Is Pittsburgh Lazy?

Jefferson Provost's followup post on his relocation to Seattle prompts some follow-up thoughts. Jefferson writes:
Incidentally, the one Burgh tech company that did contact me got back to me more than two months after I first inquired with them. Most of the Pittsburgh companies I applied to didn’t even bother to acknowledge that they had received my resumé. With Amazon.com, the total elapsed time between my first contact and an offer on paper was 29 days. Are there any good engineers left by the time the Pittsburgh companies get around to talking to them?

Politicians and arm chair analysts talk a lot about Pittsburgh's so-called brain drain. As Jefferson points out later in his post, people come, people go; it's the American way of life. Brain drain isn't the right metaphor for what Jefferson describes.

Instead, his post goes anecdotally to a different part of the economic development puzzle: Jobs.

Lots of people, me occasionally included, claim that the key to stabilizing Pittsburgh's economic climate is growing the number of new jobs here. If we have employment, the argument goes, then people will stay, and people will come. The next step in the argument is often to blame government, and high taxes in particular, for stagnation in the job market. Job growth is a structural problem, not a personal one.

Is that wrong? If taxes fall, will jobs burst forth and local firms fall over themselves striving to fill them? Judging anecdotally, there's no evidence of that. As it stands, the people who already have jobs in Pittsburgh seem perfectly happy to ignore those that don't. I've heard from other job seekers locally, both on the blog and one-on-one, that too many Pittsburgh employers post open jobs, then turn into black holes for resumes. Failure to respond to applicant interest in a position isn't just rude (though it is obviously rude); it's lazy; and it's stupid. It's bad advertising -- bad for the company and bad for Pittsburgh. It sends a message: We care about us, not about you.

This puts the lie, I think, to the most famous and durable of Pittsburgh stereotypes, that this town and region are noteworthy for their honesty and work ethic. If you have a job, that stereotype certainly seems to fit -- but a big part of that job seems to be keeping it intact, and keeping others at arms' length. Is there a "Not Welcome" sign posted in the region's employment markets? It sure seems that way.

Put another way, who in Pittsburgh is running with this ball -- in the other (and more productive) direction?

Comments

25 Responses to "Is Pittsburgh Lazy?"

Schultz said... 6/23/2008 11:41 PM

I had a similar experience last year. I applied to a position with a Fortune 500 company that has offices here. I didn't get the call for the interview until 3 months had past and by that time I was already 1 month into my current gig.

It's not all about the unfriendly business climate. The bigger thing that is holding Pittsburgh back is the mindset. The "can do" attitude that made Pittsburgh the entreprenurial center of the world in the early 20th century has evaporated. What is left is the "You can't do that because" or the "That will never work/happen" attitude that I see all too often. Because of the failures of the past, people don't want to reach to the unreachable, or the impossible. I don't hear these sentiments in places out west, like Seattle and the Bay Area, or even in places like Charlotte, a region that proves you do not need a championship football team to be in a great mood (plenty of sun and job growth helps).

How do we get over this hump? We need visionary leaders to step up and take charge. Right now we are led by a young mayor who is more concerned with celebrity than learning how to govern, a county executive who thinks a city county merger would be great because "we could be bigger than Philadelphia!", and a CEO who tells us to shut up and be happy with what we have. Nice.

A visionary leader is someone who will make Pittsburgh the first city to do something, rather than have Pittsburgh continue to lag 10 to 15 years behind the innovative cities (example: See Chicago and Mayor Richard Daley on board with the Green agenda 15 years ago, while Pittsburgh is just now taking baby steps towards going green).

What can Pittsburgh do to become once again a leading city? Not too long ago I argued for us to take the plunge into becoming a biofuel city. This means Pittsburgh would not only be home to a large number of biofuels companies (at least six currently, # seven is on the way) but would also invest in the infrastructure and commit to using biofuels for all government vehicles. This won't be easy, and there is plenty of competition out there in this space, but I think the key is going further than anyone else. Again - look at what other innovative cities are doing and run with something similar, like Austin Texas and the city's commitment to plug-in electric hybrid vehicles.

Adam said... 6/24/2008 11:54 AM

Before this gets elevated to one of Pittsburgh's "structural" problems, can we have some evidence that non-responsiveness to job applicants is more prevalent here than in other metro areas?

(E.g. Jefferson Provost doesn't tell us what the experience was of the unsuccessful applicants for his Amazon job. Some of them may right now be griping about the unresponsiveness of Seattle companies to job seekers.)

jet said... 6/24/2008 5:26 PM

I haven't looked for a job here, but I've had similar problems trying to get stores to take my money. I should update that with my tale of it taking 4 weeks to get business cards printed at a local shop...

Honestly, it feels like entitlement culture based business practices. Businesses don't need to fight for customers or employees. "We'll sell you whatever we like and get back to on your resume whenever we feel like it. What are you going to do, shop/work somewhere else?"

Is the number of people leaving the area one answer to that rhetorical question?

ChrisP said... 6/24/2008 9:03 PM

My impression is that in at least 2 of JP's "west coast tech company" interviews he knew someone on the inside, either UT PhD siblings or other AI people. I'd be interested to know if his one call-back from a local firm was a result of somekind of network connection as well. If we had all the time in the world it might be interesting to chew the fat about his network was too high flying for Pittsburgh, ie, Mt. Lebanese -> UT CS Phd has a very slim overlap with people at the 800 lb healthcare gorilla, the 800 lb german gorilla, the 800 lb aluminum gorilla, the 800 lb banking gorilla and the 500 lb banking gorilla....

Danielle said... 6/25/2008 4:22 PM

Whenever I applied for jobs out of law school (graduated May 2005) and when I was looking to make a move (Dec.-Jan. 2006), I didn't even receive "ding" letters back from firms that I sent a resume and letter to. I didn't randomly solicit them for a job- these are firms that advertised through the law school, ACBA and elsewhere that they were hiring.

I also was solicited to send in an application to sit on the board of directors for a nonprofit. Granted, nonprofits aren't expected to run like a Fortune 500 company. However, after I sent in my materials, I was told that I would be called for a phone interview. Never happened. About 2 months after I applied, I got a thanks but no thanks e-mail. I should be happy I got that.

But the question is- is this really a problem with Pittsburgh, or is it more society as a whole?

Even if companies want to complain about stamps or not having the HR resources to reply to applications, a mass bcc email would be better than nothing.

(PS- enjoy the blog)

John Morris said... 6/28/2008 2:52 PM

My only real point of comparison is NYC where, I spent most of my life but I have to admit that the cultural difference is shocking.

Mostly, what I know about is the arts community which to be honest in NY, mostly runs on almost volunteer efforts. A number of great publications like the Brooklyn Rail, for instance pay $50 or nothing for a story and have no shortage of contributors and most galleries and arts organizations kind of run on over qualified interns. A whole informal arts press of bloggers has developed to cover the art scene and many, many people bankrupt themselves to start informal galleries. In Pittsburgh, one is lucky if the artist hands out a few gallery cards to their own show.

I do think that may be changing, because I have seen a lot of grass roots activities with a lot of effort behind them. But, when one goes up the food chain, you seem to find incredible levels of laziness. For example, a tiny, tiny number of curators like Vicky Clark and Murray Horne(perhaps 5 in all) seem to curate almost all the shows in town.

You can really see this difference by going to the major international art fairs like Art Chicago, The NY art fairs or Art Basel, Miami Beach which attract galleries and non profits from all over the country(Richmond's ADA gallery is always at the fairs and several Detroit area galleries often are) and the world but have never involved a Pittsburgh gallery or institution. Millwaukee, actually hosted a fair that's attracted a ton of high end galleries in a Bowling Alley!

I think, increasingly cities are becoming self selecting and Pittsburgh seems to attract and retain people who don't like sweating a lot.

zak822 said... 6/30/2008 2:01 PM

"But the question is- is this really a problem with Pittsburgh, or is it more society as a whole?"

I know for certain that it's a Pittsburgh problem, but I do believe that it's national too.

It's the result of employees being regarded as interchangable, easily replaceable cogs.

Companies don't actually care.

Tim Lesher said... 7/01/2008 1:44 PM

Having lived in Harrisburg, PA and Seattle before Pittsburgh, I can assure you that this is nothing particular to Pittsburgh. It might be particular to the tech industry, though.

In general, when a few hundred resumes filter through HR, then get filtered down to a few dozen that float past the technical people who decide whether to go to a phone screen, we don't call back the people who didn't make those two first cuts. That has been the case at every place I've worked or applied to work, for the past fifteen years.

Including several in Seattle.

Comparing "I didn't get a call back from places in Pittsburgh where I didn't get an offer" to "I got a call back from a place in Seattle because they were making me an offer" is ludicrous.

Anonymous said... 7/02/2008 1:53 PM

"Is the number of people leaving the area one answer to that rhetorical question?"

That's a myth. People don't leave here any more than average. The problem is death outpace births, and we don't get enough new people coming in to make up for it.

I wish that myth of people leaving in droves would die already.

Ed said... 7/07/2008 12:57 PM

Employers in Pittsburgh are totally lazy. I've tried to stick it out the past couple of months that I have been without a job and try to stay here. However, I'm not even getting so much as a nibble on jobs that I meet or exceed the qualifications. It is pretty evident that this "young professional" is going to have to move away. Its a shame too because I'm in my mid-20s, own my home, etc. and that seems to be what our so called "leaders" have been trying to attract to the area. They spend all this money in vein trying to attract new people, but aren't doing anything to keep the ones who are already here. Other cities work with employers to make sure that people living in the region have "first crack" at any jobs that are available. DC's city government actually has a job search website for residents that many of the employers there place their jobs on first before they advertise elsewhere. Why can't we do that in Pittsburgh?

Brett said... 7/07/2008 4:26 PM

schultz: AMEN. The no-can-do attitude in Pittsburgh drives me crazy, but I don't think the answer is for a great leader to walk in and take charge. The role of a great leader would not be to start enacting change, but instead start inspiring others to enact change. Building a movement will result in lasting change, but relying on one individual to change the city would be a flash in the pan.

Anonymous said... 7/09/2008 9:43 AM

Pittsburgh isn't lazy, but since Pittsburgh has been in an "L" shaped recession for 20 years making good jobs scarce, at least some employment ads are for show only due to legal reasons. Some friend or family of an administrator or employee already is in line for the position.

IMHO the want ads are useless...if you want a job and haven't gotten a nibble, go eat in some biz's cafeteria or get a temp job to make personal contacts, and ask these contact to let you know when they hear something is opeing up.

Oh, and BTW: people *are* leaving the city, some 16,000+ last count I read about. This is not a huge number, but considering that the Burgh is only one of like 3 metro areas (along with the Detroit/Flint area and New Orleans) to lose *any* population is a big deal.

US Population and jobs are like a Red Queen's Race (look it up on wikipedia)in that we must go a fast as we can just to stay in place. Not keeping up is Not A Good Thing.
For instance, some of L.A.'s out-in -he-middle-of-nowhere suburbs have grown to 100,000 people in the last 10 years, nearly a third our size.

And I personally have seen too many friends (nearly all college buddies) and even some family leave to think that it's just a birth/death rate thing, sorry, it's lack of good jobs, pure and simple.

-DaveP

Anonymous said... 7/09/2008 8:19 PM

Pittsburgh isn't lazy, but since Pittsburgh has been in an "L" shaped recession for 20 years making good jobs scarce, at least some employment ads are for show only due to legal reasons. Some friend or family of an administrator or employee already is in line for the position.

IMHO the want ads are useless...if you want a job and haven't gotten a nibble, go eat in some biz's cafeteria or get a temp job to make personal contacts, and ask these contact to let you know when they hear something is opeing up.

Oh, and BTW: people *are* leaving the city, some 16,000+ last count I read about. This is not a huge number, but considering that the Burgh is only one of like 3 metro areas (along with the Detroit/Flint area and New Orleans) to lose *any* population is a big deal.

US Population and jobs are like a Red Queen's Race (look it up on wikipedia)in that we must go a fast as we can just to stay in place. Not keeping up is Not A Good Thing.
For instance, some of L.A.'s out-in -he-middle-of-nowhere suburbs have grown to 100,000 people in the last 10 years, nearly a third our size.

And I personally have seen too many friends (nearly all college buddies) and even some family leave to think that it's just a birth/death rate thing, sorry, it's lack of good jobs, pure and simple.

-DaveP

Adam said... 7/09/2008 9:53 PM

ed and jet, I'm sorry you've had troubles, but the answer to my question seems to be that this is not a problem unique to Pittsburgh. This comment thread is turning into a typical Pittsburgh blog conversation:

A: Here's a problem with Pittsburgh.

B: Yeah, I had a similar problem here in Pittsburgh.

C: Actually that's a national problem. I've experienced the same problem in other places--even in places that usually are seen as more vibrant than Pittsburgh.

D: This problem must be why all the young people are leaving.

Jefferson Provost said... 7/10/2008 11:06 PM

Ah yes. As long as its possible to rationalize one's own problems as not really worse than those of someone else then its not necessary to make any effort to fix them. Doesn't that just sum up Pittsburgh perfectly?

Maybe some day Pittsburgh will actually try to be better than other places, instead of nominally not worse. I'm not holding my breath for it, though.

The whole point of my blog entry was to say that from my subject perspective my job search showed me that Pittsburgh wasn't the place for me, but objectively I don't think that my situation or my move is all that unusual.

Pittsburgh has an epidemic of low expectations. I think it's the city's biggest problem. It infects everything. From crappy public transportation to the lack of a city traffic engineer in one of the hardest cities to navigate in the US.

The post that jet linked is a pretty good summary of my and my wife's experiences in the two years that we were back. Except you can generalize it to almost every situation in which you have to interact with other people in any kind of business or official capacity.

Bram Reichbaum said... 7/11/2008 10:05 AM

Ironic a post thusly entitled would stay up for two weeks. ;-)

Mike Madison said... 7/13/2008 7:41 AM

Traveling . . . working . . . traveling some more. Is Pittsburgh needy? ;-) Surely the Burghosphere does just fine without Pittsblog for a little while!

Jonathan Potts said... 7/13/2008 2:01 PM

About 10 years ago I interviewed for a job in Greensboro, N.C. Six months later I get a letter saying I hadn't gotten the job. In fairness, I can't remember whether I did good follow-through on my own. I had gotten a raise and promotion at the job I held so I had lost interest in looking elsewhere.

But I have to agree with Jefferson's latest comment. Why aim for mediocrity?

And Mike, I think you owe your readers a full refund for you lack of posting.

Mike Madison said... 7/14/2008 4:53 AM

JPotts:
Done. Everyone will get what they paid. ;-)
A longer account forthcoming next week.
Mike

ChrisP said... 7/14/2008 12:45 PM

Obviously Mike knew the exact post to put up to generate a 3 week comments tail that would deftly hide his travels....of course he could probably not pull that off if he were doing Bosblog or Ausblog or Seablog...

Anonymous said... 7/14/2008 7:46 PM

Anonymous: Sorry, you are wrong...Pittsburgh *is* losing people. Bakersfield, CA, and Aurora, CO are now bigger than us after we lost 2,450 people. Other cities' *suburbs* are bigger than us...Not Good.

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08192/896076-53.stm?cmpid=news.xml

-DaveP

Adam said... 7/16/2008 10:17 AM

"As long as its possible to rationalize one's own problems as not really worse than those of someone else then its not necessary to make any effort to fix them."

Not sure if this is directed at my comment, but if so, it's a misunderstanding of my position.
I think that understanding the nature of a problem is usually necessary to coming up with an effective solution.

My other point was that connecting this to population decline is a non-sequitur if the same thing goes on everywhere in the country. Unless the argument is: this goes on everywhere, so let's make it better in Pittsburgh and gain a comparative advantage. That's ok, but I wasn't hearing that in the discussion.

Ditto for connecting it to bad customer service; if this kind of bad behavior in recruitment and hiring is common across the country, but bad/indifferent/lazy customer service is somehow unique to Pittsburgh, then we are not dealing with two symptoms of the same underlying problem and to tackle them we might need different approaches. (Even if they are both national problems, as I suspect they are, they may have different root causes, etc.)

My overall point: I don't think every problem in Pittsburgh can be related to some kind of endemic character flaw in the local population. If someone wants to see that as rationalization, so be it.

Andrew said... 7/23/2008 7:11 PM

This topic touches a nerve, so here is my $0.02. Pittsburgh employers are ARROGANT not LAZY.

I was born and raised in Pittsburgh but left after college mainly just to gain perspective. I worked in Biotech and held jobs in Boston and San Francisco. I decided to go to law school and looked at this as an opportunity to return "home."
I did well in law school and I had an impressive work history so I thought getting a job in a Pittsburgh firm would be no problem. Boy was I wrong.
I finally got a job offer in a Pittsburgh firm after begging the hiring partner to hire me.
I figured it must be something about me and I am not worthy of being a lawyer.
I expanded my job search to include firms in other cities. Given my experience with the Pittsburgh market I assumed that I would get the same tepid response. Wrong again. I was actively pursued by major law firms in New York, Boston, and San Francisco. The treatment I got was a complete 180 from the Pittsburgh firms. All of the Pittsburgh firms treated me as if I were a hostile witness and as if the interview was a deposition. All of the firms in other cities acted as if I was interviewing them, and they were clearly actively recruiting me. I got multiple offers and accepted one in a Boston firm, and haven't looked back.
My opinion is that because the Pittsburgh job market sucks employers have an over rated opinion of their value and an under rated value of the job candidates. It is a great privilege to work in the "Burgh" apparently. Michael, I don't think it is Laziness so much as Arrogance.

Anonymous said... 8/18/2008 2:29 PM

i don't know about lazy, but pittsburgh is smokey. and it smells.

Anonymous said... 9/11/2008 8:22 PM

The job market in Pittsburgh is not as bad as one thinks. I got a job here and nowhere else and it is a good job.

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