Strengthening the workforce

Fueling Philadelphia’s Talent Engine is a citywide strategy that aims to equip Philadelphians with skills the workforce needs.

Working it: The Mayor Kenney task force and officials kicked off the citywide workforce strategy program at Community College of Philadelphia last week. The goal is to prepare Philadelphians for the skills employers need in hopes to increase employment among city residents. TIMES FILE PHOTO

It’s an exciting time to live in Philadelphia, said Aaron Kirkland, a technician for the Philadelphia Water Department.

Not only is it the city of champions, but it’s also doubling down on its effort to equip people with skills and experience to ready them for the workforce.

The Mayor Kenney task force and city officials kicked off the citywide workforce strategy program at the Community College of Philadelphia last week. The goal is to prepare Philadelphians for the skills employers need, address the barriers that prevent Philadelphians from attaining career opportunities, and building a system that is coordinated, innovative and effective.

Despite the temporary excitement, the city still has work to do.

“It is unacceptable for any Philadelphian to be working a full-time job and still be living in poverty,” Kenney said at the meeting. “We must be better as a city.”

Kenney said the strategy, called Fueling Philadelphia’s Talent Engine, is not about city government, and that it is driven by its partners.

“We’ll stop spending money on misery,” he said, saying “misery dollars” spent on crime, incarceration, prosecution and addiction could instead be spent on libraries and schools.

Data released by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2017 showed Philadelphia was still the poorest major city in the country in 2016, with 25.7 percent of people living below the poverty line. Kenney called the figure disgraceful. Some 12.3 percent live in deep poverty, which means they have an income under 50 percent of the federal poverty line.

There is also a 14.4 percent “youth disconnection rate,” which means there were 29,151 people aged 16 to 24 not enrolled in school or working in 2016.

Major employers in the city were approached and consulted about what skills they would like to see more of in the workplace. The city also asked employers to expand their talent pools and hire more Philadelphia residents.

An Office of Workforce Development will be created this year and will coordinate between city agencies, Philadelphia Works Inc. and the wide variety of external partners.

Moving forward, the strategy will tackle five major challenges:

• Aligning the Philadelphia workforce, economic development and education institutions with business needs.

• Focusing on reading, writing, numeracy and digital literacy skills.

• Creating a long-term strategy to increase economic mobility for residents living in poverty.

• Providing stronger preparation for all Philadelphia students for college and careers.

• Removing population-specific barriers, including residents returning from incarceration, disconnected youth and immigrants.

For proof of success, look at Kirkland himself.

“I didn’t always look like this,” he said. For a long time Kirkland said he did not have skills to get hired in the workforce until he signed up for PowerCorps, the first program from Workforce Development.

“Had I not had the opportunity to learn these things and the people to help me out when I needed it, I don’t know what my career path would look like,” he said.

The meeting saw two panels speak about the importance of preparation and accessibility in the workforce. At the end of the meeting, numerous organizations announced partnerships and collaborations with the strategy, including 10 city departments.

“This is a game,” said Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Youth Network. “What we have to do a better job of is teaching young people to observe the rules of the game, decide which game you want to play, play it your way, or play it their way until you can play it your way, and change the game.” ••

To learn more about the strategy, head to phila.gov/workforce