Global Talent Bridge Partner Blog

News on practice and policy affecting internationally trained immigrants and refugees

Spotlight: Pittsburgh – Building Bridges Towards Immigrant Inclusion

Monday October 28, 2019 | by Betty Cruz

“Building a More Welcoming US” panelists, joined by State Representative Sara Innamorato (right), and Betty Cruz, All for All project director (left).  Photos by Dan Lampmann.


The WES Global Talent Bridge Skilled Immigrant Integration Program (SIIP), now wrapping up its second year and planning for its third, involves training and support for communities working to advance immigrant success. Making meaningful connections with multi-sector networks around the country – representing a true “tapestry” of immigrant integration and inclusion – is one of the drivers of the SIIP program. In this piece, Betty Cruz reports from Pittsburgh, one of the eight communities in the 2019 program, on the social enterprise project All for All.

At All for All we connect people, organizations, and communities to actions that advance immigrant inclusion in the Pittsburgh region. Our work is guided by the Immigrant Community Blueprint, a comprehensive community-designed plan released September 2016. We have turned this plan into action by focusing on capacity-building, community engagement, and systems change. Designing a plan and implementing one can take on very different forms, particularly when you consider that the Blueprint was released during a time when the White House was looking to support the integration of immigrants — a stark contrast to where we are today. As we all know, the 2016 presidential election unleashed a very different tone and threat, which added new dynamics to what we do and how we do it.

Still, the fundamentals of our work persist as we know that immigrant inclusion continues to be both the right and smart thing to do. No matter the national rhetoric, immigrants remain essential to the growth and prosperity of the Pittsburgh region. This is not just our story, this is true for countless American cities. Locally, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development predicts that, by the year 2025, there will be a shortage of 80,000 workers based on Baby Boomers exiting the workforce, job growth, and the talent pipeline not being large enough to fill these openings (ACCD).

Pittsburgh matches national trends showing that immigrants are more likely to hold advanced degrees than US-born residents, but also more likely to have less than a high school education. Their unique educational profile allows immigrants to fill labor shortages across the skills spectrum, from high-tech fields to hospitality (NAE). On the other end of things, a diverse workforce is a requirement for companies to successfully meet the needs of an increasingly diverse customer base.

Our workforce, main streets, and community already feel the burden of being a region that lacks in diversity. When it comes to foreign-born community members, the Pittsburgh Metro Area is home to 89,205 residents, which is 3.8% of the population (NAE). We are happy to share that, while our immigrant community is small, it is also growing — a trend that we must accelerate if we want to see Pittsburgh thrive. For this reason, we host a convening each year to educate, engage, and equip existing partners and build new ones.

This year’s third annual All for All Summit was just that. We turned what was once a daylong event into a three-day gathering where Pittsburghers came together to learn from local and national experts on the intersection of economic development, culture, and community-building. We kicked off on Thursday with neighborhood tours to amplify the voices of artists, immigrants, Black Americans, youth, and local bridge builders. On Friday, attendees convened for an all-day interactive forum to hear from local politicians, industry leaders, and activists. Our summit culminated with an old school neighborhood block party on Saturday, a day to celebrate culture with local and international artists and food.

At our Friday forum, WES Global Talent Bridge Program Manager, Senay Gebremedhin, sat alongside leaders from Uber, FedEx, Pittsburgh Technology Council, Vibrant Pittsburgh, and the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and spoke about the realities facing immigrants during “The Changing Face of Our Workforce” session. As panelist Gina Winstead of the Pittsburgh Technology Council said, “we have to be intentional about combating homogeneous cultures” in the workforce. Attendees also heard from elected leaders during the “Building a More Welcoming US” plenary, which highlighted legislative accomplishments and shortfalls facing immigration policy and racial justice.

Engaging more than 1,000 Pittsburghers, the All for All Summit allowed us to reflect on what has been accomplished and served as a reminder of all that is left to do. Among our most immediate actions is the work we have been collaborating with partners on as part of the WES Skilled Immigrant Integration Program (SIIP). We are excited to host Dr. José Ramón Fernández-Peña of the Welcome Back Center in December where he will meet with healthcare employers to learn about their pain points and share the opportunity that will come once we launch our local Center in Pittsburgh. We are also hopeful that our longer term goal of creating a statewide office of new Americans will get a jolt of support following our collaboration with local and state elected leaders for the summit.

Our hope is that these collective efforts will not only support immigrant inclusion but also accelerate the type of systemic change needed to create meaningful opportunities for immigrants in Pittsburgh. We know this work is being built on the shoulders of grassroots organizations, service providers, and our community of partners. All for All sits in a unique space — neither a government office or a nonprofit — as an immigrant inclusion initiative designed to build ownership and participation in our work by increasing dialogue, sparking action, and, eventually, getting out of the way. In the end, it’s about charting a sustainable path that is not dependent on any one person or institution so that we can truly be all for all.

Betty Cruz is project director of All for All.

“The Changing Face of Our Workforce” moderated by Brian Burley (third from left). Panelists (L-R): Melanie Harrington, Vibrant Pittsburgh outgoing CEO; Gina Winstead, Pittsburgh Technology Council director of diversity and inclusion; Anthony Stough, FedEx talent acquisition specialist; Nat Beuse, Uber head of safety; and Senay Gebremedhin, WES Global Talent Bridge program manager. Below: Block Party!