Employers give insights on skills students need
Learning about career paths available at ALCOSAN was “eye opening” for Clairton City School District’s Tom McCloskey, as were visits a week earlier to PNC Financial Corp. and several others last year that he made through Educator in the Workforce.
As Principal of the district’s Cyber School. “All I know is education,” he said. But as a regular participant in the Consortium’s Educator in the Workforce program, McCloskey feels he’s not only broadened his understanding of employers and jobs in the region, he’s learned to his surprise, “how much on-the-job training is available,” including for students with only a high school diploma. “We heard about it here at ALCOSAN, we heard about it at PNC and we heard about it at NEP Group.”
McCloskey participated in two program sessions in March—the one at ALCOSAN, where he took time between activities for a brief interview, and another at PNC Financial Group. He also had participated in several sessions last year, including a daylong immersion at NEP Group.
Like McCloskey, most participants in Educator in the Workforce are looking to increase their knowledge of employers outside of education so that they can support students in learning what they’ll need to know as they enter the workforce. In some cases, the participants are teachers who want to be able to connect the subjects they’re teaching with real-world needs and applications. Others, whether counselors or classroom educators, want to be able to serve as sounding boards for students trying to connect their own interests and skills to possible occupations.
At both ALCOSAN and PNC, human resources specialists and others on staff took pains to point out that even entry-level jobs can be stepping stones to many opportunities that not only provide on-the-job training, but in some cases, tuition reimbursement for obtaining degrees.
PNC employs 56,000 and “on any given day, there are 3,000 jobs open in this bank,” said Executive Vice President Caitlin McLaughlin, who oversees the financial firm’s talent and compensation programs. “Just because you don’t have a finance major doesn’t mean you won’t be a good fit for PNC,” she said.
In fact, even lack of a degree doesn’t rule candidates out at PNC, where jobs might range as far from finance as information technology or human resources, or ALCOSAN, where many of jobs are technical, involving water testing and the like.
“You can start here as a janitor,” in the unionized segment of ALCOSAN’s workforce and use seniority to hopscotch through a spectrum of jobs and training opportunities, said Tara Prince, an analytical chemist who has gone through several job changes there, including to one that enabled her to earn her degree. She noted that there are numerous apprenticeship opportunities within ALCOSAN that teach skilled trades like plumbing and HVAC maintenance as well as other opportunities for students “who don’t see college as part of their future.” Additionally, ALCOSAN offers a range of administrative and managerial opportunities.
PNC staffers also emphasized the importance of soft skills. In addition to the 4Cs—communications, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity—that schools increasingly are trying to incorporate into lesson planning, students also need to gain an appreciation of constructive criticism, McLaughlin said. PNC interns facing mid-summer reviews often misinterpret the process, she adding that some who haven’t ever been through it “melt down.”
Like all performance evaluations, the summer review process entails discussion of areas where employees “need improvement” as well as areas where they’re meeting or exceeding expectations. Learning that the process is intended to assist professional development, “is a huge skill,” McLaughlin said.
As valuable as the insights offered by employers during some Educator in the Workforce sessions are those offered from an employee perspective, especially when the employees are just starting out. Participants at the PNC’s session, for example, heard from recent PNC recruits, including one who joined the firm just out of high school as an alumnus of PartnerUP, a pre-employment training program that PNC organized with help from the Consortium.
Among other things, these young people gave attendees the benefit of their hindsight on what gaps high schools might fill in curriculum. One young woman said she wished she had had a chance to learn and practice PowerPoint. Similarly, another said she found that during and after college, she had to catch up with and learn from peers who had apparently had had more opportunities to practice presentation skills. Yet another said she wished she had learned some coding and almost all the young people said they wished they had learned more about personal finances.