Pittsburgh Business Leaders Emphasize Cross-Sector Partnerships, Investment in Education as Key to Workforce Development

September 25, 2018

By Kelly Mae Ross, Communications Manager

Leaders from two major Pittsburgh institutions came together today to discuss how workforce development at the community level requires coordinated, cross-sector partnerships. The conversation took place as part of the Reinvention of Steel City panel at the National College Access Network’s 23rd annual national conference, being held in Pittsburgh.

Panelists included Linda Topoleski, vice president, Workforce Operations & Programs at the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, and James E. Taylor, chief diversity and inclusion officer and chief learning officer at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. The panel was moderated by Joel Simon, executive vice president at the Council for Adult & Experiential Learning (CAEL), and sponsored by Strada Education Network.

From left to right: James E. Taylor, UPMC; and Joel Simon, CAEL.


University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Emeritus Mark Nordenberg kicked off the morning’s session by offering a 10-minute overview of the history of Pittsburgh and its many transitions, including its recent shift from a manufacturing-based economy to an “eds and meds” center. The panelists then proceeded to discuss some of the challenges the Pittsburgh region will face going forward.

Topoleski said one of the biggest issues the Allegheny Conference is working to address is workforce development – ensuring that the organization is investing in a way that will help build the workforce of the future. She pointed out that the Pittsburgh region is facing a potential worker shortage of about 80,000 people by 2025, according to a report prepared by CAEL for the Allegheny Conference.

“When we started looking at our workforce challenges, we came to the conclusion that we could no longer just be consumers of talent,” said Topoleski. Instead, the Allegheny Conference decided it had to invest in education. As part of its CEOs in the Classroom initiative, the organization will help some of the business leaders it works with study up on the issues faced by the region’s school districts. Topoleski emphasized that her organization needs to build trust by listening to educators and then work with them to figure out how to best make investments that lead to sustainable, impactful change.

Taylor said UPMC, the largest employer in the area, is also interested in local workforce development, both from the perspective of a talent-seeking employer and an organization that promotes public health.

“There’s nothing that generates health and that reduces crime like employment,” he said. Taylor added that UPMC relies on partnerships that pull together foundations, nonprofits, educational institutions, and corporate partners to work toward creating more education and employment opportunities within the community.


Both of the panelists as well as the panel moderator agreed that cross-sector partnerships, while sometimes difficult to build, are key to advancing workforce development within a community. “Partnership moves at the speed of trust,” said Simon.

And for these Pittsburgh-area leaders, time is of the essence, according to the worker shortage statistics from the CAEL report. “That tells us that we don’t have time to waste,” Topoleski said. “So we have to all be working together on the things that matter most.”

Linda Topoleski, Allegheny Conference on Community Development, and James E. Taylor, UPMC

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