The PDC Story: Born in Recession, Ready for the Challenges of the Future
By Larry Elle, PDC President
People like success stories and here’s PDC’s: Thousands of people have attended our workshops. Hundreds of professionals have bolstered their resumes by adding PDC workshops, often providing a deciding factor in scoring a job interview. Many newly employed people have emailed us saying they landed interviews and job offers directly because of a PDC workshop they attended.
For some it was workshops in fundraising or project management, or social media marketing, or Salesforce. For others it was Agile/Scrum, or bookkeeping, or more esoteric workshops like “How to Obtain a US Patent” or “Event Planning.” One woman called to say she took our grant writing workshop, wrote a grant, and within a week received $3,000 to attend a crucial professional conference in her field.
That’s why the PDC exists.
We were born twice — initially during the 2003-4 recession but not getting off the ground. Then we reanimated during the Great Recession that began in 2008. At that time a group of unemployed professionals attending WIND South Networking got together to express their frustration with the job interview process. Although highly skilled, many of them had been told they lacked a key credential. And because of this gap they were turned down for interviews. When these jobseekers approached local colleges or for-profit schools to seek the training they needed, they were told such a course would cost thousands of dollars, a sum too great to bear while unemployed.
Following a meeting called by WIND South’s facilitator Larry Elle, these 25 unemployed professionals sat down together to create the PDC. Some designed courses and solicited teachers. Others used their marketing savvy to advertise the group. Web professionals led the design of our website, while still others drafted the application for federal non-profit status, officially granted to the PDC in 2011. Officers were selected to lead the group (all non-salaried), grants applied for, and the first courses were offered in 2010, often filling the large hall at Trinity Episcopal Church in Canton, MA.
Economic factors propelled PDC’s early growth. The Great Recession featured the highest unemployment rate since the 1930s, with thousands of Bostonians tramping the streets seeking work. While PDC’s founders were idealistic (let’s create quality education at affordable prices), the average job seeker took PDC’s courses out of sheer need. They were.looking for a leg up with employers to help them land a job.
Other factors also have played a role in the need for a robust PDC. Over the last 20 years the average employee tenure at employers has dropped from eight to 10 years to a current average of four to five years. This means employees leave or are thrown out of work twice as often, facing the proverbial dreaded job search. On top of this, employers seek staff whose credentials are state of the art. For example, expertise with the latest Salesforce version is needed, or knowledge of social media, or current best practices in management.
Because of these factors, while today’s unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in years, there remains a demand for affordable educational development. As a result, it is essential that the PDC continue to reach the large audience of people with educational needs, providing courses at affordable prices.
Initially, all of our classes were in Canton, MA, but we soon reached out to state career centers in Cambridge, Norwood, and Framingham. These centers, seeing the value PDC provides the unemployed, and with very limited federal and state funds to underwrite the costs of for-profit schools, offered the PDC space to hold classes. Together we shared any slim revenue from tuition. This relationship proved helpful as it put us in touch with thousands of jobseekers not familiar with the PDC; the career centers also helped publicize our classes. Meanwhile, the state unemployment insurance system saved money as this training speeded people’s return to work.
The years 2012 through 2017 were banner years for us. We held three or four workshops monthly with average attendance running between 15 to 25. Volunteers pitched in setting up the workshops, taking attendance, buying supplies, recruiting teachers, and surveying members as to what workshops to offer.
PDC was a collective labor of love fueled by a major recession, a changing economy, and a desire of employers and employees for the latest skills, all coinciding with local career centers desiring to aid the largest number of people at the lowest cost.
Since then the economy has recovered, but with major exceptions. For example, the percentage of population that is working — “labor force participation” — is still lower than in 2007. Meanwhile, older workers and minority groups continue to face employment discrimination. Along with this, the contingent, or “contract,” labor force has skyrocketed, transforming thousands of workers into “self-employed” – with no benefits, including no employer-provided health insurance.
Despite these exceptions, most people are working and this has impacted the PDC’s participation level. People who can benefit from our courses are out there but we’re not always able to reach them. This challenge was compounded a couple years ago when new companies took over managing our state’s career centers — the places where PDC had offered workshops. Collaboration between these centers and the PDC was suspended in 2017, impacting our ability to reach transitioning workers with the help we offer. We responded by shifting our classes to an expensive local hotel. It was a classy environment, but a major challenge for our finances.
In late 2018, the Metro North MassHire invited the PDC to again offer courses at their centers in Cambridge and Woburn. This has helped us reach those most in need of our services as it lowered the cost of offering classes. This also has helped keep our course offerings affordable.
Today the PDC needs to continue to find ways to reach those who are not working, or who are but need to strengthen their credentials. And it needs to continue to identify and offer the courses needed by professionals to keep their skills “state-of-the-art.” One challenge in accomplishing this is that our base of volunteers is now working full-time and less available to help.
Are you willing to lend a hand? If so, dear reader, we need your input, support, and participation.
Give us a shout via email if you can help. We’ll put you to work producing valuable workshop offerings. You can involve yourself in marketing, teaching, or writing for the PDC Post. All talents are needed, and you’ll enjoy working with our dedicated staff while you take any workshop for free or at half price! Join us to help make our exciting range of Fall workshops happen and to keep your own career on track.