Philadelphia workforce programs complete merger

The two Philadelphia organizations that help job-seekers find work have officially tied the knot. As of this week, the same entity will help welfare recipients as well as any unemployed person searching for a job in Philadelphia.

The unrolling of the long-awaited Philadelphia Works, Inc. has been an exercise in managing expectations.

The process of overhauling the city’s “workforce development system” began two years ago — in response to criticism that it was inefficient and ineffective. Even now that the merger is official, the manager of the system says there’s still work to do.

Philadelphia Works director Mark Edwards says conversations are ongoing with the entity that holds the purse strings.

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“We didn’t articulate a timeline for the commonwealth,” he said. “We articulated a timeline for ourselves related to those things that we could control.”

The workforce budget was cut in half last fiscal year.

While Philadelphia has one umbrella manager of the workforce system, it still has largely separate systems for welfare or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families recipients and the general public. Those who walk into either office generally have income and education levels below the city’s average. The overhauled system is supposed to provide more effective services helping them to find work and higher pay.

“The direction, as far as we are concerned, is to make sure we are really in lockstep with the needs of employers and that we’re prioritizing all the resources that we have to help them fill the jobs that they have to fill with the people from our system,” Edwards said.

Edwards says the training opportunities for non-TANF recipients have been doubled. That increase is happening even though state policies have continually pushed for those receiving public benefits to go back to work faster rather than receiving training.

Edwards and others behind the merger say having one organization is not success. Now they have to show results.

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