Pennsylvania’s poverty rate remains far too high. Employers can’t find workers with technical skills, and the commonwealth continues to lead the northeast in incarcerating our citizens. One organization is tackling all three of these problems through a simple idea—give Pittsburghers the opportunity to unlock a talent they never knew they had.
Nearly 10 years ago, Steve Shelton started the Trade Institute of Pittsburgh. TIP takes people off the street and gives them a chance to work with their hands and connect with the trades. For 10 weeks, students learn masonry work and other construction skills while receiving counseling services and support.
Steve explains how many students return from incarceration with no place to live and the only occupation they know is drug dealing.
TIP is a non-profit, supported by the community and workforce development grants. There is no tuition or fees. And the application process is simple: make a phone call, show up for an interview, and commit to staying clean.
TIP truly cares for the whole person. If someone has a drug relapse, they help the person find rehab services. If they need a place to live or have issues with their parole officer, TIP helps.
The results speak volumes. In 2017, TIP boasted a 94 percent job placement rate at $15 an hour. In one case, Steve notes two former students are making $38 an hour setting tile one year after leaving prison. Or how about Howard Horsely Jr.? A Pittsburgher who went from drug dealer and ex-convict to a skilled tradesman.
One of the biggest obstacles to TIP’s success is government regulation. Too many crimes come with automatic driving license suspensions. If someone attending TIP can’t drive, they are constrained to jobs within reach of mass transit. That means they likely can’t get to work in the suburbs or another city.
Without private groups providing training and a second chance, the commonwealth would be sending even more citizens back to prison or creating lifetime dependence on welfare programs.
Fortunately, lawmakers and Governor Wolf have recognized the importance of training in the trades. There is even legislation to end driving license suspensions for people who commit non-violent, non-driving related offenses. But we can do far more to give individuals an opportunity to excel in the trades or other high-demand careers.
Work-focused welfare reform, restructuring our probation system, and continuing to grow the economy through state-level tax reform will give more Pennsylvanians a chance at earned success so they can provide for themselves and their families.