Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Is Pittsburgh Still a “Blue Collar Town?”

The NFL playoffs and Super Bowl brought a lot of priceless media attention to the Pittsburgh Region and showed worldwide audiences the remarkable assets that are here. But many people were distressed that some media stories referred to Pittsburgh as a “blue-collar town.”
Pittsburgh’s manufacturing dominance during the first half of the 20th century is well-known, but it’s also true that southwestern Pennsylvania lost more manufacturing jobs than any region during the 1980s.

So is Pittsburgh still a “blue-collar town?” What does the Pittsburgh Region’s workforce look like today?

About 1 in 5 of the jobs in Pittsburgh today are in what would traditionally have been thought of as “blue collar” jobs, such as production, transportation, construction, and maintenance. Nationwide, a higher percentage of jobs – 1 out of every 4 – are in these kinds of occupations. The Pittsburgh Region has a smaller percentage of its workforce in these types of jobs than most other mid-size regions in the country, other than places known as high-tech centers, such as Boston and Silicon Valley, where less than 20% of the workforce are in blue-collar occupations.

About half of the jobs in the Pittsburgh Region are in non-professional service occupations – office and administrative positions, sales, personal services, healthcare support, food preparation and service, security, maintenance, etc. That’s slightly higher than the national average, and higher than all other comparable regions.

The remaining 29% of jobs in Pittsburgh are in management and professional positions, almost exactly the same percentage as the nation as a whole, but slightly lower than other comparable regions. In places like Boston and Silicon Valley, the percentage is dramatically higher: 38-40% of all jobs are in management and professional positions in those regions.

So at least in terms of its workforce, the Pittsburgh of today is no more blue-collar than most regions.

But what about in terms of its attitudes? There’s still a strong work ethic here, rooted in the region’s blue collar history, that many employers find very valuable.

That’s a good thing.

But there’s also a lack of focus on entrepreneurship in the region today, which may be rooted in that same history.

That’s a bad thing, if we want to keep creating more of the kinds of companies that will create new blue- and white-collar jobs in the future.

How do we change that? Since the Steelers are so integral to the region’s psyche, maybe we start by challenging the oft-repeated notion that the Steelers epitomize a “blue collar sports team.” The Steelers used a lot of smarts and creative plays as well as hard work to get its fifth Super Bowl title – exactly the characteristics that successful entrepreneurs need.

Thinking of them as the “Entrepreneurial Steelers” could help encourage thinking about “Entrepreneurial Pittsburgh.”


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