Pittsburgh: Reimagining Digital Upskilling to Improve Mobility

“Reimagine Retail opened our eyes wider about how retail workers should be treated. It’s not just a matter of respect. It’s also understanding their goals and how experiences and environment can make work life more satisfying and lead to upward mobility. We developed and delivered a new online training for frontline workers. From what we heard week to week, the curriculum and delivery worked well for students and the employer.”

— Linda Topoleski, Allegheny Conference on Community Development

A smiling Eat'n Park team member holding a pot of coffee and an exterior view an Eat'n Park restaurant.

An Eat’n Park team member putting customer service skills to work on the job.

In Pittsburgh, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development partnered with Eat’n Park Hospitality Group (Eat’n Park), a family-owned restaurant chain and food-service company operating in several states and employing 8,000 workers, and Robert Morris University (RMU). Partners piloted an online customer service training to increase mobility for entry-level workers both within the company and across industries. This partnership traces its origins to a 2016 study of Pittsburgh’s labor market, which showed that by 2025, the region would need to hire or upskill 1.2 million workers to meet demand. While “destination occupations” such as health care and financial services are hungry for talent with customer service competencies, thousands of the region’s residents remain unemployed or underemployed. The study calls for employers to “move from being simply consumers of talent to becoming investors in the labor marketplace.”

Eat’n Park rose to this challenge, working with Aspen EOP and Allegheny Conference to launch an online customer service credential program for frontline workers, developed and delivered by RMU. They piloted the 10-week training with 10 workers ages 18 to 41. All 10 students completed training, earned a credential, and reported being highly engaged. Workers and managers noted significant improvements in service and confidence at work as well as increased tips. Partners hope to expand the program, which can help businesses like Eat’n Park build a stronger management pipeline, attract talent, and extend worker tenure. “Destination employers” in other sectors also see the credential program as a potential talent pipeline. Although some workers may transition to other sectors, Eat’n Park recognizes that even an incremental increase in retention can meaningfully reduce costs in a high-turnover industry. An Aspen EOP profile, Harnessing Digital Technology for Frontline Worker Mobility, documents learning from the pilot for other firms and regions.


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Reimagine Retail explores ways to enhance job quality and improve mobility for the retail workforce. Reimagine Retail is a project of the Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program. Learn how EOP is helping low- and moderate-income Americans and thrive in a changing economy. Join our mailing list and follow us on social media to learn about events, publications, blog posts, and more.

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