The Hidden Talent Pool for Skilled Trades

By Business & Education Connected

Business and Education Connected (BE Connected), LLC’s, mission is to provide students avenues to future careers. BE Connected was formed in October 2012 to help address the acknowledged disconnect in the workforce between business needs and occupational skill levels.

One of the first emails BE Connected received was from an Electrical Engineer who owns a tool company specific to the Heating, Venting, Air Conditioning (HVAC) industry. This business owner expressed his concern regarding the lack of skilled workers in the trades. He explained to BE Connected executives the many various opportunities for employment in the trades sector and the substantial earnings potential. He expressed concern, that many others in his industry share, that few students today are interested in the pursuing careers in the trades sector but instead pursue four year college degrees often resulting in significant student loans and limited career opportunities.

This conversation with the Electrical Engineer piqued the interest of BE Connected executives who made the decision to conduct a small independent research study into student interest and awareness of the trades sector and the compensation potential. Students from science and engineering programs at local Pittsburgh Universities were anonymously assessed to determine knowledge and interest level in skilled trade careers.

From this research survey, 64% of the students reported knowledge of the diversity of careers available in the trades sector, only 21.4% were aware of the earnings potential with some skilled trades reporting median salaries of $57,000.

Of this sample group 64% were willing to enter into the skilled trades to obtain the work experience necessary to achieve their career goals, with 50% choosing construction, 41.7% choosing manufacturing, 25% choosing transportation and 8.3% choosing services.

According to this preliminary research, the majority of students studying science and engineering in college report being knowledgeable about the diversity of careers within the skilled trades sector, however, the majority report not being aware of the earnings potential. These students expressed interest in working in the skilled trades sector to gain valuable work experience.

In order to generate more interest into the trade sector for employment where demand for skilled workers is high, BE Connected recommends trade organizations consider this preliminary research in developing campaigns to attract talent to their industry. Collaboration between trade organizations and university engineering and science departments may want to be considered as it might provide innovative students with opportunities to gain career experience and increase awareness of opportunities within the trades sector. Finally, a larger scale study which measures secondary-level student awareness of trade careers and compensation is recommended.

For additional information please contact:

Aafke Loney | MBA, President, Business and Education Connected, LLC | (c) 412.496.2389

Christine Ricci | MBA, Executive Vice President, Business and Education Connected, LLC | (c) 412.303.9822

The 21st Century Dual-Mindset Leader: Thriving in the age of exponential growth

By John Sutherland

Business leaders of 40 years and over grew up in a linear world where progress, improvements, technologies all increased in small increments. Take cars for example, a 20th century dominating technology. The land speed record was first established in 1898 at 39 mph and increased an average of 7 mph per year until in 1997 when it topped out of 760 mph. That’s an increase of 19 times in 100 years. That was true for all technologies, trains, manufacturing, planes, medical etc. carDuring this time we learned to succeed by focusing on improvement, ensuring control, avoiding uncertainty, managing by hierarchy, to name but a few. That linear experience shaped our beliefs about how to be successful.  It dictated our approach to growth. It shaped the management systems we put into place to lead and mange the business. It influenced how we structured our organizations. Ultimately, linear thinking became our mindset, our hidden attitudes and inclinations on which we now depend when making decisions.

Except, the linear age is rapidly transitioning to the exponential age. Whereas early-to-mid 20th century technological improvements grew linearly, today’s technologies grow exponentially.  Just compare the 19 times improvement of the speed of cars to computing speed. In the last 30 years PC clock speed has increased 1,500 times. The same is happening in other technologies such as 3D printing, digital imaging, wireless sensing, artificial intelligence, advanced materials, advanced robotics, genomics, and energy storage amongst others.

That kind of exponential technological growth quickly turns into exponential business growth. When we first became leaders 20% growth was considered ennovaphenomenal, and the path to a $1 billion company was counted in generations.  In the exponential world 100x growth and $1 billion happens in a few short years.  Just look at Apple’s experience with iTunes store. They launched it in April 2003. Within five days they had sold 5 million songs. By 2006 they had sold a billion songs, by 2010 – 10 billion. From nothing they created a $1b business in 3 years and a $10b in 7 years.

That was an example from the past. Here’s one from the future. By the end of 2015 Qualcomm expects to announce the winner of its $10mil Tricorder X prize. The specifications; built a handheld device that can diagnose 15 diseases with the same, or better accuracy than a board certified physician. A combination of exponential growth in: computing power, artificial technology, cloud computing, bandwidth and lab-on-a-chip technologies will combine together to turn Star Trek’s 1960’s medical tricorder into a reality.

Now, think of how fast that will sweep through the medical field. Think of the disruption to family practitioners and hospitals. Think of how that device will transform medicine in third world countries. How long will it take before you can diagnose your disease and send the readout to the pharmacy to get your prescription? The growth curve for this device and its successors will be exponential. A whole new industry will grow from its launch.

It’s the exponential age and we’re not prepared.

Thriving in the 21st century takes a different mindset – a mindset that sets goals and manages activities and expectations based on exponential growth rather than linear growth. Successful leaders have realized this shifting is taking place. So they learned a new set of attitudes and processes; they’ve learned to think exponentially.  What’s emerging is a dual mindset: retaining the linear mindset to capture available profits in the existing businesses, and adding an exponential mindset to lead teams in developing new exponential-growth businesses.

Table 1. Mindset Comparison

Here are 10 examples the differences in the two mindsets.

Linear Attitudes (Capture the present business) Exponential Attitudes (Secure the future business)
1)    Stay within the norms of the market/industry. Be better.2)    Set growth goals based on historical data.

3)    Develop detailed growth plans, then execute to the plan.

4)    Reject growth proposals with high degrees of uncertainty.

5)    Acquire companies to gain market share and presence.

6)    Fund individual projects based on well-defined ROI requirements.

7)    Control employees.

8)    Form long-term stable partnerships.

9)    Market offerings to customers.

10) Tweak pricing for revenue growth.

1)    Disrupt the market/industry by creating new value platforms and business models. Be different.2)    Set 10-100x growth goals. Little data exists.

3)    Develop visionary growth plans, then learn your way to success or quick failure.

4)    Embrace proposals with high degrees of uncertainty when two conditions are met:
-   Rapid learning approach
-   Potential for market disruption

5)    Acquire companies to gain access to market disrupting technologies or capabilities.

6)    Fund teams to manage portfolio of growth projects.

7)    Unleash employees.

8)    Form transient-partnerships.

9)    Create such compelling offerings to customers that they “want to buy.”

10) Partner with inventors to gain intellectual property.

Now what?

By now what’s should be obvious in the list is how opposite these attitudes are. That takes unique leadership. Teams that can hold two opposite belief systems in their minds and flip from one to the other depending upon circumstances.  So, as leaders we have a stark choice to make. We can continue to believe that the single linear mindset that made us successful will long endure. Or, we can recognize the shifting ground under our feet for what it is, a fundamental alteration of the mindset we need to be successful in the exponential age we call the 21st century.

In subsequent blogs I will lay out strategies for leaders who wish to undertake the journey of learning the attitudes, capabilities and structures required to thrive in this new millennium.

You can learn more about John Sutherland at, and/or join his book crowdsourcing site at

Pittsburgh: The Surprising Rebirth of America’s Industrial Centers

Pittsburgh Technology Council President and CEO Audrey Russo was quoted in’s “The Surprising Rebirth of America’s Industrial Centers.” Looks like the world is paying attention to the Rustbelt as an emerging center of innovation with Pittsburgh at the heart. Here’s the intro to the article below. Read the whole thing here.

Move over, Silicon Valley. The American Rust Belt is going fiber optic. Though local economies built on manufacturing may not sound like the perfect candidates to transition into the new economy, cities like Cleveland, Detroit and Pittsburgh are proving otherwise.

Pittsburgh is an especially robust case in point. With 23% of Pittsburgh jobs and 40% of they city’s payroll now coming from tech, the emerging industry is an official force in the nation’s famous Steel City.

“There isn’t a week that goes by that I’m not approached by outside investors,” said Audrey Russo, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Technology Council. “The activity has been quite profound, particularly over the last few years.”

Innovation: The New World Order

By Audrey Russo, President and CEO, Pittsburgh Technology Council

With the explosion of co-working spaces, incubators, accelerators, technology parks or whatever the new manifestations of business building are referred to now, we are certainly at a time when what we refer to as “work” has new descriptors. The analysis of these causes are endless, and from my point of view, newer behaviors of what we refer to as “work” are evident, impacting talent attraction as well as the proliferation of changing beliefs about “work.” Technology has brought us to this next era of “work.” The continued optimization of traditional work processes means that people are no longer performing dangerous or repetitive jobs. Technologically driven processes, particularly in North America, allow us to perform the same work with less people all while improving safety and higher production. Innovation has compounded at every business touch-point. We have moved away from physical repetition to what is referred to as cerebral or knowledge work. This explosion of alternative work and learning models are not a fad. This is how the new world learns and exudes impact.

However, our educational institutions have not kept pace with these changes in the business world. While we wrestle with the enormous task of revamping curriculums to match the demands of the professional realm, the skills currently being taught from the preschool to postsecondary levels are largely not applicable in our innovation-driven economy. The lag is considerable and worrisome to say the least. Shifts toward new models of education, such as home schooling, private schools, and new standards of learning are encouraging, but are not nearly to the scale the modern U.S. economy requires.

What has occurred as a result of this lag in education? A sustained level of unemployment higher than we have ever witnessed in the recorded history of labor statistics. There are other troubling realities that could be attributed to this shortcoming. It could be both simple and complex as this: the preparedness of our workforce is woefully misaligned with the evolving demands of the business world. Combine this with the fact that an entire sector of experienced middle managers suffered a permanent setback during the most recent economic downturn, and the sustained unemployment rates and economic stagnation we are currently experiencing is not at all surprising.

There is a silver lining to our current dilemma however. As with all seismic shifts, new formations and new ways of working are inevitable. More so than ever before, we are witnessing a growing sect of workers who, out of either desire or, more likely, out of necessity, are experimenting with their ideas, and ultimately their lives, to start new ventures. Technology has made the process behind developing ideas and rapid market deployment much easier. We first witnessed this new reality during the Internet boom of the late 1990s, when entrepreneurship entered the mainstream, and now see its manifestation again as entrepreneurship has become a widely accepted career path for recent graduates, as well as experienced middle aged professionals who were forced to reinvent themselves (Paul Graham**).

The collision of efficiency, technology, angel investing, and speed to market (particularly in areas other than life sciences and biotech) have made innovation-driven entrepreneurship a staple of our economy and a reliable engine in creating new wealth. We must embrace the new ways of working that incubators, accelerators and co-working spaces are popularizing. Critics will say that these entrepreneurial-based models are merely a temporary stop-gap while our economy recovers and the large, traditional corporations regain their footing in the international economy. To dismiss these collaborative ways of working and creating as a fad or trend is a mistake. We must embrace and foster the skills that are essential to innovation because it is the new world order.

For proof of this reality, one needs to look no further than our largest corporations, who desperately search for innovation engines on a daily basis and actively foster a culture of “intrapreneurship” to drive new product development and increase sources of revenue generation. While we are immersed in these shifts, I find it crucial to take an aerial view of what is actually occurring with the intention of positioning the work we do at the Pittsburgh Technology Council as contributory to the business community; concerning ourselves with how we provide strategic and innovative support, to overcome impediments to ensure our region’s acceleration into this next era. Our team is both lucky and privileged to work alongside the captains of all these industries, who have either leveraged technology to remain competitive or built solutions to drive efficiency. I know that our work in public policy must be forward-thinking, not incremental. It also means our perspective about learning and talent development must be disruptive; understanding that creating and making are inherent of curricula at all education levels. Both physical and computational skills must be developed simultaneously; these skill sets cannot be bifurcated to be useful in our innovation-driven global economy.

As I look at the explosion of incubators and co-working spaces, I see how the next generation of big ideas are occurring. The collision of the human spirit paired with fortitude, desire and autonomy illustrates that learning outside of traditional environments is the path to prosperity. These are skills that ensure self reliance; after all, working in one job, for one company, throughout a lifetime, is not expected. Why would we do anything other than embrace the proliferation of these new micro economies?


Navigating The Government Marketplace: An Insider’s Insight

By Joe Kuklis

Taking advantage of the government marketplace can be nuanced and long winded, but government checks don’t bounce and federal, state and local governments buy everything from paperclips to tanks. It is without a doubt the largest market segment that most businesses could ever dream of but why do so few seize the opportunity to serve it?

For one, the perception is dealing with the red tape is encumbering and that getting paid takes far too long. In some cases this was true, but the government in all of its iterations has gotten more efficient in its RFP and administrative processes over the last two decades. Are they 30 day payers? They are rarely but who is in these economic times? The truth is, government is willing to pay fair market value and in some cases higher for a service or product from a company that has a strong record of delivery and performance. These days, it is no longer “low bid” but “best value”.

So how do you as a small business owner take advantage of this incredible market place? Here are a few tips from my new “how to” guide, The Robin Hood of DC:

  • Explore whether or not spending the time to get on the government vendor lists are worth it for your company. It may take some time and effort with forms and waiting, but in the end, receiving valuable RPFs and sole sourced contracts can be a great way to supplement your sales numbers and expand your client base.
  • Work with your elected officials. They can be great legislative champions and help expedite this vendor process. Remember, they are there as public servants and it is in their best interest that they help your company grow in their districts/states.
  • Be patient. The government is a juggernaut and it takes time and effort to win business. But once you break the government inertia, it is also just as hard to stop. If you do quality work and perform, the word will travel from one department to the next. There’s only one or two degrees of separation between managers in this community and referrals travel fast.

Joe Kuklis, expert political lobbyist and head of  Duane Morris Government Strategies, has built a successful career lobbying for organizations and businesses of all sizes – he and his staff have helped raise a half a billion dollars for clients ranging from Fortune 500 corporations to one-person start-ups. Joe’s book, The Robin Hood of D.C., is an insider’s guide to the government marketplace for small, mid-sized and large businesses. Visit for more information on this topic.