Local high school graduates seeing new opportunities to work in dental, tech fields

PITTSBURGH — It’s high school graduation time for thousands of seniors in our area but for some who can’t afford to continue their education, the road to a good paying career may be a rocky one.

There are jobs available but many don’t pay a family sustaining wage.

But there are new programs in Pittsburgh designed to grow the dental and tech work forces by recruiting people from under represented communities. Some of those people are recent high school graduates.

They’re training for jobs are in some cases they have to three times more than Pennsylvania’s minimum wage.

“It feels unbelievable to be here. Every day I wake up like, ‘is this really happening?’ said Laychell Parron, Pitt Dental Apprenticeship participant.

Laychell Parron just graduated from Allderdice High School last year.

“I was looking at a lot of schools dealing with medicine, but one of the main issues for me was the cost. It was very expensive and I don’t come from a money family,” said Parron.

“We’re going to be able to shine light and show students that there are other opportunities out there, in an affordable way, " said Paulette Rollant, Registered Dental Hygienist for Pitt Dental Hygiene.

Rollant is heading up a new paid apprenticeship program at The University of Pittsburgh. It’s just one of a few new programs in Pittsburgh focused on getting underrepresented minorities into certain careers and removing barriers for specific neighborhoods.

“Adjacent to Oakland, there are so many neighborhood that don’t get the same attention and don’t get the same investment,” said Lindsay Powell, Director of Workforce Strategies for Innovate PGH. “For us, a lot of these are historically Black neighborhoods, including the Hill District and Hazelwood.

But the group Lindsay Powell works with makes them a priority. The Innovation District Skills Alliance, is a three week tech training program for people in those neighborhoods.

“I think there’s a misconception generally that in order to work in tech you need to have an advance degree from somewhere. But frankly there are tech jobs all across the region that are entry level, that have family sustaining wages,” said Powell.

The Innovation District Skills Alliance connects participants with universities in Oakland have a need for certain jobs. The first cohort for was for research and lab technicians at Pitt and Powell says 5 out of 6 participants got jobs.

It’s a similar goal for the Pitt Dental apprenticeship program. The commitment is longer, 14 months, giving students a foundation with classwork and hands on training and connections to Pitt alumni who are looking for dental assistants to work for them.

“So it also lines them up to have a successful career, whether that’s staying in dental assisting or moving on into hygiene school or becoming a dentist,” said Rollant.

“I think this is a really great opportunity and I want to express my thankfulness, said Parron. “because I really think without this opportunity, I wouldn’t be anywhere in the medical field.”

According to statistics from the US Bureau of Labor, the average hourly wage for a dental assistant it’s just over $21 an hour. And right now Rollant says there is a shortage of them.

For more info on the Pitt dental apprenticeship program: Pitt Dental Medicine Dental Assisting Apprenticeship Program | School of Dental Medicine

For more info on Innovation District Skills Alliance: Services 4 — Pittsburgh Innovation District

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