PartnerUP’s pre-employment training is a model for helping students take next steps after high school

The second annual Super Day for PartnerUp represented a tremendous opportunity for students. As apparent as that was, it was equally clear that the program holds real promise for employers.

“It’s helping us touch a group of candidates we weren’t reaching before,” said Ardene Roach, a recruiter from PNC Financial Services Group, which began piloting PartnerUp last year in collaboration with the Consortium.

“It’s bringing us these young people who are looking to grow their careers” echoed Comcast recruiter Melissa Hychalk.

Hychalk sees an advantage in recruiting high school students. “They’re so fresh and new, you can mold them into being the employees you want them to be,” she said.

PartnerUp is a pre-employment training program that now reaches nine high schools, a majority in some of our region’s most under-resourced districts. Initially aimed at seniors who planned to enter the workforce immediately after graduation, the program has expanded this year to juniors as well.

A total of about 2,100 students participated in PartnerUp during this school year, a tenfold increase from last year.

Super Day scenes at the Consortium

In addition to helping students develop the soft, transferrable skills that all employers demand, PartnerUp also prepares them for job searches. They learn to identify their skills and discuss how they’d be applicable in the workplace; engage in mock interviews and get support for writing resumes.

It’s important for students with little to no experience, but who have the skills we look for, to get these opportunities,” said Brianna McMeekin, Assistant Vice President and Assistant Talent Program Manager at PNC, who delivers PartnerUp’s pre-employment training in schools.  “For us, PartnerUP is a workforce development tool, but we want the program to help guide and prepare high school students for their next steps, whether that next step is at PNC or elsewhere.”

At the end of the school year, Super Day gives all participating seniors the opportunity to interview for jobs with participating companies. Along with PNC, employers this year included Allegheny Health Network, Comcast and People’s Natural Gas Co.

This year’s Super Day took place May 16th. It brought some 50 of these young adults through the Consortium’s offices from morning until early afternoon. Their excitement was palpable as was the impact the program has had on them, according to company recruiters.

“They’ve come so far from when the training started at the beginning of the school year,” said PNC’s Roach.

Karla Iorio, a recruiter for Allegheny Health Network (AHN) agreed. She said the students “really shined” in the interviews after the coaching they received and was particularly excited about seeing the growth in a couple who “I really connected with and helped mentor.”

Connecting with high school students is important, Iorio added. “We foresee huge growth in certain (hiring) areas over the next several years,” she said, noting that PartnerUp can help AHN’s recruitment prospects by “just getting us out there and helping us advertise what we have to offer.”

When hospitals can’t find ways to showcase the career paths they offer outside of clinical care, those job opportunities can end up in a blind spot for students.

“We’re not just doctors and nurses,” Iorio said. “These kids might not think we employ cooks or carpenters, electricians and plumbers, but we offer all of those jobs.”

Employers participating in PartnerUp are recruiting for their entry-level jobs. At Comcast, that might mean working in the call center on customer care or at AHN, it might mean something in food service or housekeeping.

But all of the employers regard the jobs as stepping stones from which young recruits without college degrees not only can build careers, but often can also obtain tuition support to further their educations.

Like growing numbers of companies, employers participating in PartnerUP increasingly are working to promote from within.

As PNC’s Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Bill Demchak pointed out at the Consortium’s Future Ready Partnership Conference in April, an upfront investment in talent pays off in the long run.

“Companies are finding that retention is so much easier than attraction,” said Susie Puskar, Director of Youth Innovation at Partner4Work, who attended Super Day as a supporter. “We’re thrilled to see leading companies in the region investing in talent and identifying the pool of high school students within our region as a key resource to develop.”

Of course, no one could be happier than the students benefitting from that investment.

“This is a huge opportunity,” said Maddy Boynton, who participated in PartnerUp’s pilot as a McKeesport High School senior. She should know. Boynton was hired at the end of the pilot a year ago to work in PNC’s call center and already has had her first promotion.

Now a member of the Human Resources Department’s Enterprise Team, she said “PNC is definitely wonderful in helping you grow as a person and in your career.”




Two Brownsville Area educators engaged students to reimagine their District’s middle school library using Human-Centered Design

The shelves are gone. The space has been cleared.  The books have been put in storage. It would be at least a couple of weeks before the ceiling tiles came down and the flooring was pulled up.

That’s how things looked at the end of March after French teacher Lynn Jellots and Librarian Jennie Karwatske led a team of students through a process to transform Brownsville Area School District’s underused middle school library into a “Future Readiness Center.”

The process they used was Human-Centered Design, a set of techniques and principles for problem-solving that emphasizes inclusivity and puts stakeholder needs at the center of decision-making.

Jellots, Karwatske and the district’s Director of Secondary Education, Bill King, learned the techniques during a training session the Consortium offered last fall in partnership with LUMA Institute, a Pittsburgh consulting firm that’s nationally known for offering HCD training to corporate clients. The Grable Foundation supported the training to give educators access to the same tools that have helped companies improve customer focus and efficiency, among other metrics.

The Future Readiness Center may be the end goal of Brownsville’s project, but along with the aim of transforming a library, Superintendent Keith Hartbauer had some less obvious reasons for wanting to test-drive HCD as well.

One was to try a new way of engaging students. Another was to help Brownsville’s students meet new standards for career exploration and preparation that the Pennsylvania Department of Education began assessing this year. All the stars lined up when the Consortium organized its first training session.

“We knew we needed to do some things around career learning, particularly for the middle school,” Hartbauer said. “We were in the right place at the right time for it to happen.  We felt if we could create a career center, we’d get to where we needed to be.”

Jennie Karwatske (Left) and Lynn Jellots discuss their work in progress

To do the project, Hartbauer fielded a team for the HCD training because he “wanted to create a different mindset, not just for instruction, but for working with kids.”

“I think the whole concept of LUMA training—how it gets students or a group of people to really collaborate, think outside the box and come up with different ways to solve a problem—is very intriguing,” he added.

The district’s Director of Secondary Education came away from the training with much the same feeling. “It’s friendly and it’s positive,” King said at the time. “It’s a unique approach to problem-solving.”

HCD also lent itself well to another of Hartbauer’s goals. “From the very beginning, we wanted students to take ownership of this project,” he said.

The district set some parameters, but within them, Jellots and Karwatske engaged a team to imagine and design a center that would meet the needs students have as they plan for post-secondary education and careers.

Most of the kids working on the project were participants in the high school team that Jellots organizes for The Future Is Mine, the Consortium’s career exploration program. But they also pulled in others as needed, including from the Fayette County Career & Technical Institute, the CTC Brownsville students attend if they want to pursue occupational training in fields like health sciences, graphic design and others.

The team began with an HCD method known as “Contextual Inquiry,” taking field trips to explore schools that already have centers for college and career resources. Together, the site visits and the interviewing and notetaking students did during them were part of the process of “Looking,” one of three broad categories of methods that HCD prescribes, along with “Understanding” and “Making.”

Following the visits, the team worked on “Stakeholder Mapping,” an HCD method included in “Understanding” that helped identify “who would be invested” in the new center, Jellots said. They found the group would include stakeholders ranging from students and teachers to counselors, school board members and even members of the community.

The middle school library as it looked in March after shelving and books were removed

“Abstraction laddering,” an HCD method that’s also in the toolkit for “Understanding”, helped students contribute ideas about the many possible ways the center could be used and how different spaces within the center would need to be equipped. They continued refining their work with additional HCD methods, including “Rose, Thorn, Bud,” which helps distinguish among ideas that are positive, negative or have potential.

The HCD methods they chose—known collectively as their “recipe”— helped students determine features they want the center to offer. Among them will be a wall with white boards and cork boards to post information like college application deadlines; shelving for college catalogues, SAT study guides and other reference materials; computers and possibly a small audio/video laboratory for recording and critiquing mock job interviews, among other things.

Plans also call for the center to open onto an outdoor courtyard and include a small café or coffee shop, where students can get soft drinks or snacks.

Jellots said the students “loved the HCD process” and that everyone is excited to see the center taking shape. Their vision is for the finished space “to have a kind of open, hip, urban feel,” she added.

Jada, a senior on the team, said she liked HCD because the process keeps the most outgoing participants from disproportionately influencing the outcome.

Many HCD methods call for participants to offer ideas on Post-It notes, rather than verbally, she noted. As a result, “everyone gets to be part of it,” Jada said, and their finished work reflects “bits and pieces of everyone’s thinking.”

Kyle, another senior who used a 3-D computer modeling and design program to create schematics for the team, said the way information is gathered and presented using HCD “makes it easy to follow.”

“All the ideas were laid out in front of me,” he said, “so it wasn’t hard to do.”

Similarly, Talia, a sophomore, said the process “really helped us to organize what we were presenting to the school board and give the main ideas.”

The students presented the final drawings to the district’s board late last year. At a subsequent meeting, they won approval for the concept, with different aspects left pending for cost estimates and further analysis of feasibility.

Team members said they were enthusiastic about designing the center because they believe it will help peers and younger students plan for their next steps after graduation and be better prepared.

“I think it will help kids getting ready for college and there will be a place for mock interviews to get kids ready for jobs,” Jada said.

Additionally, she said the center will enable counselors and teachers to better target career presentations at interested students. “We want there to be a space for smaller groups so kids can sign up for presentations,” she added. “Right now, everybody goes to the auditorium when we have a guest speaker and not everybody is interested in the same things.”

Similarly, Karwatske said guidance counselors will be able to invite speakers who can talk about careers that small groups of students identify in “interest-inventories” taken in district schools.

Hartbauer’s view of the proposed center is even more expansive. “We can bring the community in,” he said. “When colleges come, it will be a place where they can present. Businesses can come in and tell kids the skills they need when they’re hiring.”

“What I also like is that the little coffee shop can bring in our special needs kids,” the Superintendent added. He envisions them staffing it and building skills needed in food service, retail and other jobs. From his viewpoint, “We’ll be encompassing a whole range of needs with one center.”

If you or your district would like to participate in one of the Consortium’s upcoming Human Centered Design trainings, please contact Mary Kay Babyak ( or Jackie Foor ( at 412-678-9215.


SWPA Personalized Learning Network invites education leaders to Conference

The Personalized Learning Leadership Conference will presentations from a high-profile lineup of education thought-leaders including Allison Zmuda. The event takes place June 25-June 26. Anyone wishing to attend can register at Eventbrite.

Allegheny Conference invites education leaders to regional visioning events

Education and community leaders are invited to participate in a series of regional events, culminating with region-wide gathering to mark the 75th anniversary the first Pittsburgh Renaissance with discussions of where we go next. The events are comprise “Our Next 75,” an initiative that the Allegheny Conference on Community Development is undertaking to engage the community in envisioning and planning western Pennsylvania’s future. Learn more


LCTE participants see growth in confidence and skills

Our program for Leadership in Career & Technical Education (LCTE) wound up the school year with students discussing and practicing the soft skills needed in any workplace and learning a few of the basics of personal finance.

A.W. Beattie students hosted a tour of their school

Held at A.W. Beattie Career Center, the final session drew participants from three career and technical centers (CTCs) in addition to Beattie, including Forbes Road, Parkway West and Steel Center.

As an exercise to see how different temperaments affect group performance, students adopted assigned personas—ranging from perfectionist to shy, know-it-all, natural leader and yes-man, among others—and competed in teams to build the highest house of cards. Some students said their assigned roles matched their personalities, while others needed to act parts far from who they really are.

Discussion afterward suggested that the two teams with the tallest structures had thought outside the box more than those whose couldn’t get theirs as high. Among other things, they’d thought to fold cards in half to make them sturdier.

In addition, student role played various common workplace scenarios, demonstrating how they’d resolve different kinds of tensions, like confronting a colleague whose conduct would result in dismissal.

Students said they’d grown through the program in numerous ways.

“I never talked in class before,” said Sarah, a senior at Steel Center. “But I do now.” She said she’d even built the confidence to participate in learning sessions her school gives to eighth-graders who might want to consider taking classes at the CTC.

Another participant said the program had expanded her understanding of personal finance. “Nobody else teaches you any of this, like about credit or getting a mortgage.”

Alex, a senior at Forbes Road said she’s found the leadership training has helped her contribute more in the part-time job she’s doing with a landscaper.

“It’s really helped me with communication,” she said “I’ve been able to speak up and offer ideas. They’ve even used some of them.

“I wish more kids could come to this,” Alex added. “It’s really been good for building skills.”












Field trip brings together students from three districts in mentoring program

Students and adult mentors in the Be a Middle School Mentor (BAMSM) program that we offer in collaboration with United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania visited  Cathedral of Learning in May.

The trip brought together BAMSM participants from Clairton City, McKeesport Area and Woodland Hills school districts for tours led by student tour guides that the University of Pittsburgh trains with a semester-long curriculum.

After their first stops in the nationality rooms, guides asked students what other rooms might be on their wish lists. Among the choices were rooms representing the cultures of Japan, Israel, and Africa, among others.

As the groups of students wended their way through, they related some of the things they learned in BAMSM.

For Abby from Woodland Hills, the biggest takeaway was lots of help with her English classes. One of her classmates, Darian, said the most important thing he’d learned in the program was “how to be successful.”

Asked to enumerate some tips, he said, “You have to get an education.” Others around him chimed in their own answers. Kamiyah said being successful requires “responsibility,” while a friend sitting nearby said it takes “perseverance.”

A favorite part of the program? For Skyler, from McKeesport, it was “when you worked with a mentor at the beginning of the year.”“You learned how to be part of a team,” she said. “That was good for me.”




Six winners announced at Champions of Learning Awards celebration

Winners in six categories took center stage Thursday evening along with two individuals receiving Special Tributes for lifelong service to the region’s youth when the Consortium for Public Education and United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania presented their annual Champions of Learning Awards.

Awards went to:

  • Melting Pot Ministries Executive Director Brenda Atkins Lockley in the Leadership Category;
  • Plum Borough School District teacher J.R. Pilyih in the category for K-6 Educators;
  • East Allegheny School District teacher Holly Spallone in the category for Educators in Grades 7-12;

    From left: Bill Strickland, Dona Gaudio, Abbie Manges, Andrew Van Treeck, J.R. Pilyih, Brenda Atkins Lockley, Holly Spallone and Bob Nelkin

  • Jewish Family and Community Services Volunteer Coordinator Andrew Van Treeck in the Community Partners category
  • Chartiers Valley School District Custodian Dona Gaudio in the School Staff Category
  • Urban Impact Foundation Volunteer Abbie Manges in the Volunteers Category

The Consortium and United Way also conferred Special Tributes on Bill Strickland, Founder and Executive Chairman of the Manchester Bidwell Corp. and Bob Nelkin, who is retiring as President and Chief Executive Officer of United Way.

Mr. Strickland is nationally recognized as founder of a unique nonprofit center that provides inner-city youth with opportunities to learn studio arts ranging from pottery to music and provides world class adult education programs that have helped thousands to find viable career paths or retrain after job losses.

Mr. Nelkin is recognized as a lifelong champion of the region’s youth and other vulnerable populations. Prior to heading United Way, he served as Director of Policy Initiatives at the University of Pittsburgh’s Office of Child Development; Executive Director of former Gov. Ed Rendell’s Cabinet.



SPS projects bring fresh perspectives to business partners

Memes may be ubiquitous on social media, but they aren’t yet a mainstay of corporate marketing. That’s why the memes that our Student Powered Solutions team in Woodland Hills School District created proved so intriguing to staff members from Covestro.

“I like that they’re out-of-the box,” said Madeline Kennedy, a Covestro staffer in Polyurethane Advocacy and Sustainability.

The students developed the memes after Covestro challenged them to find ways of reaching a young audience to build understanding about how its products are manufactured and used.

Woodland Hills’ Covestro project was one of several that SPS teams presented this Spring. Others included a project at Penn Hills High School addressing safety issues for Carmeuse, a limestone mining company and another in which students from Blackhawk and Mohawk school districts compared alternative power sources for First Energy Corp. Two additional projects also were still underway—one between South Allegheny High School and Allegheny Land Trust that’s set for final presentation in early May and another that Pittsburgh Perry Traditional Academy is doing with ALCOSAN.

SPS projects all employ Human Centered Design (HCD) methods and Project-Based Learning (PBL). The HCD methods help students organize their work and ensure that it addresses concerns of different stakeholders. PBL techniques give teachers a pedagogical alternative to traditional classroom lectures and one that gives students opportunities apply content knowledge and develop the soft skills needed to work in teams.

In a survey of 555 students, the Woodland Hills team found that humor and entertainment are top reasons teens tune into social media. Because of that, they made most of their memes funny—often depicting a world bereft of products made with Covestro polymers such as office chairs, mattresses and automotive paint. The survey achieved a remarkable 100 percent response because team members either administered it in person or obtained assistance from social studies teachers who administered it in class. Surveys typically generate no more than a 15 percent response rate because there’s usually mailed no one standing by to see them through to completion.

“I thought the survey was really good,” said Covestro STEM Coordinator Ben Renwick.

Students said they learned a lot from the project, both about Covestro and its products and about themselves and how to work together.

“The project definitely changed my viewpoint,” said one young woman, noting that her own attitudes about plastics and chemicals initially had been in line with those the team’s survey had uncovered. The survey found a significant majority of students had negative perceptions of both.

Another young woman said she realized she liked doing the project because “I need to see things” to learn. “I don’t like it if people just tell me something.” She also said she found she really enjoyed doing a presentation for an audience.

The Penn Hills teams that investigated ways to address safety challenges for Carmeuse also took away lessons about soft skills.

“Working together as a group,” was a bit of a challenge, said one young man. “It was hard coming together around an idea.”

Nonetheless, they worked their way through the challenges of collaboration and came up with several recommendations that Carmeuse found helpful.

“There are some great ideas here,” said David Sweitzer, Director of Risk Management who listened the presentations at Carmeuse’ Downtown headquarters along with some 80+ other staff members. “I love the app and the wall of safety. Those are some things we’ll be advancing.”

Students had recommended the company supply mining vehicle operators with an app to avoid accidents. The app would tell drivers where other vehicles were located, much the same as apps used to track snow plows.

A wall with profiles of staff safety accomplishments was part of a package of ideas students presented for motivating employees to follow and improve safety protocols and outcomes.




















Conference provides opportunities to explore careers and build skills

A strong science student, Evan had once entertained the possibility of studying medicine, but a part-time job at an American Eagle Outfitters (AEO) store turned his head. Because of it, he began to see his interest in “developing a personal style” as more than a passing fancy and started thinking a career in retail might be a better fit.

Our annual Student Leadership Conference for the Future is Mine (TFIM) gave the Albert Gallatin High School senior a chance to confirm his hunch.  “This is just what I needed,” he said. “I know this is really what I want.”

Evan was among a group of students who explored careers in marketing and retail at AEO, while other groups of the 300+ attendees fanned out among 16 employers hosting opportunities to investigate fields ranging from engineering and finance to urban planning and broadcasting.

After exploring retail careers at American Eagle Outfitters, students gathered outside the company’s headquarters for a photo

For Mollie, a Yough High School senior, a visit to HDR wasn’t necessary to confirm a career choice. She already knew she wanted to study engineering. Still, the chance to talk with engineers, “get a feel for the environment where they work and see the kinds of projects you might work on and the difference between the small ones and the large ones” gave her insight about options within the field, she said. “I learned a lot.”

The annual Conference, which took place April 11-12, was TFIM’s 19th.   Even for students who don’t have a career in mind, the 2-day event always provides invaluable exposure.  Working professionals often give advice applicable to almost any job and Conference workshops help prepare students for job searches and the workplace.

At AEO, for example, one staffer gave tips for building resumes even without landing coveted internships. Others used personal stories to illustrate how willingness, adaptability, diligence and perseverance also can set candidates apart whether applying for jobs or seeking promotions.

“If you want it on your resume, do it yourself,” advised Stephanie Campbell, a Social Media Manager for AEO’s Aerie brand. Campbell said she demonstrated marketing ability to her first employer with a blog that she launched and promoted with Facebook ads.

AEO Director of Customer Systems Steve Schaab told students he’d positioned himself to rise through the ranks at AEO with a willingness to make lateral moves and learn more about the business. He also said his career trajectory was far from smooth or straight up. With insufficient family resources “college was out of the question,” when he left high school, but he eventually got there taking any job he could get and saving until he could enroll in Community College of Allegheny County. Along the way to his degree and his technology career, he was a stock boy, a cashier, a shoe salesman, a forklift operator and a bartender, before getting his first technology jobs with Adelphia Cable and RPS, the predecessor to FedEx Ground. He eventually earned a Master’s degree at Point Park University.

“Regardless of how you get there, it’s about the effort you put in,” Schaab told students. “Just have little goals—little goals can take you a lot of places.”

Schaab also was one of numerous professionals to expound the benefits of networking. As a case in point, the lead for his programmer’s job at RPS came from talking to a customer at the bar where he worked.

In addition to AEO, employers hosting workplace visits were: ALCOSAN, Allegheny County, Allegheny General Hospital, Carnegie Museum of Art, Covestro, Dollar Bank, Duquesne Light Co., Google, Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, HDR, Jefferson Hospital, Production Masters, Inc. (PMI); United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, Urban Design Associates and the Waterways Association of Pittsburgh with Gateway Clipper Fleet.

Following their workplace visits, students visited Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum where they browsed the exhibits and participated in mock interview sessions organized by Pittsburgh Brashear, Yough and Woodland Hills high schools.

Afterward, the students gathered at the Pittsburgh Marriott City Center for dinner, a networking session, a dance, an overnight stay and a second day of career related workshops,

Different TFIM teams organized a number of the workshops. Among others, there were sessions on resumes hosted by Springdale High School; on business etiquette, hosted by Greensburg Salem High School; on diversity hosted  by Pittsburgh Brashear High School; on job search skills, hosted by Yough High School; on the importance of kindness by Monessen City High School and on the Pittsburgh region’s employment outlook by Bethlehem Center High School.

Community organizations and other volunteers also hosted breakout sessions. Among them were sessions hosted by Carnegie Mellon University researcher and psychologist Julie Downs, PhD about decision-making; by YouthWorks on nonverbal communication; by Chaz Kellem on diversity; by the YMCA on STEM skills; by Robert Morris University on networking by UNO’s Pizzeria on resume writing; by Consortium staffers on Human Centered Design; and by Ariana and Julia Brazier, who helped students assess their leadership styles.

Sponsors helped make the Conference possible. This year, they included: American Eagle Outfitters Foundation; Comcast; Covestro; Dollar Bank; Duquesne Light Company; Highmark Casualty Insurance Co./HM Insurance Group; Huntington National Bank; NCDMM; NexTier; Pittsburgh Marriott City Center; Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation; Pittsburgh Pirates; Schell Games; Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall; UPMC; Wells Fargo Foundation and individual benefactor Amy Winokur.

Conference highlighted models for collaboration between employers and schools

Calling them “a wasted resource,” PNC Financial Group’s top executive said our region’s high schools and their students must figure prominently in our region’s employment picture to avoid the kind of talent drain his own company began heading off nearly two decades ago.

“If the region’s corporate community doesn’t get actively engaged and figure out how to harvest this resource, we’re going to have a problem,” PNC’s Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Bill Demchak told attendees at our Future Ready Partnerships Conference in April. In turn, he added that means helping students understand that enrolling directly in a four-year degree program isn’t their only option and may not always be the best choice.

Demchak was one of several presenters opening the Conference with examples of partnerships between businesses and schools that both prepare students for the future and strengthen the region’s workforce. Among others were Mascaro Construction Co.’s chief executive; a Greensburg Salem School District administrator and a Mon Valley state legislator who delivered video remarks. 

The presentations sparked discussions throughout the day—in breakouts and networking sessions—about how businesses can partner with schools to give students content knowledge and soft skills that employers need.

For its part, PNC ramped up efforts to recruit younger employees 18 years ago, when Demchak joined the company and it took a sobering look at its own demographics and hiring patterns. Instead of recruiting talent away from other banks as many competitors were at the time, PNC undertook measures to develop talent in-house. The company bolstered college recruitment, internships and other training at the entry level. As a budget line item, it looked expensive, but it’s paid off handsomely, Demchak said.

More recently, on the heels of a workforce shortage projection from the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, which Demchak chairs, PNC began piloting PartnerUP with help from the Consortium. The program takes pre-employment training directly into high schools and gives students a chance to interview for entry-level jobs at PNC or other participating employers including Allegheny Health Network, Comcast and Peoples Natural Gas Co.

It gives students alternatives, Demchak said, adding “We tend to teach kids their goal in life is to go to college” and high schools are judged on how many they send. But going directly into the workforce doesn’t preclude getting a degree later, he emphasized. “It’s not this binary thing.”

“Working at a public company like PNC can open your eyes to opportunities that are out there and steer you to smarter choices,” Demchak added, noting said that students and their families need to discuss “the costs and outcomes” of different choices.

Like PNC, Mascaro Construction also has begun reaching out to high schools, said President and Chief Executive Officer John Mascaro, Jr. His company realized six or seven years ago that its industry would face workforce shortages and that there were “multiple pathways” into its careers, including some that students could pursue without degrees. The company is now trying to interest more high school students by educating teachers about its business, including as host last fall for the kickoff event of the Consortium’s Educator in the Workforce program. Additionally, Mascaro is working with Community College of Beaver County to create a “High School Academy,” through which students can earn credits toward a one-year associate’s degree.

Just as businesses have recognized the need to connect with public schools, so too have our region’s school districts begun looking to employers for help creating the opportunities students need to explore and prepare for careers.

Greensburg Salem has adopted a multi-faceted approach that relies heavily on connections made through intermediaries like workforce investment boards, the Consortium and others, the district’s Coordinator of Secondary Education Ken Bissell, Ed.D., told attendees. By doing so, the district has brought in partners like PPG Industries to provide classroom speakers and workplace exposure to teachers; Excela Health System, which is helping train students for entry-level employment in environmental and dietary services; Westmoreland County Art Museum, which has provided exposure to nonprofit and arts careers; and tool and die makers, which are helping create a pre-apprenticeship program. Additionally, Greensburg Salem has connected with post-secondary partners like Westmoreland County Community College to help students earn college credits and with industry partners to plan a tech-math course for students interested in skilled trades.

To underscore the impact community and business partnerships have on students, state Rep. Austin Davis (D-McKeesport) delivered video remarks crediting the beginnings of his career in government and politics to a job-shadow he got through the Consortium’s own career exploration program, The Future Is Mine (TFIM). Now marking its 19th year, TFIM was a pathbreaker in connecting schools and businesses.

Breakout sessions at the Conference gave attendees yet more insights into partnerships that might serve as models. Among those showcased were the Consortium’s  Student Powered Solutions  and Educator in the Workforce  programs; PNC’s PartnerUP program; Covestro’s education outreach programs; apprenticeships available through the German American Chamber of Commerce, Goodwill, Duquesne Light and the construction industry; and initiatives educators are leading such as an employer fair that South Allegheny School District offers students, parents and community members and an internship program Franklin Regional School District has developed for students.

“We don’t want this to stop with presentations,” The Consortium’s Director of Organizational Advancement Jackie Foor said. “We want you to go into these breakout sessions with your questions and bring your own thinking to them as well. Most importantly, we want you to take home ideas for your own partnerships.”

Consortium Program Director Debbie Pixton, who served as the Consortium’s point person in organizing the Conference, encouraged attendees to borrow from or build on the examples discussed during breakouts. “These were meant to provide you with strategies you can adopt or adapt,” she said.

Attendees wasted no time taking up the challenge; conversations overheard during the networking sessions hinted at partnerships in the making.

One school administrator talked with a peer from a nearby district, for example, about collaborating on a business fair for students and their families. Two officials from yet another district described plans during a table discussion for engaging local businesses in a co-op program to provide internships for students with nearby businesses. A small business owner, in turn, mentioned his interest in bringing students into his company to build skills in CAD-CAM (computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing).

The interest expressed in business/school partnerships was a “joy” to The Grable Foundation’s Executive Director Gregg Behr, but it came as no surprise. Behr, who also is the founder of Remake Learning and chair of the Allegheny Conference’s K-12 Business Engagement Committee, portrayed partnerships developing in southwestern Pennsylvania as part of an evolving mix of innovations that has brought the region national attention.

“You’re already making this happen in truly extraordinary ways,” he said, noting  that thought-leaders in education “are constantly pointing to the Pittsburgh region because of the ways we’re wrestling—and have been wrestling for more than a decade—with issues about the future of learning and work.”

Collaborations showcased at the Conference represent “an opportunity to capture the hope Mr. Demchak described and get more businesses plugged in.”




Exploring opportunities for school-business collaboration

Our upcoming Future Ready Partnerships Conference will feature two of the region’s foremost proponents of collaboration between businesses and schools. Also on the agenda are speakers who already have engaged in the kinds of school-business partnerships that are helping better prepare students, while strengthening the region’s workforce.

PNC Financial Services Group’s Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Bill Demchak will give the morning keynote and The Grable Foundation’s Executive Director Gregg Behr will speak after lunch.

The Conference takes place April 2 at the auditorium in the Tower at PNC Plaza. Attendees are invited to share insights via social media using the hashtag #FRPC .

With workforce challenges looming, Mr. Demchak, who also chairs the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, has been quoted as saying that businesses must become investors in talent as well as consumers of talent.

Mr. Behr, who chairs the Allegheny Conference’s K-12 Business Engagement Committee, has championed the kinds of innovative learning experiences needed to prepare students for a world where the velocity of change is greater than ever and where technology is profoundly changing both lives and livelihoods.

Among other speakers, John Mascaro, President and Chief Executive Officer  of Mascaro Construction, will discuss his own experience in a partnership that connected him with educators as a means of conveying information about in-demand jobs to students. Greensburg Salem School District’s Coordinator of Secondary Education, Dr. Ken Bissell, will talk about the ways business engagement is benefiting students in his community. And addressing conferees via video will be state Rep. Austin Davis (D-McKeesport) who plans to share his own story of a job-shadow that put him on his political career path.

The day also will feature breakout sessions designed to help educators and businesses learn how they can tap the power of partnerships themselves.