Education institutions and programs of all levels are playing an integral role in the new citywide workforce initiative, Fueling Philadelphia’s Talent Engine, officially launched by Mayor Jim Kenney, stakeholders, and leaders at an event at the Community College of Philadelphia on Feb. 15.
Implementation of the strategy will be coordinated by the city’s Office of Workforce Development, to be established this year. The framework for the program, designed by a steering committee comprised of leaders and representatives from education, government, and business, outlines three goals: prepare city residents with the skills employers need; address underlying barriers to access to career opportunities; and build a workforce system that is more coordinated, innovative, and effective.
“The reality is jobs are just another extension of learning,” said Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend, President and CEO of the Philadelphia Youth Network (PYN), an organization that was a member of the steering committee and provides a range of programs and opportunities for youth ages 16-24, some of whom have been disconnected from school or work.
“If we can help people to see the stages of learning through careers it’s going to be really powerful,” she added.
Fulmore-Townsend said that the initiative will open up more opportunities for PYN and participating organizations.
“It’s going to allow our work to be more collaborative and more efficient because we’ll have multiple systems at the table,” Fulmore-Townsend said of the new initiative, adding that it will “elevate and deepen” the strong partnerships PYN has developed throughout the city.
Fulmore-Townsend noted that part of the work on the part of educators is to “hear and solicit and engage employers in understanding how their needs are developing,” so that then those employment needs can be incorporated into educational curriculum — a point echoed by Dr. William Hite, Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia, in a panel discussion at the workforce initiative’s launch event on Feb. 15.
“It’s really important to expose young people not just to math, reading, and science, but to also expose them to math, reading, and science in the context of what we’re going to be asking them to do on a job site,” said Hite.
“If we want young people to be successful in the workforce, then they have to have those experiences prior to going or moving into the workforce,” he added.
Educators working in higher education said that the workforce initiative is facilitating or opening up more avenues for the career development and professionals skills training they have been doing for years.
“This workforce strategy is really a call to action,” said Uva Coles, vice president of institutional advancement and strategic partnerships at Peirce College, noting that it is a “good complement” to the career preparation work that Peirce College has focused on throughout its 150 years of existence.
Since 2013, Peirce has been working with Year Up, a national organization that provides 18-24 year olds with up to 21 tuition-free credits and connecting them with post-secondary education while also strengthening their skills in real-life workplace experiences.
“What’s important isn’t just that we’re providing jobs and training, but that they’re meaningful,” Coles said, explaining that training should focus on full-scale career development, not just obtaining a job.
Coles said that the initiative “gives us a platform...it gives us a voice,” so that Peirce and other education institutions can play an instrumental role in actually shaping the policy.
“It’s really critical for this strategy to be inclusive and thoughtful about Philadelphia demographics,” Coles said, noting that as an Afro-Latina immigrant, she is “especially excited” about the ways in which the new initiative incorporates vulnerable populations, including immigrant populations.
“There is no vulnerable population that is left behind in the strategy. Those diversities, those differences are not a footnote in the conversation; they are a large part, they are an underscored part of the conversation,” she said.