Better jobs through learning: Literacy Pittsburgh and UPMC

May 11, 2024Articles

Literacy Pittsburgh has long recognized that one facet of improving lives through learning occurs via job opportunities. This is a natural pathway in our current economy and there are numerous points of connection between education and employment. Workforce development professionals have sought to identify the most effective ways of connecting unemployed or underemployed individuals to well-paying, high-demand jobs. 

At Literacy Pittsburgh, we have historically leveraged partnerships with local workforce programs, training providers, and colleges and universities to connect our students with the next step toward their target careers. Partners like Community College of Allegheny County, Builder’s Guild of Western Pennsylvania, and Bidwell Training Center have been longtime partners in career guidance, and remain so today; however, rapid workforce changes demand a renewed effort to strengthen these connections, build more direct job preparation services, and integrate them seamlessly into student education.

As one of Pittsburgh’s largest employers, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) has been an invaluable contributor to Literacy Pittsburgh’s student learning opportunities. From assisting with interview practice with the English for Hospital Service Roles (previously English for Environmental Services) to contracting with Literacy Pittsburgh's English Language Learning classes for their Pathways to Work program, the connection has begun to spur new opportunities.

This is reflected in the recent shift from English for Environmental Services to English for Hospital Service Roles. In response to changing market demands, the original class—which serves beginning-level English Language Learners—was expanded to include language education for positions in dietary departments, patient transfer, and warehousing. Additionally, course content now includes the industry-recognized SERV Safe Certification, useful in any food service and safety setting. While participants in this class engage with UPMC to practice interacting with employers, the education provided prepares students for employment throughout the region.

Literacy Pittsburgh’s newest offering, Customer Service for Healthcare boasts an inaugural cohort of 13 students from diverse professional and cultural backgrounds. The class offers an impressive and seamless layering of digital skills support, soft skills education, and thoughtfully designed customer service certifications. Director of Strategic Initiatives Nicole Johnson and her team collaborated with industry partners, conducted research, and shadowed professionals in the field to determine the highest priority skills for student success.

Hosted at the state-of-the-art UPMC Neighborhood Center in Pittsburgh’s East End Neighborhood, each student received a free device with Microsoft Office 2021 so that they may practice their digital communication skills through workforce development lessons. Students hone job readiness characteristics such as people skills and multitasking. They learn to utilize their digital skills as a tool for their activities and assignments. Participants also utilize PA CareerLink, Pennsylvania Women Work, and Skill Up during the course.  With participants already acquiring and changing jobs, it is no surprise that another class is set to begin early this Fall. The goal is to offer a rotation of 2-3 cohorts per year, according to Nicole.

Though it's early in the project’s timeline, Customer Service for Healthcare already showcases the value of integrating career opportunities with education. We hope the course will continue contributing to regional workforce development while serving as a blueprint for new and varying career pathways classes in Literacy Pittsburgh’s future.

Literacy Pittsburgh (formerly Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council) helps create better lives through learning. Recognized as a national leader in adult and family literacy, Literacy Pittsburgh is the largest provider of adult basic education in Allegheny and Beaver Counties. Last year, Literacy Pittsburgh helped more than 4,000 individuals acquire the skills needed to reach their fullest potential in life and participate productively in their communities. Literacy Pittsburgh provides free, personalized instruction in workforce readiness, high school diploma test preparation, digital literacy, English language learning, math, reading, and family literacy through one-to-one and small class instruction. Founded in 1982, it serves local adults through numerous neighborhood locations and its Downtown Pittsburgh Learning Center.       

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