Steel Center for Career and Technical Education: “Hiring Reimagined”

Posted on Categories Engagement, Recruitment and Retention

At a Glance

This Best Practice describes how innovation and thinking outside of the box led Steel Center for Career and Technical Education to create a more diverse staff and overcome the hiring challenges brought on by the covid-19 labor market.


In today’s Career and Technical Education schools, it can seem impossible to attract highly talented and diverse team members and even at times to simply fill vacant positions. At Steel Center, “Hiring Reimagined” has provided some simple solutions that have generated positive results. The strategies that comprise “Hiring Reimagined” are rooted in human resource practices and operational principles practiced by Walt Disney World Resorts.  In his bestselling book “Creating Magic, 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney”, former Disney Executive Vice President Lee Cockerell recommends “Making Your People Your Brand” as a way to strengthen any organization. In the book, he describes how leaders must define the perfect candidate, not settle for clones, and look for people in unlikely places.  These concepts as well as others taken from “Creating Magic” have helped shape Steel Center’s strategies to increase diversity within our staff and to find great new team members when it seems impossible.

Increasing staff diversity: In 2012, increasing staff diversity became a leadership priority both because of the inherent value that comes from having a diverse team as well as to positively impact the culture of our school community.  Located just south of Pittsburgh, Steel Center typically serves a student population that is more than 25% non-white and includes other forms of underrepresented groups. Believing in the richness of diversity, the school set out to move towards a goal of equal representation between students and staff by implementing the following strategies:

  • Advertising for positions in news publications serving the African American community in the Pittsburgh region such as “Soul Pitt” and the “New Pittsburgh Courier”.
  • Becoming more deliberate and purposeful to represent the diversity of our communities and student body in school publications, our website, and in social media.
  • Reforming our Local Advisory Committee into the “Executive Advisory Council” which included intentionally increasing representation from non-white business and community leaders from 0% to 33% of Council members representing the diverse groups within our communities.

Overcoming barriers to hiring: Seeking high quality candidates to participate in the employee selection process has become very challenging in recent years.  This trend seems to be consistent in most employment sectors and has only compounded the daunting task Career and Technical Education leaders face when finding their next great teacher or support staff team member.  In the fall of 2021, the labor market made impossible to secure even a small pool of applications for our vacant Diesel Technology teaching position.  Despite using strategies that had proven to be effective in creating candidate pools at Steel Center, applications were simply not coming in.  With the education and future of some forty-seven aspiring Diesel Mechanics at stake, a decision was made to go out into the field to make “cold call” visits to local and regional Diesel Technology industry partners, employers, and even to flag down tool trucks on the side of the road. These encounters involved sincere and open discussion and a request to distribute a flyer marketing the open position to anyone and everyone who may be qualified and interested.  Along with this came increased efforts to push messaging out through the Executive Advisory Council, Joint Operating Committee members, social media as well as targeting interest groups such as the “Pittsburgh Truck Mafia” group on Facebook and similar groups on various social media platforms.


Increasing staff diversity: The strategies implemented to increase diversity among Steel Center’s staff have been successful.  In 2012, only 6% of Steel Center’s staff were non-white and prior to 2012, the school only had four non-white staff members since opening in 1964.  Since 2013, “Hiring Reimagined” strategies have resulted in the school adding ten non-white staff members. Currently 15% of Steel Center’s staff are non-white, and while this is short of the goal of 25% plus non-white staff, it is a 133% increase from where we stared. Perhaps the most effective strategy that contributed to this increase has been the positive relationships formed with non-white members of our Executive Advisory Council.  These highly valued partners are very engaged and invested in the school’s success and have become a tremendous resource in securing diverse applicants for open positions. It also costs nothing to create a diverse Local Advisory Committee.  Future growth of this strategy includes evolving our eighteen Occupational Advisory Committees into more diverse groups through purposeful and intentional efforts.

Overcoming barriers to hiring:  The combined efforts have resulted in Steel Center being able to be fully staffed even during the very difficult times that have occurred since the spring of 2020.  It is very much a team effort, but when the Executive Director, Executive Assistant, Executive Advisory Council members (local advisory committee), regional minority-focused media outlets, the Work-based Learning Coordinator (co-op), students, families, local and regional employers, and others within the system work together, we have found candidates and secured new team members.


Steel Center for Career and Technical Education

Tricia Cousino


Kevin Rice