill or factory. Or maybe you went to college and had a summer job in one of the area’s factories or mills that paid a great wage and helped to fund your tuition. I know of two such individuals. One went to Harvard and worked in a steel mill during the summers, while the other shoveled broken glass at a local brewery one summer and the next, worked in a die-casting plant. Why, even the celebrated Pittsburgh movie Flashdance told the story of a welder by day and aspiring ballet dancer by night, illustrating how common it was to secure work in the mills and factories.
But all that changed. According to a July 2013 Time Magazine article, in the mid-1980’s, Pittsburgh was home to 15 Fortune 500 Companies, titans such as U.S. Steel, Jones and Laughlin, and National Steel. When those businesses collapsed, it sent shockwaves throughout the region, and an estimated 100,000 jobs were lost as a result.
Pittsburgh Reinvented Itself
Unlike some other “rust belt” cities, Pittsburgh reinvented itself, switching from an industrial-based economy to a service-based one. When the jobs came back, however, they were not in the mills, but in hospitals, technology centers, and in educational institutions. But these jobs aren’t ones that a high school graduate can walk into. The jobs in the Pittsburgh area today require training. According to the 2013 Pittsburgh Today & Tomorrow report, it finds that:
The region’s workforce is one of the best educated in terms of young adults with at least a bachelor’s degree. The concern is whether there will be enough workers without a college degree who are sufficiently educated to meet the demand for middle-skill labor, such as electricians, machinists, legal assistants and healthcare workers.
To be prepared to capitalize on the growth in this segment of the job market, workers not only need education, but specialized education. Fortunately, the Pittsburgh region has numerous educational institutions and programs to provide the essential training for workers to acquire that well-paying position.
Today, if Hollywood were to film an updated version of Flashdance, the heroine may be a well-trained welder or CAD operator who no longer needs to dance at night because she’s already been educated and found that her day job is her dream job. It might not make for good entertainment, but it certainly makes for a good living.