PHILADELPHIA – In case you missed it, Mayor Kenney last week unveiled “Fueling Philadelphia’s Talent Engine,” a new citywide workforce strategy focusing on better aligning workforce education and training to the needs of local industries. The strategy will rethink education and training so that our institutions are able to provide students and job-seekers with relevant, employer-driven experiences to compete in a knowledge economy. This new plan addresses employers’ talent needs while preparing residents for careers in family-sustaining jobs.

The newly created Office of Workforce Development will be leading this important work in partnership with the Workforce Development Steering Committee. Further details about “Fueling Philadelphia’s Talent Engine” can be found in the Philadelphia Business Journal and Inquirer articles below.

Kenney’s ambitious workforce plan calls on business to do its part
Philadelphia Business Journal // Alison Burdo
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney is calling for private business to strengthen their commitment to the city – whether by offering apprenticeships to high school students or hiring the formerly incarcerated – as part of his administration’s expansive new workforce initiative.

“We are no longer living in the economy of our grandparents, or even our parents,” Kenney told dozens of local business people during his third annual address to the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia on Tuesday. He then announced the creation of the Office of Workforce Development, a formal government agency that evolved out of the first-ever citywide Workforce Development Steering Committee. The office will be tasked with the bulk of the responsibilities coming out of the new strategy.

Detailed in a 60-page report called “Fueling Philadelphia’s Talent Pipeline,” the workforce development initiative has three paramount goals – identified by the steering committee and its partners, and each has three recommendations on how to achieve those aims. The goals are: preparing Philadelphians with the skills in demand by employers; address the underlying barriers that hinder access to career opportunities; and build a better coordinated, innovative and effective workforce system.

The steering committee, which launched in 2016, is a large force behind Fueling Philadelphia, and will work with the new Office of Workforce Development in the future.

Launching later this year, the Office of Workforce Development “will be staffed by existing top talent from various city departments who have been deeply involved in building the workforce strategy,” the mayor said. Negotiations with the office leader are in the final stages, according to Lauren Cox, a spokeswoman for the Mayor’s Office, who said that position will be the only new hire, and the role’s salary will be a new cost associated with the department’s creation.

The Office of Workforce Development is expected to fill a large role – team up with various public and private entities to better determine the skill areas the city’s existing labor lacks; connect with the region’s employers to boost the number of career-building opportunities (like apprenticeships) they make available; support the School District of Philadelphia’s efforts to grow the number of students earning college credit; coordinate efforts to improve job training and hiring of immigrants, non-native English speakers, and those re-entering society following a stint in prison; launch a transparent data system to track workforce development progress across a common set of measurements; and develop a comprehensive funding strategy, that taps state, federal, private and philanthropic sources, while making a minimum of at least $13 million in investment by 2020 in career building programs to “prepare Philadelphians for middle-skills jobs that provide a family-sustaining wage.”

These tasks are all part of an effort “to better align the citywide workforce strategy with local and regional economic development activities and policies,” the Fueling Philadelphia report said.

“It will also provide employers with a single location they can turn for support and assistance connecting to workforce resources,” Kenney said.

With such a full-scale mission, Fueling Philadelphia’s rhetoric could overshadow the logistics needed to achieve its ambitious aims. Here are some key takeaways for private industry, nonprofit and educational partners, and others interested in advancement of the city’s labor pool:

A pilot program, “City as Model Employer,” that began last year will continue. Reiterating its plans, the Kenney administration ensures “200 individuals will secure permanent employment, either with a city department or one of our private sector partners by the end of 2020,” Cox said. Those individuals will be Philadelphians facing barriers to employment – like “opportunity youth” or those aged 16 to 24 who are disconnected from work and school.

A recently hired talent development professional will help as the pilot’s buildout, fueled by a $250,000 grant from the Lenfest Foundation, continues. Aimed at developing paths for long-term employment for seasonal and temporary workers, the City as Model pilot currently involves 10 city departments – Water; Streets; Parks and Recreation; Prisons; Philly 311; the Office of Innovation and Technology; the Office of Fleet Management; the Free Library; the airport; and the Community Life Improvement Project.

Employers have a leading role in the Fueling Philadelphia plan. Opportunities for the private sector are peppered throughout the expansive report, ranging from industry leaders communicating their sector’s needs to the city to offering summer jobs at their offices. “I am aware this is not a light lift for any employer, and that is why I want to ensure our administration is available and prepared to support you,” Kenney said.

Research led to a focus on seven target industries — health care, retail and hospitality, business and financial services, technology services, construction and infrastructure, manufacturing and logistics and early childhood education. Expanding the apprenticeship model across each of these industries, and adding 500 new registered apprenticeship positions are two ways the city is calling on private business to step up. The Workforce Development office will also work with companies, and other partners, to achieve the participation of 3,000 individuals “in a high-quality skills training or work-based learning opportunity aligned to the needs of industry.”

Fueling Philadelphia also lays out the expectation that Greater Philadelphia employers will help to provide 16,000 young people with the chance for a high-quality work experience by 2020. Examples include career days, job shadowing, internships and apprenticeships.

The strategy also encourages employers to hire previously incarcerated Philadelphians through the Fair Chance Hiring Initiative, which reimburses businesses with a portion of the worker’s hourly wage as long as certain requirements are met. In the first year, the city set aside $500,000 for total reimbursements – a figure that could change in upcoming annual budgets.

The Community College of Philadelphia, which is represented on the steering committee, will have workforce development pathways for Philadelphia public school students and others facing barriers to entry. Programs that better addresses the employers’ needs will become a larger priority, as well as making students able to transfer noncredit coursework toward degree-granting programs. More opportunities for high school students to participate in dual-enrollment programs at CCP is also a piece of the school district’s goal to enroll 6,000 students on an annual basis in programs to earn post-secondary credit. Advanced Placement coursework is one of several other ways the district can meet that goal.

CCP also will assist in adult education plans. Along with other agencies, CCP will help in the development and implementation of “contextualized bridge programs” to increase the number of adults who are job ready.

The Kenney administration’s preference for local control is apparent throughout Fueling Philadelphia.

“At a time when we know we can’t anticipate more resources from either Harrisburg or Washington, we have been conscious of building a strategy that allows Philadelphia’s many workforce partners to use what we already have in a smarter way,” Kenney said.

On top of all its other duties, the Office of Workforce Development will oversee the investment of $13 million, by 2020, in workforce education and career pathway programs that “prepare Philadelphians for middle-skill jobs that provide a family-sustaining wage,” Cox said. That figure means an additional $4 million commitment from the city, CCP, Philadelphia Works Inc. and the Philadelphia Youth Network to go with the $9 million the institutions already dedicated to the cause.

Efforts to advocate for policy changes at the local, state and federal level also fall under the Workforce Development office.

Kenney’s ambitious workforce plan to tackle blue-collar skills gap
Inquirer // Juliana Feliciano Reyes
As cities across the country show off how attractive they are to millennials in a mad dash to lure Amazon’s second headquarters, Mayor Kenney took a pause from the high-tech fanfare to announce to the city’s business community an ambitious strategy to train and connect Philadelphians to blue-collar jobs.

Think: apprenticeships, job training, and adult literacy education, all with a focus on marginalized populations, including those living in poverty but also, notably, immigrants and “returning citizens,” or the formerly incarcerated.

“This is a moment to forge an inclusive path to prosperity,” Drexel president John Fry said at the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce’s annual mayoral luncheon Tuesday before introducing Kenney. Fry added that Kenney was setting a “high-bar for the business community” by encouraging employers to invest in building a pipeline of skilled Philadelphia workers.

The plan, named “Fueling Philadelphia’s Talent Engine,” is the result of an 18-month effort by a 40-member workforce steering committee heavily comprising representatives from the education and workforce training sector.

Gov. Wolf announced a similar, $50 million workforce development effort at his budget address Tuesday, one that proposes spending half the project budget to teach science, technology, engineering and math skills at “all levels.” (Kenney announced a local initiative to do the same in December.)

After walking on the stage to the “Rocky” theme song and greeting the packed Marriott Grand Ballroom, much to the crowd’s pleasure, with a “Yo. How youse doin’?” Kenney did speak of Amazon HQ2 but spent more time talking about his administration’s public education efforts, garnering applause for gaining back local control of the school district. He presented the workforce development strategy as part of his focus on reducing poverty through education.

“We continue to be the poorest of America’s 10 largest cities, with far too many residents lacking the skills and networks needed to compete for jobs that pay a family-sustaining wage,” he said. “This is not a new problem. But it is one that we can no longer afford to ignore.”

The effort already has $9 million committed annually for workforce training and education, mayoral spokeswoman Lauren Cox said, with contributions from the city ($3.75 million), Philadelphia Works, Community College of Philadelphia, and Philadelphia Youth Network. The hope is to get that number to $13 million annually by 2020.

The plan is part of an early but growing trend on the part of city and state governments to tackle what is known as the skills gap, or the mismatch between the talent that employers so desperately need and the skills the workforce currently has, especially for “middle-skills” jobs, which require some level of education or training but not a four-year bachelor’s degree.

A consequence of a job market that continues to be decimated by automation, the over-emphasis on four-year college educations and the millions of manufacturing jobs lost since the 2008 recession, the issue has affected industries across the board, from the high-tech startup sector to the manufacturing industry.

“We’re all dying here,” said Frank Cettina, vice president of operations for electronic manufacturer Computer Components Corp., on the topic of his industry’s rampant hiring hardships. He was attending a meeting recently for the hiring-focused regional manufacturing partnership he co-chairs through Philadelphia Works.

Ten to 15 years ago, his challenge was training current employees in new skills. The challenge these days, Cettina said in an interview, is finding people worth hiring and training — people who will stay with the company and grow.

Kenney’s workforce committee plan, which sets out a number of specific goals to reach by 2020, is eyeing the 131,000 middle-skills jobs across seven sectors in Philadelphia, including health care, retail and hospitality and business and financial services. The 40-member steering committee includes four private-sector, for-profit reps, two of which were from banks Wells Fargo and Bank of America; the rest are mainly education and workforce development agencies.

“We are certainly eager to engage more members of the private sector,” Cox said.

(The committee also includes the two candidates eyeing U.S. Rep. Bob Brady’s congressional seat: Kenney’s deputy mayor for labor Richie Lazer, who is expected to announce his candidacy, and Philadelphia Opportunities Industrialization Center’s executive director, Kevin R. Johnson.)

Another part of the plan is to build out an Office of Workforce Development, which has its roots in the Commerce Department’s five-members Talent Development Unit that Kenney created when he entered office on the recommendation of his transition team. The administration is in the final stages of negotiation for that hire, who will be the main point person for the strategy, Cox said.