On Wednesday afternoon, Vibrant Pittsburgh announced their partnership with the owners of a new website, OppsPlace, to connect minority job seekers with employers who can put their skills to work.
OppsPlace, a partnership between Vibrant Pittsburgh and its owners, the RJL Companies run by entrepreneur Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET), and Ariel Friedler of Symplicity, a software company which is the market leader in career tools, including the Career Services Manager application, officially began operation on February 12.
Vibrant Pittsburgh already had begun efforts to increase minority participation in the economic future of the Pittsburgh area. According to CEO Melanie Harrington, Vibrant Pittsburgh is “a regional effort to grow the diversity of the region’s workforce in order to become more globally competitive.”
Launched in 2010, Vibrant Pittsburgh’s mission is “to embrace inclusion, to ensure the Pittsburgh region’s growth by attracting, retaining and elevating a diverse workforce, and to promote the region nationally and internationally as a diverse and welcoming region of opportunities.” To that end, Vibrant Pittsburgh attempts to assist employers to increase efforts to attract and retain a more diverse field of employees; and provides assistance to employees to develop or elevate their skills to meet job qualifications.
“How do we make real the vision of diversity,” says Harrington, “and promote opportunities within the community? We needed a vehicle to promote our talent.”
Vibrant Pittsburgh board member Susan Suver, Vice-President of Human Resources for United States Steel Corporation, was approached by OppsPlace to join their network of employers. “I switched to my Vibrant Pittsburgh hat,” and began to discuss the possibility of a partnership between the two organizations.
“OppsPlace is an opportunity to push jobs into the marketplace proactively, nationwide, to qualified diverse candidates,” says Suver. “It has a ‘push’ and a ‘pull.’ It’s easier for our jobs to land in the laps of qualified candidates, and to push Pittsburgh to those candidates as a place to live and work.”
The push and pull provided by the OppsPlace site is intentional to the design. “I created OppsPlace for several reasons,” says Johnson. “First, to reduce the disparity in unemployment for minority Americans and to increase access for vendor services and supplier contracts for minority businesses.”
“Second, to provide corporate America with a targeted destination to identify and interact with minorities for employment and business opportunities.”
The OppsPlace website is meant to serve as more than a “jobs board.” Intended to
“provide minorities with the best opportunities for success in online job searches, networking, procurement opportunities, and wealth creation,” the site offers job seekers networking and mentoring opportunities, the ability to complete a well-rounded employment profile including a complete résumé, video and photographic profiles and information about the seeker’s certifications. Features include insight from industry leaders on topics like careers, financial literacy and wealth-building strategies.
In an effort to address the nearly-double average unemployment rate in minority communities, and to “drive economic gains,” OppsPlace encourages participating
corporations to adopt a “voluntary best practice” called The RLJ Rule (modeled after the
NFL’s Rooney Rule). The RLJ Rule encourages employers to interview at least one qualified minority candidate for any position before committing to hire any new employee.
“The success I have enjoyed has been the result of opportunity,” says Johnson. “If there was more opportunity, there would be more Bob Johnsons.”
“How do we expect to compete against the vast middle class growing worldwide if a large segment of our talent is on the sidelines?” Johnson asks. “It doesn’t hurt you to interview. Before you hire someone to paint your building, or install your IT system, at least consider a minority candidate.”
“OppsPlace is meant to harness the power of the Internet to be sure everyone has the same opportunities.”
Harrington says Vibrant Pittsburgh and OppsPlace efforts complement each other. “We already have in place a robust strategy of diversity efforts,” she says.
“A lot of cities our size can’t sell the vibrant civic environment we can,” says Suver. “Pittsburgh had the foresight to hold a high standard of living with a low cost of living” through the recent economic downturn. She cites her recent experience as a resident of New York City in contrast. “We are approachable, and affordable, with big city amenities. It’s not too expensive to move here.”
Harrington says “the Pittsburgh region’s above-average economic performance, and the thousands of available jobs across a spectrum of industries, position it as a place of opportunity for natives and newcomers.”
“Yet, a critical challenge remains: Minority job seekers and business aren’t immediately connecting with the opportunities here,” she says. “We needed a national partner to put the ‘new’ Pittsburgh on the map. We found that partner in OppsPlace.”
“OppsPlace opens a new path for our companies,” Suver says, referring to the charter companies who committed to taking direct action to increase employment and business opportunities through OppsPlace. Nine of the original regional partners to commit to the diversity efforts are BNYMellon, Education Management Corporation, FedEx Ground, Giant Eagle, Highmark, PNC Financial Services Group, Inc, PPG Industries, UPMC and US Steel Corporation. There are now nearly 40 companies which have signed on as charter members of OppsPlace
Johnson hopes the internet-based effort will expand nationwide. “A student in Pittsburgh can apply for a job anywhere,” using the resources provided by OppsPlace. “A student in Cleveland can apply to BNYMellon in Pittsburgh.”
The site, says Johnson, “is not only for professionals, but for all sectors. [Employers] could find a small business to provide flowers, or to build skyscrapers.”
“The internet is a terrific engine to connect people, products and services,” says Johnson. “And information is power. You don’t buy ‘a Google’ and put it on your shelf, but everyone has it.”
Johnson is positive that Vibrant Pittsburgh is the right partner with which to begin an OppsPlace collaboration.
“If Vibrant Pittsburgh is an example, Pittsburgh is way ahead of other communities in bringing together intellectual, economic and education interests,” says Johnson. “To keep as many companies as possible, and attract as many companies, communities have to promote the opportunity to work and live and raise a family.”
“If companies want to outsource, we have to tell them ‘we can do it here,’ and make this the attractive place to do business,” says Johnson. “OppsPlace provides a place for a robust exchange of information between people who live here, and people who want to move here: A place to network, and talk to people around the world.”
For more information about Vibrant Pittsburgh, visit http://vibrantpittsburgh.org/.
To find out more about the offerings of OppsPlace, visit https://oppsplace.com/.
By Nancy Hart