Pittsburgh has experience in reinventing itself. When manufacturing declined and mills were closing back in the 1980s and later, the Steel City faced an identity crisis. Yet Pittsburgh still managed to keep a leadership position in steel while adding new layers of economic diversification that are still successful – high tech, biotech and more. (News flash: There are more jobs here now than at the height of the big-steel era.)
Yes, like everyone else in the country, we’ve tightened our belts, but Business Week ranks Pittsburgh No. 6 (right behind Boston) on its list of the best places to live during a recession. That’s because nearly 30 percent of Pittsburghers now work in the usually recession-resistant medical and education sectors.
Old-guard companies such as Westinghouse have reinvented themselves, while scores of high-tech companies have sprouted from our universities’ computer-science students. Even traditional energy has harnessed new technology to spawn a modern resurgence.
In some areas of the country, construction has tapered off, but in the downtown Pittsburgh area as well as out on the fringe of suburban growth, you can hear jackhammers and see new buildings on the rise.
Think there are no jobs to be had in Pittsburgh? Think again. "There are over 20,000 job openings [on the new job-search Web site Imaginemynewjob.com] and 30 percent pay $60,000 or more," says Jim Futrell, vice president for market research and analysis at the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, a longtime advocacy group for economic development in the region. In 2008, it launched Imaginemynewjob.com, a free job-search portal, which aggregates job listings from individual employers and search engines (such as Monster.com and hotjobs.com) within a 70-mile radius of downtown Pittsburgh, putting them in one easy-to-find location.
Pittsburgh magazine culled through these job opportunities and identified 10 job categories that are in demand – yes, even in today’s economy. Read on to learn which jobs in the Pittsburgh region are hot, hot, hot.
It’s no surprise that health care tops our list of hot jobs. The Pittsburgh Regional Alliance reports that about 15 percent of people here work in the health care industry – and nursing tops the list.
"Nurses are always at the top of the list because there are so many registered nurses that you need," says Linda Novak, director of human- resources development at West Penn Allegheny Health System. "It’s the position we hire the most."
Nurses manage patient records via computer, handle medications, monitor vital signs and work with the doctor on the patient’s care plan, explains Greg Peaslee, UPMC’s senior vice president and chief human-resources and administrative-services officer. But most of all, "nurses must be empathetic – that’s core," says Peaslee. "The inpatient nurse really is the primary caregiver for someone in the hospital."
UPMC expects to hire up to 1,500 registered nurses (R.N.s) each year for the next 10 years, and generally has about 200 R.N. openings at any given time.
Nurses usually make $40,000 to $80,000, says Lisa Bonacci, vice president of human-resources operations and services at UPMC, who adds that job flexibility is one of the great benefits of the profession.
"There is a very good prognosis for jobs in the future," says Peaslee, adding, "I think we will see more second-career people entering nursing."
Pharmacists, imaging technologists (MRI and CAT scan) and therapists (speech, occupational, respiratory and physical) are also hot jobs, say both Peaslee and Novak.
"Health care is such a dynamic area," says Novak. "You’re not locked into the same position; there is a lot of lateral and upward mobility."
If you can repair, program, connect or manage computers, you’re in high demand in Western Pennsylvania right now. Justin Driscoll, director of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) talent acquisition for the Pittsburgh Technology Council, says there are generally 1,100 open positions on the council’s Web site in any given month – most of them for high-tech positions.
"Pittsburgh is a very friendly market to people with experience," says Driscoll, adding that along with strong technical skills, these positions require good communication and writing skills. "The IT field traditionally pays very well," he says. Positions start in the low $40,000s and go to more than $100,000.
The hot jobs are: software engineers (who write computer programs), applications engineers (who deploy the software) and systems engineers (who connect computers to create networks). Typically, these people have a computer-science or information-science degree, says Raul Valdes-Perez, CEO of Vivisimo Inc., a Squirrel Hill-based company that develops internal search engines that enable companies to access information across all their networks.
His company’s expansion accentuates the opportunities in technology: "We’ve been growing 30 to 50 percent per year," says Valdes-Perez, a Carnegie Mellon University graduate and former faculty member, who expects that trend to continue for the next five years.
Dave Semich, Pittsburgh Technical Institute’s (PTI) School of Technology department chair, says, "Our IT graduates can design, secure and manage computer networks, and they can configure, troubleshoot and repair computer hardware and software systems."
Josephine Smith, PTI’s associate director of career services, says graduates can also man a computer help desk and configure today’s "smart homes," installing and networking home theaters, security systems, sprinklers and smart appliances.
If you have an engineering degree, Pittsburgh is the town for you. The success of Westinghouse Electric Co. in transforming its business to nuclear energy has dramatically increased the demand for engineers in the area. Vaughn Gilbert, the company’s spokesperson, says Westinghouse hired 800 engineers in 2008 – and it expects to hire 500 per year for the next few years. About half of them will be Pittsburgh-based, he adds.
Nuclear power is 99 percent of Westinghouse’s business, says Gilbert, and "is increasingly cost-competitive, and emits no greenhouse gases."
Gilbert says that Westinghouse primarily hires mechanical, electrical and nuclear engineers, all of whom design components for future nuclear-power plants and components to serve existing plants.
The company partnered with the University of Pittsburgh to launch a Nuclear Engineering Certificate Program in the fall of 2006, says Larry Foulke, director of nuclear programs for Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. Adjunct staff from Westinghouse, Beaver Valley’s nuclear-power plant and the naval nuclear-technology company Bechtel Bettis Inc. teach the course.
Imaginemynewjob.com shows more than 2,000 postings for open engineering positions. Westinghouse has the greatest number of openings, followed by companies such as Siemens, Tetra Tech and McKesson.
Anyone who tries to walk or drive around downtown Pittsburgh and its environs realizes there is a lot of construction going on with projects such as The Rivers Casino, the Penguins’ new Consol Energy Center and PNC Tower.
But new construction doesn’t stop in the city. There are new retail sites on the parkway around Robinson; Dick’s Sporting Goods and Flabeg are expanding near the airport, and Westinghouse is finishing up its nuclear-energy campus in Cranberry.
In the manufacturing sector, Allegheny Ludlum has started a four-year, $1.16 billion new hot-rolling and processing center in Brackenridge.
"We are about 100 percent (capacity) of construction jobs right now," says Rich Stanizzo, business manager for the Pittsburgh Regional Building and Construction Trades Council.
Data extrapolated from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the Pittsburgh region ranks fourth in the country in the increase of the number of construction jobs compared with 2008, says Harold Miller, president of Future Strategies, a downtown Pittsburgh-based consulting firm for nonprofits and civic organizations on economic development and other issues.
People entering the field must have a high school diploma or GED, pass a physical and take an aptitude test, says Stanizzo. Upon completion, they enter a four-year apprentice program. "It’s an opportunity to make money while getting an education," he says.
Journeymen (finished apprentices) make $24 to $29 per hour plus receive health care and pension benefits, Stanizzo says.
"Learning a trade is probably one of the fastest tracks to self-employment," says Jeff Burd, president of Ross Township-based Tall Timber Group, a provider of construction-industry information. "You can make $40,000 to $50,000 per year using your brains and hands to solve problems physically."
Believe it or not, the recession will likely increase the need for accountants. The economic downturn represents an opportunity for the accounting industry, says Pat Thompson, people consultant for New York-based Ernst & Young. "It is important to the stability of markets to be able to rely on the financial information they receive."
The last big spike in demand for accountants came with the passage in 2002 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which established new accounting standards for public companies after the failure of Enron, Tyco and WorldCom, says Thompson. "We’re ripe for additional legislative activity right now."
Ernst & Young typically hires college graduates with accounting degrees and looks for leadership, initiative and communication skills. The industry standard for starting salaries right out of college is in the low $40,000 range, she adds.
In contrast, CPAs with at least three years of experience are in demand now, says Julie Sweger, division director for the California-based Robert Half Finance and Accounting. "Companies are looking for someone they don’t have to train," she notes.
According to Sweger, the economic downturn has made credit and collections specialists (those who determine the credit-worthiness of clients and help with collections) hot right now.
Thompson is quick to point out that accountants can be found in all businesses. Imaginemynewjob.com shows some 1,300 accounting job openings with companies such as Bank of New York Mellon, PNC Bank and Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals.
"No one is immune [from the economy]," says Thompson, "but accounting…it stands the test of time."
Yes, there have been some layoffs in law firms, but the layoffs in the Pittsburgh area are not as numerous compared with cities such as New York, Charlotte, Washington, D. C., and San Francisco, says Leigh Ann Amodie Gorman, a legal-search consultant for downtown’s Carpenter Legal Search Inc.
The economy has created opportunities in the field as well, says Gorman, a former lawyer herself. For example, as she points out, "Bankruptcy work is very active right now."
Bob Bernstein agrees. He’s managing partner of downtown’s Bernstein Law Firm, P.C., which specializes in business- bankruptcy law and creditors’ rights (collections). "At the end of 2007, we had nine lawyers," he says. "Today we have 12."
Gorman is seeing another opportunity in law – generalists. These lawyers can do a variety of jobs and are more marketable, she says. For example, an attorney at a construction firm is more valuable if he or she can do both transactional work and litigation.
"Many corporations are adding attorneys to their legal department," she says, because ultimately it can cost less to do the job internally. She predicts growth in labor and employment law (which deals with issues such as union relations and unlawful termination).
Gorman also believes that lower rates spell opportunity for mid-sized law firms to acquire new clients.
And as Bernstein adds, "Smart business people are always looking to find the best value."
With health care so important to our economy, it’s logical that medical-research jobs are hot in the region’s education sector as well. Pittsburgh has a long history of medical innovation – from the polio vaccine to the first heart-liver transplant – and the region actively continues that tradition.
More than half of the open staff positions at the University of Pittsburgh are for biomedical researchers, says Ronald Frisch, associate vice chancellor at the university’s office of human resources. He consistently has more than 100 open research positions for which he is actively recruiting.
Applicants for these positions generally have advanced degrees with strong analytical skills and knowledge of how to conduct and document experiments.
A perusal of hr.pitt.edu shows research positions in ophthalmology, immunology and oncology among many others.
Pittsburgh is well-known as a green city. Home to the world’s largest green convention center, the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, the city has shaken off the soot of its former image, and has become a leader in energy-saving, clean construction.
The same transformation is happening in business, and with President Barack Obama’s emphasis on green tech, this booming segment shows no signs of slowing. Being green is positive, says Jeff Kendall, chairman and CEO of Braddock based Liberty Tire, the largest tire recycler in the country.
The company recycles nearly 40 percent of America’s annual scrap-tire production by grinding old tires into various sizes of chipped rubber, including as small as a fine powder. Once in this state, the rubber is recycled by Liberty Tire into everything from new tires to artificial turf for athletic fields to Tire Derived Fuel (TDF), an energy replacement for oil and natural gas.
Liberty Tire’s growth has been explosive – moving from 100 employees six years ago to more than 1,000 today. "We expect to double in size over the next two to three years," adds Kendall.
Another green-tech company is Cranberry Township-based BPL Global, which provides smart grid solutions that improve the efficiency and reliability of energy. The company’s software gives utilities the capability to predict a line failure and repair it proactively. It also allows them to manage power loads during peak hours. Demand Management costs about one-third of new power generation – saving money as well as the environment.
"Revenue is growing 40 percent year over year," says Keith Schaefer, president and CEO. This growth translates into jobs – BPL Global is hiring in sales, marketing communication, finance, project management and software development.
When credit markets tightened, "we had to tighten our belts," Schaefer explains. Now money is becoming available, and banks and venture-capital funds are selecting winners. "Clean tech/green tech is considered a winner," he concludes.
Wellness & Beauty
Even in a recession, Pittsburghers want to feel good. As a result, the wellness and beauty industry continues to boom in the region, and demand for these professionals remains hot.
Underscoring this need, Scott Kerschbaumer, COO of ESSpa Kozmetika in Aspinwall, says he has hired two massage therapists and one esthetician (skin-care specialist) in the past few months, and is looking to hire two manicurists.
One of the fastest-growing wellness options is massage, says Bob Jantsch, director of Pittsburgh School of Massage Therapy in Penn Hills. These days, doctors and chiropractors often recommend massage, he notes, and baby boomers are taking charge of their self-care, using massage to increase flexibility and soothe sore muscles.
Nancy Lasko, owner of Professional Massage & Bodywork in Mount Lebanon, specializes in deep-tissue massage and focuses a large part of her practice on all levels of athletes, from professionals to weekend warriors. She also uses massage to help people with handicaps improve their quality of life.
Massage is even growing in the business sector, says Retta Flagg, owner of downtown’s The Healing Touch. "Corporate offices are calling for chair massages," she says. "It’s an easy way to help employees [reduce stress], and it’s cost-effective as well."
Dorothy Andreas Tuel, president of The Sewickley Spa, which has locations in Sewickley, Ligonier and the Wisp Resort in McHenry, Md., sees licensed hairdressers as the industry’s biggest need. "We are always looking for the person with a cosmetology license," she says. These people are trained to do hair, skin care and nails.
Most cosmetology students are placed before they graduate, says Nicole Barrett, supervisor at the South Hills Beauty Academy. While she has seen other services ebb and flow, she emphasizes, "Hair is always booming…I get calls every day for hairstylists."
In some ways the economy has benefited the area’s spas. People are cutting back on vacations, but still choosing to treat themselves at the spa.
"We call it spa-cation," says Kerschbaumer.
The Marcellus Shale, a natural-gas formation partly under Western Pennsylvania, is a $1 trillion opportunity for the region, with the potential to create 80,000 to 100,000 new jobs over the next decade, says Michael Langley, former CEO of the Allegheny Conference. Granted, jobs in this sector are just beginning to grow, but with such huge potential, we felt it was important to include energy in our hot-jobs list.
According to Rich Weber, president of Atlas Energy in Moon Township, everyone knew the Marcellus Shale was there. However, because the natural gas was embedded in the rock more than a mile below the surface, "we didn’t know how to produce it commercially," he explains.
But the development in the early 1990s of hydraulic fracturing – a drilling method in which high-pressure water breaks the shale and releases the gas – changed everything.
The method needs to be refined in order to work in the Marcellus Shale, says Weber, but, "we’ve come a long way in a few years – we’re starting to report very attractive results."
Atlas Energy has added at least 100 people just to work on the Marcellus Shale project, says Weber. The company is hiring engineers as well as people to work in the field.
"Our business is a hard-hat business," he says, so well-tenders, drilling supervisors and pipeline construction crews (positions that oversee and maintain the wells) are in demand right now. With a high school diploma, candidates can be trained on the job.
The economic downturn has slowed the project, but Weber says he is still bullish on the prospects: "Pittsburgh really has the potential to become a hub for energy." The region is the leader in the coal industry; Westinghouse dominates nuclear power, and Pitt and CMU are spawning research and development for alternative energy.
Tom Flannery, managing director of Boyden Global Executive Search in O’Hara Township, sees the same trend: "Look for growth in the nuclear- and traditional-energy sector – coal, natural gas and its infrastructure."
Ensuring Jobs for the Future
Believe it or not, there are more jobs in the Pittsburgh region today than there were at the height of the steel industry, says Michael Langley. But, as he goes on to say, despite Pittsburgh’s job growth, he kept hearing complaints that local employers couldn’t find qualified workers – and that job seekers couldn’t find work in this area.
As a result, the Allegheny Conference launched the Pittsburgh Regional Compact last November. It’s an alliance between businesses and educators to help train tomorrow’s workers today. The only organization of its kind, the Pittsburgh Regional Compact fills two needs: making teachers and middle and high school students aware of future jobs (and the training required), and helping companies identify and develop a pool of future employees.
For example, there are positions that require technical skills, but don’t require a college degree, says Paul Leger, Allegheny Conference’s senior vice president of the workforce-quality program. "Parents and kids don’t know this." Companies can let teachers and students know what’s available and required.
Create Your Own Hot Job
Some people create their own hot jobs by starting a business. Entrepreneurs want to control their own destiny, says Babs Carryer, adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon University. "They’re rule-breakers… They want to do things in a different way."
Such was the case with A.J. Drexler, who decided to launch her ad agency after giving birth to her third child. On maternity leave from the Pittsburgh office of the Erie-based advertising agency Tal Inc., she determined she needed an environment that provided her both time to work and time to raise her young family. "Life balance was the impetus to change," says Drexler.
Now a mother of five, Drexler met Maureen Mashek, also an advertising professional with young children, at their kids’ soccer games. Initially, Mashek and Drexler worked together on a freelance basis, and after learning they had compatible working styles, they shared office space. Finally, in 2002, the two women merged efforts and formed Big Picture Communications, a full-service advertising agency based in Mount Lebanon.
"We focus on the strategic issues needed to make a product successful," says Drexler. "We’re all about creativity that solves a problem."
In 2005, the two principals enlisted the support of PowerLink, a nonprofit organization that provides a one-year advisory panel to women who own businesses. "We called it ‘CEO School,’" laughs Drexler, who says PowerLink helped them step back from the day to day and see the business from a management perspective. Since then, their business has grown at least 30 percent every year.
Like Drexler, Lenore Blum had the vision to create a positive new environment. As Distinguished Career Professor of Computer Science at CMU, she wanted to create a climate where students and faculty could remain in the region and develop their ideas. "We produce some of the best technological resources on the planet, namely our students," says Blum, "and export them everywhere but here."
She led the charge to launch Project Olympus, an organization "housed" within CMU’s School of Computer Science that promotes the exploration of commercial potential of groundbreaking ideas in order to launch start-up companies. (Think, mini-Silicon Valley in the ‘Burgh.) With lead funding from the Heinz Foundation, Project Olympus now offers equipment, micro-grants, office space on Henry Street in Oakland and advice for a select group of students and faculty probes (projects). For exploring the commercial potential of faculty research, it provides a postdoctoral fellow and mentoring from both a business adviser and an entrepreneur.
Blum, who now works 24/7 as founding director at Project Olympus, also collaborates with a number of tech-based development agencies in the region, including Innovation Works, The Technology Collaborative, Idea Foundry and Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouses. These state-sponsored organizations provide seed money and business expertise to early-stage technical companies in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
Since its inception two years ago, Project Olympus has funded five faculty probes and 11 student probes and has launched five companies – the numbers are growing quickly – all with a staff of only three half-time associates in addition to Blum.
Given that Project Olympus has already been operating on a "shoestring budget," the economy has not affected it directly, but Blum is seeking significant funds so it can sustain and grow. She remains optimistic about funding for start-ups. Tighter money is forcing companies to go back to the "old-fashioned" business model of earning money, she says. "It’s really the good stuff that will survive now," says Blum, "and we have a lot of good stuff."
Anne Lutz Zacharias is a Mount Lebanon-based writer and former advertising executive. These days, she divides her time between writing for various publications and taxiing her two teenage children.