This is the ninth article in ongoing reporting on poverty alleviation as part of a listening tour of five Philadelphia neighborhoods conducted by Generocity in partnership with United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey. It was not reviewed before publication
Unemployed and scrolling through her email, Dawn Huger came upon a message that she said “couldn’t have come at a better time.”
Huger had been laid off from her job as a bus attendant with the School District of Philadelphia early on in the pandemic and now found herself presented with the chance to pivot to a new career.
The email’s sender, the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative, was recruiting for their latest program where participants would be placed into lab assistant roles at Penn Medicine following four weeks of workforce development training. Huger decided to apply, and after acceptance, enrolled.
“West Philadelphia is a classic example of a dynamic that’s happening in many places in our city, Sarah Steltz, WPSI’s executive director said. “We have an island of concentrated wealth in University City, and we have neighborhoods that lack access to the economic opportunities that are being generated by the anchors.”
Across Philadelphia, nonprofits and other institutions have recognized the value of short-term job training, including short-term credentialing programs, to boost individuals’ knowledge and earnings potential. The following organizations service all Philadelpians, but have had either past, current or emerging ties to West Philadelphia.
West Philadelphia Skills Initiative
WPSI’s programming is most unique because of their jobs-first approach. The organization partners directly with employers, and will not accept more students than roles available at the training’s conclusion. This is uncommon among job training programs which normally end with sending participants out into the job market.
“We don’t want people in the class to be competing for jobs at the end; this isn’t Survivor,” Steltz said. “The cohort builds relationships, people build support amongst one another because they know that at the end there are enough jobs for everybody.”
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WPSI’s programming is free, after being accepted through a simple application process, provides a weekly stipend during training and has had success placing upwards of 97% of participants from select programs.
The organization’s participants who completed the lab assistant program and were successfully placed with Penn Medicine have been assisting with administrative responsibilities related to COVID-19 testing.
“We’re pretty much right on the frontline,” said Kirstien Holt, a WPSI alumna and current lab assistant at Penn Medicine.
The Beachell Family Learning Center
The Beachell Family Learning Center, a part of Drexel University’s Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships in West Philadelphia, offers a range of credentialing programs for entry-level and more experienced participants, Soneyet Muhammad, their director of workforce and economic inclusion, said.
The short-term credentialing offered by the Beachell Center includes areas such as community healthwork, child development, Microsoft Office and Salesforce certifications, aiming to connect participants to good-paying and high demand career opportunities.
“Digital skills are ways in which careers can be future-proofed and as the economy continues to evolve and change, and interests evolve and change to include technology as a core function of the job, skill and performance,” Muhammad said. “It’s important that West Philadelphians have access to equitable job training as well, so that they are not stuck in careers that don’t advance and don’t provide the economic opportunity that other careers have.”
"Digital skills are ways in which careers can be future-proofed."
Verdell Johnson and Sheltimah Jackson are participating in the Beachell Center’s Microsoft Office and Salesforce certification programs. They have up to one year after completing their coursework to test for their certification, Johnson said.
The Excel and Word elements of the Microsoft Office training will significantly help Johnson, she said, as she recently received a promotion which required her to have those skills.
“Knowing how to run formulas, knowing how to format an Excel sheet, work your way around it, that’s definitely a handy skill to have,” Johnson said about her work responsibilities.
Through Jackson’s work, she assists clients who are reentering the workforce with creating materials like resumes. She believes the skills taught through the Microsoft Office training will be useful for her current role.
“With resumes, I can format them myself now,” Jackson said. “I can do Excel with my eyes closed.”
The Community College of Philadelphia
The Community College of Philadelphia, through their Corporate Solutions programming, offers opportunities for students to continue their education by earning short-term credentials and certificates in multiple sectors including healthcare, advanced manufacturing, general business and technology-based programs, said Carol de Fries, CCP’s vice president of workforce and economic innovation.
In November, CCP broke ground on their new Career and Advanced Technology Center in West Philadelphia which will host credit and non-credit courses and soon expand the college’s academic and workforce-related programming.
"I think it’s not only the immediate effect of higher wages and stable employment, but it’s also that realization that they have the ability to be successful."
CCP targets entry level positions where you do not have to have an associate’s degree or other credential to gain skills and enter the workforce, de Fries said. The college attempts to keep the barrier of entry low for enrolling in their programs and has worked in partnership with other organizations to offer pre-programming for students who require supplemental training before they are eligible.
After enrolling in a short-term non-credit course at CCP, agreements have been made in some areas where students can parlay their credential into starting an associate’s degree, and more easily continue their education, de Fries said.
“I think it’s not only the immediate effect of higher wages and stable employment, but it’s also that realization that they have the ability to be successful and go onto other things that could be at a higher level,” de Fries said.
Public Health Management Corporation
Previously, programming known as E3 provided education, employment and empowerment services to young Philadelphians, based out of E3 Power Centers, which were located in neighborhoods throughout the city, including in West Philadelphia. Today, Philadelphia Youth Network partners with existing organizations to distribute E3 grants and have chosen PHMC as one of its partners.
The Public Health Management Corporation or PHMC, an E3 partner organization headquartered in Center City, provides comprehensive instruction that includes GED preparation and job-readiness training. Participants are also eligible for preparation to obtain credentials through their agency partners.
Credentialing programs that have been offered in the past prepared students for work in the food service industry, customer service and retail, and construction, said Veronica Philips, PHMC’s director of workforce development.
Young people who are involved with the job-readiness program are given an individualized success plan where they can strive to meet their career goals while acknowledging their prior reading and math skills and work history, Philips said.
"Short term credentials give them the opportunity to understand where they see themselves in the near future, as opposed to doing a four-year degree."
“Short term credentials give them the opportunity to understand where they see themselves in the near future, as opposed to doing a four-year degree,” Philips said. “And then, outside of the overall programming that we offer, we have a retention component, so once the student actually gets the job we are following them for six to nine months…”
This retention portion is critical, because it allows students to express whether they are still interested in their field, understand how their employer is evaluating their performance and work to develop future goals.
In a recent PHMC youth program called Second Chance, 67% of the class was successfully credentialed and placed with an employer within six months, allowing them the opportunity to pursue a new career they may not have realized was possible.-30-
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