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Innovative workforce programs will be 'Win-Win' for the region

Workforce development at Community College of Philadelphia

University City District

Early childhood education

A mural in South Kensington

Community College of Philadelphia

Workforce development at Community College of Philadelphia

Workforce development at Community College of Philadelphia

A city cannot grow without good jobs, and it cannot thrive without connecting its citizens to those jobs in a thoughtful, thorough way. Last year, we shared some big news from the Job Opportunity Investment Network (JOIN), an organization on the front lines of this quest. Founded in 2008, JOIN is a partnership of funders -- primarily philanthropic organizations and the public sector -- who come together to support innovative, creative job training projects.

Their Win-Win Challenge would offer an opportunity for innovative organizations, partnering with employers, to deploy and experiment with best practices in workforce development. The program would provide resources -- information, technical assistance and funding -- to promising partnerships first via four planning grants (up to $50,000) and then, later in the year, through two implementation grants of up to $300,000 awarded to the strongest first-phase projects.

Now we're here to reveal that first round of grantees. It's a diverse group, doing inspiring work across the city in a variety of sectors. Win-Win Challenge planning grants are going to University City District, the Public Health Management Corporation, South Kensington Community Partners and Community College of Philadelphia.

"We think there are ways to invest in employer-driven job training that can really challenge the educational and workforce development landscape as it currently exists and move the region forward," says JOIN Executive Director Jennie Sparandara. "All of this is with the goal of getting more entry-level workers connected to jobs and building a more inclusive economy through really smart job training."

"Why did we decide to do this funding challenge?" she continues. "We get asked all the time for examples of really great job training in our community. And the truth is, we think of the same two to four examples every time. It actually keeps me up nights. And then I realized that we have a real opportunity to build the field of interesting and effective workforce training in Greater Philadelphia. A funding challenge felt like a smart way to get a host of organizations, including some atypical actors -- folks who don't consider themselves workforce development organizations – thinking differently about this work, and ultimately into this game.”

After announcing the Win-Win Challenge, JOIN received 28 proposals; four were selected as grantees. 

A green thumb in West Philly

The first grantee is the University City Landscaping Trades Social Enterprise, a program from University City District (UCD), a groundbreaking partnership of neighborhood anchor institutions -- hospitals, universities -- small businesses and residents that works to improve quality of life in this diverse, fast-evolving section of West Philadelphia. UCD has already become a leader in the field of workforce development thanks to their wildly successful West Philadelphia Skills Initiative (featured last year in Flying Kite).

"Over the time that we've been doing the Skills Initiative, the majority of our participants have been African-American females and the majority of our jobs have been in healthcare," explains WPSI Director Sheila Ireland. "So, we knew we had to expand our demographic in some way, and that it would be interesting to develop not only a jobs approach but also some entrepreneurial skills."

UCD manages, maintains and manicures acres of green space across the neighborhood and that work has traditionally been contracted out at a cost of almost a million dollars a year. What if they could bring that work in-house, and serve some of their workforce goals at the same time? 

Working with Valley Crest, a landscaping company, UCD launched a training program, their first in this service field. The majority of participants were West Philadelphians from the Mayor's Office of Reintegration Services (RISE).

"The pilot was very successful for us in terms of cost savings, and in terms of the people we were able to graduate from the program and connect to employment," says Ireland. "So, we want to go to the next level and build this business within UCD, employing residents in West Philadelphia, teaching them the trade with our employer partner, and building this fee for service model that is self-sustaining."

Thanks to the Win-Win grant, UCD can continue to ask big questions about the neighborhood's workforce needs. JOIN is particularly excited about landscaping's potential to start a larger conversation about how major institutional employers procure goods and services.

Earning and learning in early childhood education

The second grantee is the Public Health Management Corporation (PHMC), a large non-profit network offering 250 different programs in public health, health promotion, social services and education. The goal of their Win-Win proposal is to improve the early childhood care and education workforce, identifying employer needs and appropriate training partners, building a seamless training system and codifying career pathways.

For the last five years, PHMC has administered Keystone STARS, the quality rating system for the early care and education field -- rating early childcare programs, childcare facilities, home based programs and preschools, on a scale of one to four stars based on quality metrics developed by the state. They then offer resources, helping programs improve their quality through technical assistance and professional development. 

"We really have spent a lot of time trying to understand what factors correlate with high-quality early care and education," says Natalie Renew, Managing Director of Early Childhood Education. "We know that our current workforce needs to send their kids to safe, high-quality childcare facilities so they can go to work, have reliable attendance, and know, while they're at work, that their kids are being well cared for and getting a great education."

They have discovered that one of the major stumbling blocks to quality is an underpaid and underprepared workforce. 

"There are a variety of issues related to the training and preparation, but also motivating new folks to come into the field," explains Renew. "We're at this very unique point in this industry where there are huge opportunities on the horizon: Obama is talking about [early childhood education] in the State of the Union and there's a big campaign in Pennsylvania around universal Pre-K. Quite frankly, we're not prepared. If our new governor said, 'Here's $100 million for universal Pre-K in Philadelphia,' we would not have a workforce to support that."

The planning grant will help PHMC facilitate a community discussion, ensuring more early childhood educators are equipped for gainful employment.

Sparandara is particularly excited about JOIN wading into this complicated -- and essential -- sector. 

"Early childhood education as a sector is vexing from a human capital perspective," she explains. "The financial returns aren't necessarily aligned with the social returns, so we’re eager to understand and build a stronger return on investment for training this workforce."

Thinking local in South Kensington

Meanwhile, South Kensington Community Partners (SKCP) are not targeting a specific sector but rather a specific neighborhood. Their planning grant will support South Kensington Works, a program that will enable local businesses -- particularly small- and medium-sized enterprises -- to hire local and qualified people at family sustaining wages.

"I moved to Philadelphia this year and joined SKCP in June," recalls Executive Director Emily Kerr. "What I found was an organization with decades of root-building in the community, and just a completely crazy amount of engagement in greening and cleaning the neighborhood, zoning and planning, at every level."

She also found a neighborhood in the midst of transformation.

"We have an opportunity and a challenge with all this development coming in from Fishtown and up from Northern Liberties," explains Kerr. "We're not a neighborhood that's going to stay the same. We're going to develop, and so the question for us now is, is that development going to be in service of the people who live there or is it just going to push them out? There's both the family and worker/career-seeker side of that equation and there's also the business side."

South Kensington has historically been a neighborhood rich with entrepreneurial spirit and small businesses. Now, thanks to the Win-Win Challenge, SKCP will connect job seekers with small businesses, making it more feasible for them to stay put as the neighborhood changes. 

Teaching as training

The final grantee is Community College of Philadelphia, an institution in transition as it approaches its 50th year. The only community college in the city proper, the school has historically functioned primarily as a transfer institution -- providing two years of education before passing students on to four-year colleges -- while also offering associate's degrees and certificate programs that prepare students to enter the workforce directly. 

Now, with a new president, Dr. Donald Guy Generals, and an increased federal policy emphasis on community colleges as job training engines, the College is ready to evolve into a strong workforce agent in the city. The Win-Win grant will enable them to hire a senior staffer responsible for building relationships with regional manufacturers, better understanding employer needs, and leveraging those employer relationships to influence the curriculum.

"We want to make sure our offerings are aligned with what the workforce needs," explains Kristen Starr, the College's director of Strategic Grants and Philanthropy. "We're starting with advanced manufacturing as a sector this year. We can start building those bridges."

"Across the country, people's expectations of community college have changed," she continues. "You are going to prepare people for jobs."

"Community College of Philadelphia's reach and value in the space can be immense," adds Sparandara. "We’re thrilled to support their thinking differently about how they effectively partner with employers and industry."

As the four grantees set these planning projects in motion, JOIN will be following the progress closely. Their work will be showcased at an event in the fall, and the implementation grants will be awarded before the end of the year.

The Job Opportunity Investment Network (JOIN) has partnered with Flying Kite to explore how good jobs are created and filled in Greater Philadelphia. Stay tuned as we follow the progress of these exciting grants and track the city's continued workforce development challenges.
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