Philadelphia skills training programs can lead to jobs with higher pay

In August 2020, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. (PIDC) launched its Navy Yard Skills Initiative. (The Philadelphia Tribune)

In August 2020, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. (PIDC) launched its Navy Yard Skills Initiative. (The Philadelphia Tribune)

This story originally appeared in The Philadelphia Tribune.

Philadelphia’s business community is joining with community groups and universities to offer skilled training programs to fill much-needed positions that start off as entry level but typically lead to higher paying jobs and careers.

Since the pandemic, many city companies are trying to expand, but are struggling to find employees. At the same time, many city residents lack the necessary skills to fill the openings. These training programs provide a needed service to job seekers and the business community.

In August 2020, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. (PIDC) launched its Navy Yard Skills Initiative.

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The program was made possible with a $1.5 million grant from JP Morgan Chase to the University City District to support the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative, in collaboration with Temple University and PIDC, to build a network of employer-driven workforce programs in West, North and South Philadelphia.

Since 2018, Philadelphia Opportunities Industrialization Center’s Smart Energy Technical Training program has offered customized job training and job-placement services for those who are interested in the energy industries, such as solar and electric-car charging technology. These two sectors are growing rapidly in job and career opportunities, as clean energy and electric vehicles become more popular. The OIC is one of the region’s oldest and largest providers of tuition-free job-training and career-development services.

Both programs are seeking applicants now for programs starting in January.

Temple University, through its Lenfest Center for Community Workforce Partners formed in 2018, also offers job and career training programs.

Delena Smith, skilled-trades program manager of OIC’s Smart Energy Technical Training program, said it is designed to get graduates entry-level positions in the solar, electric-car charging and other energy-related businesses.

“It was started because of the need for skills training in trades jobs,” Smith said. “We know that solar is the future, so it just made sense.”

According to Smith, about 70 people have completed the eight-week program, which is sponsored in part by PECO and is tuition free. To enroll, you must be 18-years-old, have a high school diploma or GED, be able to lift 50 pounds, go up an extension ladder and pass a reading and math test.

After finishing the program, participants are given an OIC certificate of completion and an Occupational Safety and Health Administration certification. This means the holder has completed a 10-hour safety and health information course for entry workers in the construction and general industry.

Graduates of the program have been hired by companies such as PECO, Solar State and Volta Charging. Based in San Francisco, Volta Charging is one of the top builders of electric-vehicle charging stations in the U.S.
“We’ve been able to place 83%,” Smith said. “The pay starts at $15 an hour, but goes up with experience. (Participants) are very excited about it. Many of our participants have no trades experience.”

As part of the program, Smith also teaches a class on “life skills” such as conflict resolution, professionalism, time management and dealing with difficult people in the work place. Employers had specifically asked for these skills, Smith said.

According to U.S. News and World Report’s best job rankings, solar panel installer’s median salary was $44,890 in 2019.

Philadelphia OIC is one of the region’s oldest and largest providers of tuition-free job-training and career-development services, offering computer and hospitality training for other industries.

“We are recruiting now,” Smith said “We have a program in January.”

At the Navy Yard on South Broad St., custom-made training programs have been created for some of the more than 150 companies there, including Four Seasons Landscaping, Philadelphia Ship Building and Tastykake, said Jennifer Tran, PIDC director of marketing at the Navy Yard.

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“We work directly with Navy Yard employers who have a need,” Tran said. “We pair them with talented Philadelphians who are unemployed or under-employed. We look for employers who have quality-wage full-time positions and have a number of vacancies due to growth.”

The first training program was for Four Seasons Landscaping, which had a need for labor and have been a longtime landscapers for the Navy Yard, Tran said.

All of the jobs at the Navy Yard for program graduates pay about $14 an hour, with opportunities to increase in time. For example, some of the new hires for Philadelphia Ship Yard will move into its apprentice program and make $17 a hour upon completion.

“In September we partnered with Philadelphia Ship Yard, Inc., one of the leading ship builders in America for a program that they needed as they were ramping up for some government contracts for shipbuilding,” Tran said. “They had some need for laborers and we were able to partner with them for a program.”

Kelly Whitaker, Director of Human Resources at Philadelphia Ship Yard, said, “We are definitely pleased with the work of the team at West Philly Skills Initiative. Their recruiting program was a success and our new employees have been a welcome addition to the Philly Ship Yard team.”

Initially, the company promised to hire 10 people from the program, but ended up hiring 13, Whitaker said. “At this time, five of our recent laborers are receiving offers into our February apprenticeship program,” Whitaker said.

Shirley Moy, executive director of Lenfest Center for Community Workforce Partnerships at Temple, said the center offers several training programs, for those seeking to get into the job market for the first time and who need digital literacy or high school equivalency courses and more.

“When you talk about many other jobs that have family-sustaining wages, the more education you have the more opportunities that are afforded you,” Moy said. “Most people have higher aspirations to get a job that requires additional certifications.”

The Lenfest Center offers a state-certified Community Health Workers training program.

“Community Health Workers is continuing to grow as a recognized career in the health care industry,” Moy said. “Community health workers are trusted members of the community, who can serve as a liaison between the medical profession and the patient. Many patients will feel more at ease talking to somebody who looks like them or have shared life experiences.”

Community Health Workers typically start at $14 an hour, but can increase with time.

Moy said, “If there is a doctor that doesn’t look like them or understand them, they may not be disclosing as much as they would to a community health worker.”

Temple’s center also offers a customer-service course that teaches communications and conflict-resolution skills.

“Most employers would say that one of the required skill sets of an employee is really your power skills, people call them soft skills,” Moy said. “We don’t call them soft skills because they are critical to any type of job, to be able to deal with conflict or have those power skills to be able to communicate.”

This program results in a certification from the National Retail Foundation. That is recognized by a number of retail sales companies, like CVS Health and other employers who are struggling to fill positions.

Most of the programs are tuition free or have scholarships available to pay for them.

According to Moy, the programs are funded by several groups, including the state Department of Education, Philadelphia Youth Network, Philadelphia Works, PA Women Work, the City of Philadelphia, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

To apply for the Smart Energy Technical Training program, please go to the website: PhilaOIC.org website. Call (215) 263-7700 ext. 502.

To apply for the Navy Yard Skills Initiative, please go to the website: navyyard.org/workforce.

To apply for any of the Temple programs, please email: lnpwi@temple.edu.

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