Tuesday, March 4, 2008

My Experience with Pennsylvania Careerlink

I was under the impression that Pennsylvania wanted to keep its educated workforce from moving to states with better economies.

Apparently I was mistaken.

Here's the letter I sent to a few of our elected officials today regarding my experience with Pennsylvania Careerlink/Pennsylvania Workforce Development officials.

Grab a cup of coffee -- it's a long one.

* * *

Let me see if I have this right: The U.S. economy is in a tailspin, unemployment in America is on the rise, and the United States is either in or about to slide into a recession.

So maybe you can tell me -- an Allegheny County resident who’s been unemployed for TWO years:

Why, over the last five months, have I had to BEG Pennsylvania Careerlink (to no avail) for the job training assistance I need to become re-employed, while at the same time…

43 unemployed college graduates in Pennsylvania -- a whopping 39 of them in Berks County alone -- receive $8,000 each in federal job retraining money toward their masters degrees?

Worse, last year approximately 659 unemployed Southwestern Pennsylvanians received state/federal job training assistance. Of that number, a full 40 percent -- almost half -- of these individuals either did not complete training or were unemployed 9 months later.

Why then, am I -- a motivated, focused unemployed Pennsylvanian who has done the necessary legwork toward being re-employed in a lucrative and high-demand field -- being denied the job training assistance I need?

It’s been five months since I contacted Careerlink about job training assistance. The retail sales job I took at Christmas has long since ended.

Here are the reasons I’m being given as to why I’m being denied job retraining assistance:

At the Careerlink office in Forest Hills, James Hann, supervisor of Intensive and Training Services, told me “there’s no money for job training for unemployed Pennsylvanians with college degrees,” which is obviously not true -- just ask the 43 people getting their master‘s degrees with Workforce Investment Act dollars.

Jim Hann opined I should have NO problem finding a job in Western Pennsylvania and offered me only Careerlink Intensive Services program, which includes offerings such as GED training, job hunt workshops and job counseling.

[I’ve done considerable career research on my own; my job-hunting Website features my résumé and samples of my work; and my blog (http://findingajobinpittsburgh.blogspot.com/) details the innovative ways I’ve tried to find a job in the Pittsburgh area. The steps I’ve taken on my own to find a job are far beyond what Careerlink Intensive Services can offer me.]

After I told James Hann that job training assistance would help me more than Careerlink Intensive Services, Mr. Hann turned the matter over to his boss, Dan Hiwiller.

Mr. Hiwiller also refused me retraining assistance, citing the ‘extraordinary costs‘ associated with teaching job skills to an eligible job seeker. But obviously none of the 43 Pennsylvanians getting their masters degrees with $8,000 each in WIA dollars were denied retraining funds due to ’extraordinary costs’.

I approached Careerlink five months ago, in November 2007, with a plan for innovative subsidized On-the-Job Training in the high-paying and fast-growing field of Internet Marketing. I even presented Careerlink officials with data on earnings and projected growth in this field: (http://www.talentzoo.com/interactivesalaryreport.pdf)

I proposed an OJT because NONE of Pennsylvania’s Certified TAA/WIA Training Programs/Providers offer training in this lucrative and expanding field.

I didn’t care which local Internet marketing firm I worked with; I just knew that such an on-the-job training program would get back me into the workforce AND given me the technological skills I need.

But Dan Hiwiller nixed my innovative OJT proposal. In addition to citing the ’extraordinary costs’ (see above), Mr. Hiwiller also said that I would have to WAIT for an employer to approach Careerlink to set up an Internet Marketing OJT program.

The fact is, in today’s economy, employers are not going to contact Careerlink to set up an OJT in Internet Marketing.

Employers can -- and will -- hire people right out of school or from other states who have the skills they want.

Further, why would ANY employer go through the hassle -- and it is a hassle -- of setting up an OJT with Careerlink unless there was a considerable incentive for them to do so?

This means that if I wait for an employer to approach Careerlink, I’m going to be waiting even longer than I already have been.

Growing increasingly frustrated with the response I received from the local Careerlink staff, I voiced my concerns to Christine Enright, Director of the Bureau of Workforce Development Partnerships in the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry in Harrisburg.

Ms. Enright, in her email to me, supported the decision of local Careerlink officials to deny me job training assistance.

Ms. Enright further justified the 43 unemployed Pennsylvanians getting their Master’s degrees with $8,000 each in WIA funds by stating that “each Local Workforce Investment Board establishes their own Individual Training Plan and On-the-Job Training (OJT) policies.”

Well, that’s pretty obvious -- and patently unfair.

So, depending on the Workforce Investment Area in which a Pennsylvania resident lives, an individual MAY get the training they need to become gainfully employed OR, like me, they may get NOTHING.

Which means that my request for job training assistance is denied, but in Berks County the unemployed get Master’s degrees on the taxpayer's dime.

In response to my concern about the large number of Berks County residents getting their Masters degrees with WIA dollars, Ms. Enright stated that “the Executive Director of the Berks County Workforce Investment Board stated that your information is not correct. No where near that number were funded. I believe he had 5 or maybe 8 get their masters degree.”

First off, it’s not MY data -- the information was taken directly from the Pennsylvania’s Workforce Development System Website.

Second, two weeks after Ms. Enright told me the data was supposed to be incorrect, Pennsylvania’s Workforce Development System Website STILL shows the same HUGE number of Berks County unemployed getting Master’s degree on the taxpayer’s dime.

Third, why are Berks County unemployed receiving Masters degrees at a rate anywhere from 3 to 12 times more than other unemployed Pennsylvanians?

I asked Ms. Enright to briefly detail the official procedure for determining who receives WIA job training assistance. But Ms. Enright stopped replying to my email messages almost two weeks ago.

In fact, I haven’t heard from her or anyone else at Careerlink or the state’s Workforce Development System since Feb 21 -- not even a ‘I’m working on an answer for you’ reply.

To add insult to injury, in Monroeville last week I ran into a male friend who graduated from Pitt five or six years ago and like me, is unemployed. Here’s what he said to me, when I asked how his job search was coming:

“I went to Careerlink’s downtown office last week and asked them about job training. They said they would test me, help me enroll, and then I would be all set.”

It sure doesn’t sound like my male friend had to BEG like a dog to get job retraining assistance.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Taking Inventory

Let's see...it's mid-February. Let's see where things stand:

  • Right now I'm living with my father and his wife, an arrangement they're definitely not too thrilled with.
  • The part-time retail job I took at the mall at Christmas has ended. Business is so slow that the store manager was sending employees home; he certainly wasn't about to put me on the schedule.
  • I have no health insurance (the COBRA from my last job ended in October). Each day is a gamble; I hope my luck doesn't run out.
  • In between job hunting and looking for job networking and low-cost educational opportunities, I've been selling my personal items. It brings a few dollars in to help me pay my auto insurance and other bills.
  • My 10-year old car is a beater. It runs, more or less, but it looks like hell and sounds like a tank. In fact, I've taken to cutting the engine halfway down my street and coasting into the driveway when I come home from the library at night, to keep from waking my dad and stepmother.
  • I don't watch TV. I don't have the time for it, and besides, I think the cost for cable television/dish channels is obscene.
  • New clothes? Ha ha ha ha ha. Not likely.

I'm lucky, in many respects. My dad and his wife haven't put me out on the street -- yet. I don't have children, which would add a whole different element to the equation. When I got a flat tire last week, my brother came and got me (and his kids, we were coming home from a family event). And my dad drove me to the tire shop the next day so I could get a new tire for my car. (Dad didn't pay for the tire; he just played taxi.)

But still, I think to myself, this is nonsense. Why am I knocking myself out to get a job here? Why am I living hand-to-mouth here, when there are better opportunities in Charlotte, N.C., Atlanta, Austin, Tx, Las Vegas -- even Columbus, Ohio.

You Need to Apply Online...

Employers don't want paper resumes anymore, I was told. Most employers want potential hires to apply online.

I certainly don't have a problem with that -- especially since my resume and work samples are all online at my personal job-hunting Web site.

So I applied for jobs online, applying anywhere and everywhere I could think of.

I applied for more jobs at PNC that I can count. Even if the jobs were only remotely interesting, I applied for them. I even opened a checking account at PNC to improve my odds of getting a job.

I paid a visit to a restaurant owned by my brother's friend, Jon, a mid-level executive at PNC who has worked at the bank's corporate headquarters for 17 years, to personally ask him if I could list him as a referral on my applications. "Sure!" he said. "Great!" I thought.

But despite the many applications I filled out online at pnc.com, I didn't get a single phone call or e-mail reply.

Other organizations that I applied to include Heinz Foods, National City bank, Carnegie-Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh, Carlow College, Blattner-Brunner and many, many others.

So why didn't I try for a job with one of the Pittsburgh area's smaller businesses? Here's why: with a few notable exceptions, most smaller companies are behind the curve regarding technology. My two and a half years at my last job, a smaller Pittsburgh-area organization, left me without the skills I needed to compete in today's workforce.

I really don't want to play a constant game of catch-up for the rest of my life. I love education and I love learning, but I don't want to spend ALL of my free time online or in the classroom learning important job skills that I could -- and should -- be learning on the job.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Thinking Outside of the Box

Over the last few days, I’ve been reflecting on some of the other ways I’ve tried to find a job here in the ‘burgh. Here's one; I'll share some others in a subsequent post.

I was pretty proud of this particular job hunting idea: the Financial Education Consortium of Southwestern Pennsylvania was holding a Financial Education Fair at the Convention Center downtown. It was free, so why not attend, do a little networking, make some connections?

I was excited, because my last job had been at one of Pittsburgh’s financial institutions, so I had the experience I needed.

True, it wasn’t a ‘traditional’ job fair, but frankly I hadn’t had any luck with those -- and besides, job hunters need to think outside of the box, right?

So, with a handful of personal business cards tucked into my wallet and small stack of resumes in my attaché, I headed for the Financial Education Fair. Stopping at each table, I schmoozed and networked and exchanged business cards with the representatives of the banks, nonprofit organizations and other entities that were in attendance.

At the end of the day, I left, cheered at the prospect of getting a new job.

I followed up with an email to each person from whom I had received a business card, briefly reiterating some of the issues we had discussed at the fair, and attached the link to my resume.

I never heard back from a single person.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Forbes Magazine on Pittsburgh's Job Market

Last week, Forbes Magazine published its list of ‘Best Cities for Jobs in 2008’.

Taking into consideration cities' unemployment rank, median income rank, income growth rank, cost of living, and unemployment rank, Pittsburgh ranked a dismal 74th on the Forbes list.

That means that almost three quarters of cities in America are a better place than the Steel City to find a job.

Our city’s job growth rank is a particularly frightening 88. Out of the top 100 cities in America, almost 90 percent have better job growth than Pittsburgh.


It's been several months since I last updated this blog, primarily because I've been job-hunting -- in Pittsburgh and in other regions.

The truth is, I'm not particularly hopeful at my prospects for staying in the Western Pennsylvania region.

Since this is an update, here's what's happened since my last posting:

Ron Painter, head of the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board, finally replied to my email query -- 33 days after I initially contacted him.

He apologized for the delay (33 days??!!!) and explained in his email reply that the TRWIB dealt with the “macro” of the labor market – trends, data, budgets, and transitions.

Ron asked Margie Lubet, TRWIB communications manager, to contact me and share her insights about finding a job in communications. Unfortunately, her insights consisted mostly of her telling me about job-hunting Web sites that I already knew about.

She refused my offer to converse face-to-face, even though I said it wasn't a problem to travel downtown to meet her. I even offered to buy her lunch. No thank you, she said.

I ended the phone conversation with Ms. Lubet feeling like a complete pariah.


I hand-delivered a copy of my resume to state Sen. Sean Logan's office in Monroeville. Although Sen. Logan was not there, I held a brief conversation with the staff person in the Logan's office.

I asked her, "So, do you get a lot of résumés?"

Her reply was quite telling. "More than you would know."


I read in the newspaper that the Democratic Committee of Allegheny County was holding a pre-election rally in Harmarville. What a great opportunity to network!

One inside the banquet hall, I worked my way over to and introduced myself to the executive director of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee.

I knew there were some difficult races coming up, so after some brief chit-chat, I explained that I was looking for work, but that I would be willing to volunteer on the campaign if he would help me get a job -- not a political job, just a job that paid a living wage -- after the elections were over.

We exchanged business cards and I followed up with an email to him that same evening.

I never heard from him again.


I would be remiss if I didn't include my favorite interaction.

In October, Ron Folino, candidate for Commonwealth Court, introduced himself at some political get-together at which I was in attendance. After some brief chit-chat, he asked me what I did for a living.

"Well, I've been job-hunting for a little more than a year. If I can't find a job soon, I'm going to have to move from Pittsburgh; I may end up in D.C."

"Oh!" he chirped. "Do you have any idea where in D.C. you're going to live?"

Was this guy THAT clueless?

"Um....I'm not sure," I stammered.

"Well, hey...I sure hope you stay in Pennsylvania long enough to vote for me!"

And with a quick handshake, he was off.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Couldn't Have Said It Better Myself

Many thanks to the wonderful people who have commented on my blog. One person's comments really resonated with me:

From Conway1:

I am in the same position as you. I relocated to Pittsburgh earlier this year after several years of experience in a major cosmopolitan city. Although I have a graduate degree, many years of experience, and cutting-edge tech skills for our field, my best offers have been for salaries in the $30s. Some observations on top of what is already in your blog:

* I was told by an employer that although many corporations and PR firms have left Pittsburgh over the last 20 years, many individuals have stayed behind to do freelance work. Obviously, this gums up the market on the demand side of the equation and depresses salaries and opportunities.

* An observation on PR/marketing/communications executives in Pittsburgh -- while I have been proactively building skills and experiences, almost every executive who has interviewed me has never left Pittsburgh and has been squatting at his/her company for 15 or 20 years. Their skills are at least five years behind and they don't demonstrate an understanding of larger trends happening in the world outside of SW PA. Somehow, someway, PIT still seems to allow sentiment and status quo to trump talent and intellectual ability.

I could share more, but I will be direct in how I feel about PGH: I love Western Pennsylvania and its people; however, that strength is also its weakness. Pittsburgh has not adapted and is not adapting to the rapidly changing global economy. I don't buy the sloganeering by politicians and economic development organizations. I know what I have experienced in and out of Pittsburgh and what I read in the media and blogs.

While I had expected that my background would get me a reasonably good job (I had adjusted my expectations ahead of time to PIT conditions), I greatly overestimated the health of Pittburgh's economy in regards to our field. I don't understand why the city keeps erecting taxpayer- and resource-draining sports stadiums when there is a clear shortfall in talent, opportunity, and other essentials needed in the 21st century global competition. Economically speaking, Pittsburgh is a backwater and people aren't willing to make the sacrifices to change that. That goes for the politicians and those who elect them.

Perhaps the best approach is indeed to go to another city and get Pittsburgh out of your mind for a while. Then, someday, perhaps you'll either catch lightning and get that rare, quality Pittsburgh job in our field or you'll find that there are a lot of other places and people out there that can make for a nice home as well.

There are many elements of this person's comments that I agree with.

When I relocated to Pittsburgh four years ago, I was astounded at the number of business professionals I met who had NEVER lived anywhere other than the Western Pennsylvania region. After high school, these individuals attended a local college -- Pitt, Duquesne or maybe WVU -- and then, upon graduation, obtained a job at at XYZ Corporation, working their way up from grunt to supervisor of grunts to vice president of grunts.

What kind of worldview do you get if you've never left the area, except for your family's one week sojourn to Ocean City or Myrtle Beach?

I also concur with Conway1's statement that: "[These managers'] skills are at least five years behind and they don't demonstrate an understanding of larger trends happening in the world outside of SW PA."

Just five years behind??? Ha.

My last place of employment is a perfect example of what Conway1 says. The company CEO, bless his heart, was just not comfortable with technology -- especially the Internet. Same with the top managers. Their aversion to technology, coupled with the CEO's excessive frugality, means that this company will fall further and further behind. And as this business moves increasingly to the Internet, my former company will continue to lose ground to its competitors.

I give my former company five years, if not less, before it is taken over by a bigger, more technology-savvy organization. The top brass will retire happily with the funds from their stock options, golden parachutes and proceeds from the sale of the company; many of the rank and file workers will be out of luck.