Monthly Archives: October 2018

Opportunities for educators

Oct. 30: The SWPA Personalized Learning Network and the North Allegheny School District are hosting a regional workshop on strategic transformation, including a facilitated dialogue on emerging best practices and strategies to scale personalized and project-based learning. Learn more and register.

Nov. 2: Intermediate Unit I is partnering with SWPA Personalized Learning Network to help educators tackle changes needed to move toward a student-centered and personalized model. Learn more and register.

Nov. 6: Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference (TRETC), themed around “Technology and the Future of Work” offers K-12 teachers and administrators more than 50 professional development sessions as well as opportunities to network. Among the sessions, Consortium Program Directors Aaron Altemus and Sarah Brooks will lead a discussion on Project-Based Learning. Learn more and register.

Mar. 29: The Builders Guild of Western Pennsylvania is partnering with People’s Gas Co. and CNX to host a career exploration event for students age 12 and older to learn about jobs in the construction industry. Learn more and register.

Educators get close-up look at construction industry jobs

At a one-day learning session about the construction industry, Greensburg Salem High School teacher Jackie Yuhas said one of the most important things she learned was how to access samples of tests given for admission to the region’s 17 trade apprenticeship training programs.

Yuhas said she’s always wanted to go over a sample so that she could make her lessons more “job oriented” and relevant to the ways students will need to use their learning after they graduate.

That kind of learning is exactly what the Consortium’s Educator in the Workforce series is designed to provide. Piloted last year, the program already has scheduled six immersion opportunities for 2018-2019 that will be similar to the one Yuhas attended in early October. 

Mascaro Construction co-hosted the daylong session at the Carpenters Training Center October 8. Some 70 educators from 21 districts attended. In addition to helping educators connect their subject areas to employer needs, the immersion experiences are intended to showcase different career paths and training opportunities available to students.

John Mascaro, the company’s chief executive told attendees he hoped the event would dispel some common misconceptions about the kinds of careers his industry can offer.

“It’s not just picks and shovels,”  he said. “There’s diversity of opportunity second to none. The pathways are limitless.”

Although the industry can provide avenues to well-paying careers for people who don’t want to go to college, Mascaro said those who want degrees are making a mistake to think it has no place for them.

At his own company, whose employment needs are representative of the industry, jobs range from Project Estimators and Project Engineers to Business Developers and the kinds of office jobs that all industries have, including specialists in Human Resources, Information Technology, and Finance, among others.

A number of Mascaro staffers said they had created career paths after joining the company by getting certifications to perform different jobs, like safety inspection or simply by getting on-the-job experience that qualified them for other roles. Many of the certifications can be earned without a college degree.

Mascaro and others on hand from his company, the Builders Guild of Western Pennsylvania and the Keystone Mountain Lakes Regional Council of Carpenters said construction demand and job openings in the region have exploded.

“It’s an unprecedented opportunity,” Builders Guild Executive Director Jeff Nobers said during a breakout session.

He said the building boom has created $6 billion worth of projects this year alone—compared with an annual average of $2.8 billion—and so many jobs the industry is having trouble filling them. With the region still adding to the backlog of building projects and Baby Boomers retiring, employment needs are expected to continue growing at least through the coming decade.

In other breakout sessions, educators learned about the Carpenters apprenticeship program and that it’s only one of 17 different apprenticeship programs the building trades offer in the region.

Industry representatives also emphasized that construction work, whether in the office or in the field, demands the same transferrable, soft skills, such as communication and problem-solving as other industries.

“Some of the biggest losses on the job site are the result of a lack of communications skills,” said Carpenters’ Training Director Rick Okraszewski.

Carrie Vottero, another attendee from Greensburg Salem said she thought the recurring emphasis on “work ethic” was an important take-home for her students. She also found it eye-opening to learn how many opportunities the construction could offer college graduates. “I didn’t think they were looking that much for college degrees.”

In the same vein,  Justin Ward, a 5th grade teacher in the Laurel Highlands School District, said the entire event was important to “help break down the stigma” for students who don’t necessarily want to go to college, even if they’re academically gifted, and to help educators, parents and others support them in finding solid career paths that don’t require a degree.

The event “just gave me so many things to think about,” he said. “My mind was going a million miles a minute.”






Alliance teams map strategies to improve career learning

When teams in our Future Ready Alliance convened in October to plan career learning improvements for their districts and schools, a management consultant versed in organizational behavior coached them on making the changes without making waves.

“Trying to change things in schools is really hard,” said Wayne A. Jones, Senior Consultant with Social Science Consultants, adding that the job can be easier if teams first create a “culture for change.” 

“Creating psychological safety is the most important thing because it enables risk-taking and learning,” he said, noting that resistance to change boils down to neurobiology. Habits become hardwired in the brain so people need to accommodate change with new neural pathways. Because of that, changes of any kind can be both threatening and tiring.

Psychological safety can help alleviate both, Jones said.

The tips were welcome at a time when all schools are facing new standards around career education and gearing up for assessment against the state’s new “Future Ready Index,” which comprises a mix of indicators and incentivizes career awareness instruction beginning in elementary school.

The standards and the index figured into the projects most Alliance teams are planning for the year.

McKeesport Area School District’s team, for example, was working on a plan for “industry based learning” across grade levels, among other things.

Similarly, a team from South Park Middle School was working to incorporate strategies across subject areas and grade levels, such as thematic instructional units, that teachers can use to address each new standard.

South Park is one of three newcomers to the Alliance this year, along with teams from Mt. Pleasant and Montour school districts. Participating teams now hail from 17 districts in all.




Consortium hosts Policy Committee hearing on partnerships between businesses and schools

Noting that partnerships with K-12 schools represent an avenue for doing it,  a PNC Financial Services Group executive told members of the state House Democratic Policy Committee that businesses need to “move beyond being simply consumers of talent to become investors in talent.”

The PNC executive, Joshua Stewart, Vice President and Director of Talent Programs & Accessibility, made the remark as part of his testimony at the Committee’s public hearing in early October. Rep. Austin Davis (D-McKeesport), a Committee member, asked us to host the hearing where members convened to learn about partnerships between businesses and schools, a key focus for the Consortium.

Consortium Executive Director Mary Kay Babyak (far left) in post-hearing discussion with Rep. Austin Davis (to her left); PNC’s Joshua Stewart (to her right) and IU-1 Assistant Executive Director Don Martin (far right)

Testifying along with Stewart were the Consortium’s Executive Director Mary Kay Babyak and Don Martin, Assistant Executive Director of Intermediate Unit I, which serves Fayette, Greene and Washington counties.

Both Babyak and Stewart indicated that a workforce outlook from the Allegheny Conference on Community Development several years ago served as a call to action for collaborations between employers and K-12 schools. The report, titled Inflection Point, showed that retirements from the region’s workforce over the next decade would outpace growth in the pool of talent graduating from area high schools, creating significant workforce shortages.

Babyak said students often aren’t even aware of the opportunities regional employers can offer. They need help exploring careers and developing transferrable skills, among other supports, she said.  Babyak said employers can help fill those needs and their own by connecting with schools to create awareness about high-demand occupations and the skillsets they require and by helping students build pathways to careers.

Both she and Stewart pointed to the High School Collaborative as an example of businesses working with schools to  address student needs while building the workforce pipeline at the entry level. A partnership between PNC and the Consortium, the Collaborative offers pre-employment training to students while they’re still in high school. Aimed at students who plan to enter the workforce as soon as they graduate, the program this year will reach 2,400 juniors and seniors in 10 high schools and will provide opportunities to learn about and apply for entry-level jobs with four employers.

The program helps students develop the soft, transferrable skills that all employers seek and gives training in job search skills such as interviews and resume writing. It builds on a pilot launched last year in five high schools.