Germantown Restoration talks barriers to employment at Thursday night forum

While much of the focus in Germantown in recent months has been on groups looking for ways to improve the neighborhood’s commercial areas, Germantown Restoration CDC is taking a more personal focus.

The seven-year-old community development corporation that covers much of Central Germantown was recently designated a Neighborhood Advisory Committee (NAC). It is charged with connecting residents with community improvement efforts, services and programs.

In the fall, the group will begin putting together a sub-committee of residents to govern the NAC.

Jobs the focus of first forum

Sloane Folks, who has served on the Central Germantown Council and the Germantown Special Services District, is project coordinator for the NAC.

On Thursday, he hosted a briefing discussion, and what was planned as the first of three forums to talk about challenges facing Germantown residents and to begin formulating strategies to combat them.

First up, and the focus of the Thursday event, were issues of unemployment, underemployment and jobs training, and how they affect the neighborhood at every level.

Guests Johnetta Frazier, director of training for the Philadelphia Workforce Development Corp., and Khalil Mack, placement and retention coordinator for District 1199C’s training and upgrade fund, talked about the things holding residents back from getting jobs or moving ahead.

Specifically, they focused literacy and previous criminal history.

Census figures compiled by the Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board show an unemployment rate of about 15 percent in the area covered by the CDC, and a higher number — 21 percent — for adults without a high school diploma.

African-Americans make up 82 percent of the population of Central Germantown and have a rate of unemployment (16 percent) more than twice that of whites (7 percent).

“The numbers bear it out, but you don’t have to go very far to see it,” Folks said. “There are men and women who don’t have opportunities.”

“Alarming” situation

Frazier, who oversees five of the state’s CareerLink sites, where individuals can get access to job-matching information, training and financial aid for education, called the number of people coming in without diplomas or equivalent degrees “alarming.”

Combined with low rates of computer literacy, barriers to employment or advancement can seem insurmountable.

Among 400 people who Frazier tested recently on basic knowledge of computers and some Microsoft Office products, 60 percent didn’t know how to use a computer mouse, she said.

Mack, of District Council 1199C, which represents hospital and health-care workers, said strict policies about previous criminal records can make it even more difficult — especially for those who may have been laid off from jobs they held for years.

“The criminal record issue has been a barrier especially for our young males,” but also for older men and women who may have blots on their record from their youth, Mack said.

Frazier said CareerLink sites offer workshops with information about which employers are more open to hiring ex-cons.

Low turnout

The meeting, at Impacting Your World Christian Center, only drew about a dozen attendees, but Cornelia Swinson, the CDC’s executive director, said she hoped it would be the beginning of a process meant to help Germantown Restoration focus its efforts.

The next community discussion, as yet unscheduled, will focus on education and literacy in the Northwest.

“What we’re trying to do is understand these issues, and use that as the basis of our action plan,” she said.

NewsWorks has partnered with independent news gatherer PlanPhilly to provide regular, in-depth, timely coverage of planning, zoning and development news. Contact Amy Z. Quinn at azquinn@planphilly.com.

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