West Philly Skills Initiative Helps Connect Locals to Better Jobs

While the University City District is known for various developments of public places that impact local economic development, it also has programs designed to develop human capital. The West Philadelphia Skills Initiative (WPSI) is a bridge that connects work-ready and trained West Philly workers with local employers. The entirely grant-based initiative will have additional help thanks to a recent $10,000 award from Citizens Bank to aid its workforce development program, the Center for Economic Development, located at 4725 Chestnut St.

The program, largely the brainchild of Matt Bergheiser, executive director at UCD, was founded in 2009 with the goal of developing workers’ potential in the area.

“It’s about work,” said Sheila Ireland, the program’s director. The most recent grant will provide “the opportunity to bring more services to more people” and “allows us to expand our impact in West Philadelphia.”

Its adult programs have jobs waiting for individuals when they finish the Skills Initiatives training program, and earn their job readiness certification. It operates according to a pipeline approach. UCD staff conducts research through interviews and focus groups to determine the needs of various employers at more than 200 West Philadelphia organizations. WPSI students earn between $9 and $13 an hour for successful participation in on-the-job training, in addition to class work.

Photo of a class setting. Image from UCD

The program, however, is competitive. Its recent program to hire 15 “patient-fitters” at the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania, which recently opened a new pediatric center at 48th and Market in West Philly, drew 246 applicants. The application process itself can sometimes deter hopeful employees. In order to be enrolled in the program, one must meet the requirements of the employer. That can include drug and criminal screening and skill requirements. “It’s not an easy program,” said Ireland.

There’s also the youth element of the program, which provides summer jobs as well as professional internships. Partnerships have been established with scores of local employers and major institutions like UPENN and Allied Barton. With innovative program like the WSPI, and innovative developments like The Porch, the folks at UCD are among the leaders in Philadelphia when it comes to building communities and strengthening neighborhoods.

–Lou Mancinelli