PIT2Work graduate Tawain Barlow stands atop a crane. Photo courtesy of Blue Sky News/Pittsburgh International Airport.

When the Pittsburgh International Airport began heavy construction in 2021, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said it would bring long-term economic benefits to the region, “including jobs for more than 5,500 local construction and skilled trades workers.”

Two years later, the Allegheny County Airport Authority delivered another boon to trade workers. 

Tawain Barlow, Emily Feroce and 10 others were the first to graduate from the airport’s PIT2Work program, which provides training, certifications and connections for individuals breaking into — or reestablishing themselves in — the construction industry.

The five-week program divides time between classes in the airport’s current landside terminal, on the grounds of the Terminal Modernization Program and once-a-week site visits to trade union offices.

“It was a great opportunity for me, because I’m a single father of four,” Barlow, who is 37, says. “It actually helped me out as far as learning the basics of which unions would best fit me.”

Tawain Barlow and one of his daughters at the PIT2Work graduation ceremony on July 28, 2023. Photo courtesy of Blue Sky News/Pittsburgh International Airport.

Barlow left his last job — also in the construction industry — because neither the work nor pay were satisfying, and it was hard to support his family.

While taking a construction math course at Literacy Pittsburgh, Barlow’s teacher, Vivienne McClellan, recommended he pursue the PIT2Work program.

“She thought I would like it, and she was right,” Barlow says. “Yeah, that was probably the best decision I’ve made in a long time.”

Feroce found PIT2Work while pursuing a more drastic career change.

“I worked as a vet tech before this for about six years, so coming from just a completely different field, I thought a pre-apprenticeship would be just a good place to start,” Feroce says.

“There’s also, through the unions, more opportunity for career development. You can go back to the unions and get more training if you want to, and continue to learn. I really like that.”

Emily Feroce takes notes during class. Photo courtesy of Blue Sky News/Pittsburgh International Airport.

Feroce had no previous construction or trades experience, but she knew she wanted to work with her hands and be active on the job. She came across PIT2Work while browsing the Builders Guild of Western PA website. The Builders Guild is a partner of PIT2Work.

Throughout the five weeks, Barlow, Feroce and their peers learned from representatives of the carpenters, painters, laborers and operating engineers unions. 

Barlow’s interest was particularly piqued while visiting the carpenters. There, he learned how carpenters apply their craft not just to houses, but to highways and bridges.

He and Feroce were both impressed by a secondary objective their trip held in store.

“When we went to the carpenter’s union, we built a toolbox,” Barlow says. “I was expecting to go and check out the facility, and then we ended up putting a toolbox together, which was very helpful.”

PIT2Work is based on the guild’s Introduction to Construction Trades course, which has graduated 19 cohorts. PIT2Work uniquely benefits from its airport association, as cohorts have firsthand access to the active Terminal Modernization Project construction site.

Construction on the airport’s Terminal Modernization Project site. Photo courtesy of Blue Sky News/Pittsburgh International Airport.

“Getting to see [the terminal] and getting to talk to people actually working on-site gave it a whole other level,” Feroce says. “Getting to talk to people working there made it more real, and getting to hear about their experience was really cool. … We got to have some of our safety trainings done by people that work there.”

Alicia Booker, the airport authority’s director of workforce development, has been working to launch the PIT2Work program since joining the airport in January. She brought with her 30 years of public workforce and community college experience.

“One of the things that I’ve learned over that time, especially transitioning from a public workforce to the community college, is the importance of training,” Booker says. “Everyone wants to say everybody should go to work, but the reality is sometimes you need an opportunity, you need access and you need some level of training.”

Alicia Booker speaks with students during a class in the current landside terminal. Photo courtesy of Blue Sky News/Pittsburgh International Airport.

In order to create the most opportunities, the airport authority built out systems — such as a childcare center for airport employees — to support future cohort members. Booker calls PIT2Work a career bridge, evoking one of Pittsburgh’s most visible symbols.

“Success for us is not necessarily that everyone gets a job on the Terminal Modernization Project,” Booker says. “We’ve got individuals who have [commercial driver’s licenses] that are now going to the Teamsters that can get a job as a driver. They may be driving for another company. That’s fine for us because they got the opportunity here.”

Within two weeks of graduation, Barlow secured a job.

“I went to the laborers’ union to get certified in skid-steer, man lift and forklift just this past week, and now I’m starting with [Alloy Group],” Barlow says

Feroce did not have anything lined up immediately after graduation but is knee-deep in applications and interviews with a number of unions.

“The last week of our program, the airport set up a career fair for us, too. That was amazing. Some of the unions were there, some of the contractors were there, too, so that was incredible just getting to talk to more people in the fields that we were interested in.”

Emily Feroce visits a union table at the career fair event held for PIT2Work pre-apprentices before graduation. Photo courtesy of Blue Sky News/Pittsburgh International Airport.

In May, Pittsburgh was designated as one of the first five Workforce Hubs by the Biden Administration.

“In each Hub, the Administration will partner with state and local elected officials and community leaders to drive effective place-based workforce development efforts that are essential to building an economy from the bottom up and the middle out,” a White House release reads.

The airport authority’s demonstrated efforts to support students and the region earned PIT2Work recognition from the White House. First Lady Jill Biden, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su visited the site a week before the July 28 graduation to adapt the program as a blueprint for other national locations.

  • Students in a PIT2Work program class
  • A PIT2Work student drives a crane
  • PIT2Work students
  • PIT2Work program participants

“This really plays into the strengths overall of Pittsburgh, and by us being Pittsburgh’s airport, I think it’s just a natural transition. I may have been the only one in the room who really wasn’t surprised,” Booker says.

“You don’t design it to be small, you design it to be big. You kind of shoot your shot.”

The next cohort will begin in October, pending finalization with partners, Booker says.


Roman wants to hear the stories created in Pittsburgh. When not reporting, he plays difficult video games that make him upset and attempts to make delicious meals out of mismatched leftovers.