The groups are launching a cohort in mid-September to funnel Pittsburgh candidates into patient service representative positions with UPMC, according to Becky Johnson, director of JFCS Career Services.
The group fielded applications for the cohort — its third in two years — through Sept. 1, Johnson said. Jobs are based throughout southwestern Pennsylvania.
The only requirement for the program is a high school diploma, or GED, Johnson said. No paperwork is required to prove financial need. There are no age or ZIP code restrictions. And, no, you don’t have to be Jewish.
Have a criminal history? That’s not a problem, either, Johnson said.
“What we really wanted is a barrier-free application process,” Johnson said. “We try making it as easy as possible, and we try to be upfront.”
The Innovation District Skills Alliance program mirrors a model that succeeded in the Philadelphia area, Johnson said. The core of the IDSA program provides qualified job seekers who have experienced challenges in the interview process — high school graduates with little or no job experience, people working the gig economy, people returning to the workforce after periods of absence — additional support to secure employment at UPMC.
Why underserved communities?
“Job seekers living in underserved communities face a disproportionately higher rate of challenges accessing economic, social, educational and health care opportunities,” JFCS spokesperson Allie Amoaye said. “Unfortunately, qualified job seekers struggle to access sustainable employment opportunities due to limited social capital, inadequate professional experience and challenging life experiences.”
“This program is exciting for Pittsburgh,” Johnson said. “It’s an opportunity for communities with barriers to access and entry into medical field jobs to have a direct pipeline into those jobs.
“It provides stability and benefits,” she added. “And it can provide upward mobility and opportunity in terms of their career trajectory. We’re excited to see how this continues to help these individuals and our community thrive.”
The program — dubbed the UPMC Patient Service Representative IDSA Cohort — will lead about eight to 10 participants through an accelerated three-week training program, job placement assistance and supportive services, Amoaye said. In addition to targeted job training, individual career counseling and an inside look at the patient service representative role at UPMC, participants also receive a stipend, gift cards for expenses, a laptop and more.
Oliver Cunningham, a JFCS program facilitator for IDSA, started recruiting for the jobs program after the first cohort in autumn 2022. He’s used some social media but also has worked contacts at other agencies, building email lists and doing in-person and online presentations.
“Pittsburgh is a word-of-mouth city,” Cunningham said. “Getting into the community and really speaking to people” is important.
Cunningham, a former New Yorker who worked for six years in workforce development for the formerly incarcerated in New Orleans, admitted that many of the people who have applied for the UPMC cohort “have a little bit of experience in the medical field.”
“But that is not required,” he said.
He’s also seeing no age patterns.
“I have people who applied who are 18 and someone who’s 70,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham sees success for the budding program on several fronts: A jobs seeker gets a job, UPMC gets a hard-working employee and JFCS benefits from connecting the dots.
“It’s pretty much a win-win-win for us, the participants and UPMC,” he said. PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.