Feature photo above: Independence Hall by J. Fusco for VISIT PHILADELPHIA
Important now: As the unemployment crisis worsens it is vital to create equitable solutions that provide jobs in the short term as well as longer-term pathways forward, especially for those of historically disadvantaged ethnicities.
Philadelphia’s loving, brotherly spirit aligns well with its pride and sisterly affection for its many residents of diverse ethnicities. This also means the city is keenly aware of the multiple barriers minority groups face when it comes to finding good jobs or staying employed because of “long-standing racial injustices,” a hardship that has intensified in the wake of COVID-19.
It is a crisis that has accelerated Philadelphia’s quest to tackle unemployment—and underemployment—in a way that addresses equity issues and puts workers on a long-term career path with sustainable, living wages. It is part of a shift in focus away from short-term job training and placement toward long-term career planning and advancement.
Additionally, employers themselves are now considered a critical part of the equation and are more closely partnered and collaborative with the city in initiatives going forward. In the end they gain too by helping to cultivate a pool of workers whose training, education and skills building is targeted to their specific workforce needs.
Bold New Effort
Even in the face of reduced budgets and a reorganization, the Department of Commerce along with its Workforce Development division has launched new initiatives to mitigate the impacts of the persistently dire unemployment situation, especially for racially disadvantaged residents.
To back its resolve the city is investing $1 million to “accelerate innovative solutions to workforce challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and/or exacerbated by long-standing racial injustice,” according to a Call for Ideas document issued in September.
In the document, organizations are instructed to propose a new program design or add to an existing workforce program which will produce improved outcomes for the disadvantaged seeking employment in one or more of the following areas:
Additionally, job opportunities offered must meet one or more of the following criteria:
Awards ranging from $200,000 to $600,000 will be made to between two and five projects proposed. An announcement of the winning proposers are expected to be announced shortly.
Targeting the Tech Sector
The technology sector is a purposeful field of choice for the department’s newest inclusion endeavors since it crosses a variety of different industries and is growing at a strong, steady pace in Philadelphia. For the second year in a row, Philly ranked 22nd on a list of top-50 North American metropolitan areas for tech talent attraction and growth — but that’s not a bad thing, according to CBRE, a national real estate services firm.
“Compared to full-steam-ahead Silicon Valley, tech talent growth in Philadelphia follows a more slow-and-steady cadence, with plenty of room to grow — and that room means the city will likely be better off in the long run,” according to an August 2020 article in Technical.ly
Despite a fair amount of diversity in Philadelphia’s tech sector—37% percent of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) employees are women, 15% are Black, and 7% are Latinx—augmenting that level is a high priority. Thus, the impetus behind creating the Most Diverse Tech Hub (MDTH) and the city’s $500,000 investment to bolster the pursuit (see Goals infographic below).
The groundwork is being laid now for MDTH with an RFQ to kick it off. Issued in September the document requires the proposing organizations to deliver programming in the following three areas (Funds will be awarded to two to four organizational partners in Fiscal Year 2021):
“We have some great proposals from vendors for each of those options who will specifically develop and build technology talent pipelines,” says Heloise Jettison, senior director of Workforce Development. “Part of each of those proposals include paid internships for young adults we want to introduce and get into the tech field.”
An important piece of the effort is building a Tech Talent Pipeline to produce a steady stream of workers, expressly Black and brown, who have been trained and skilled specifically to fit tech employers’ needs. Those selected for this programming area will be non-profit organizations that have direct relationships working with employers, according to Jettison.
“It is part of their work to prepare talent; young people who will be great candidates for these internships and to hire into the companies they have relationships with. They will be building out even more companies that will interview and potentially hire young adults that fit their training or are prepared and skilled in the tech areas those companies need.”
Additionally, most of the city’s non-profit partners are expanding and enhancing their training programs to include high school diplomas because it is one of the biggest barriers for many residents. “Our partners are expanding their intentional partnerships with employers in the city to build that bridge so there is a job at the end of training and not just a promise. We’ve also expanded this to be more intentional and descriptive with our employer partners; they want the talent and to be a part of this.”
Tech employers committed to the overall plan are a key component of its success. Employers will work with Workforce Development to communicate the type of skills, credentials and workforce needs they have moving forward. “We make sure we build those skills in the community. It may be that they have to help identify particular tech or coding boot camps or specific curricula the school district should be looking at,” says Jettison.
By last spring Workforce Development had already cultivated a list of over 60 tech businesses that were onboard, wanted to be a part of the effort and ready to attend the first initial meeting. “Of course, we had to stop that because it was scheduled for March when the world fell apart,” says Jettison. “We still have all those folks available. We let them know we are reorganizing and interested in rolling out this year. And they are still interested and engaged with a lot of the work we do across all of the units in Commerce.”
The city is ensuring there are opportunities for employers and workforce training providers to work together. “That’s where we serve as a conduit making sure they are building and fortifying those relationships. It’s really important for us that the industry partnerships are employer led; that’s the whole point of this,” says Howard.
The city is also working closely with the school district on career connected learning models where employers will be more involved with exposing students to potential career opportunities while they are in middle and high school.
“We want employers to have a presence in those students’ lives while they’re still in school to help prevent dropouts and expose them to jobs so they understand the earnings potential and pathways, which may not be college,” says Jettison.
For more information contact: Kevin Lessard, communications director for the Philadelphia Department of Communications: Kevin.Lessard@phila.gov