Sustainable Pittsburgh urges work force inclusion

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The Pittsburgh region’s ongoing challenges with diversity and inclusion received fresh attention last month with the publication of a report by Sustainable Pittsburgh, a nonprofit agency advocating for sustainable development.

The agency sent some 10,000 copies of “Inclusion in the Workforce: Positioning the Pittsburgh Region to Prosper and Compete,” to major employers and civic leaders in the 10-county region.

The report, which grew out of a discussion paper presented at the Southwestern Pennsylvania Regional Equitable Development Summit in December, highlights the impact on the local economy of employment disparities between white and black residents — disparities that reduced local workers’ earnings by $372 million last year.

But it goes beyond describing problems to offering suggestions to both government and corporate leaders for reducing such disparities.

Here are 10 of them:

1. Increase infrastructure spending. Upgrading Pittsburgh’s aging infrastructure could create thousands of job, attract millions of dollars in federal investment and make the region more attractive to new employers. Also, improvements in public transportation, in particular, could make it easier for African-Americans, who mostly live in a few inner-city neighborhoods, to travel from those neighborhoods to where the jobs are.

2. Develop green jobs. The report says the jobs to be created in retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency and in developing renewable energy resources, like the blue-collar jobs in the region’s steel mills of yore, “can represent a step out of poverty into a growth sector that provides living wage jobs.”

3. Strengthen coordination among work force programs. Improving communications between the region’s many work force development programs and refocusing them toward shared or complementary goals could make them more effective in helping the unemployed to get and keep jobs.

4. Consider prisoner and ex-offender education programs as part of work force development. Such programs can increase the available talent pool and reduce recidivism.

5. Change child-support policies. Current policies discourage noncustodial black parents, especially fathers, from working — first, by setting child support orders so high that when a father does work, he has little left to live on; second, by having child support debts accrue while a parent is imprisoned; and third, by not ensuring that child support money goes to the children.

6. Develop supplier diversity policies that increase spending with local minority-owned businesses.

7. When new real estate development projects are created near African-American neighborhoods, link them with specific funding and programs for hiring in those communities.

8. Support entrepreneurship and capacity building programs.

9. Model corporate and institutional policies that increase work force diversity, especially at management levels.

10. Actively recruit from minority communities outside Pittsburgh if there are not qualified applicants from the Pittsburgh area.

Sustainable Pittsburgh Executive Director Court Gould said that so far responses to the report from local leaders have been overwhelmingly positive.

“They have indicated strong support and expressions that, indeed, this is the agenda that our region needs to address.”

Elwin Green may be contacted at egreen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1969.

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Copyright (c) 2009, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.