More than 100 thoughtleaders from across the Philadelphia region gathered last month for a workforce forum at Community College of Philadelphia. The forum was sponsored by Roadmap for Growth, a multiyear initiative of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. The panel members, comprised of some of the city’s most recognized educators and business executives, shared their agendas to promote economic growth and job creation — actionable ideas that Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration can work on to bring its vision of growth into fruition.
Community College of Philadelphia’s president, Donald Guy Generals, proposed an idea that he has woven into the fabric of the College’s administration. “Facilitating relationships between the business community and the educational sector are key. For the College to maintain its rightful place as a premier institution of higher education, it must strengthen its traditional focus while embracing an expanded mission put forth by new realities. An important part of the mission is taking a primary role in workforce development, readiness and economic innovation.”
The idea was met with a hearty round of applause by community stakeholders in attendance — the politicians, educators, business and nonprofit leaders, and activists — all with a shared mission to work together to connect young people to careers. Such partnerships not only help align the needs of industries seeking skilled and trained employees, but they strengthen the pipeline of graduates to satisfy workforce demands.
In addition to Dr. Generals, panel members included Dr. William T. Hite, superintendent, School District of Philadelphia; Nicole Anderson, president, AT&T Foundation, and associate vice president of social innovation, AT&T; and Robert M. Poliseno, regional executive officer, Mid-Atlantic Region, Chubb, a global property and casualty insurer. Daniel K. Fitzpatrick, president and CEO, Citizens Bank of PA/NJ/DE/NY, also delivered remarks.
During the dialogue, panelists addressed changes in the workforce landscape. Poliseno equated the approaching retirement of baby boomers in the insurance industry to a “silver tsunami;” noting that the city’s future workforce skews younger, very often requires more training and education, and is more racially and culturally diverse.
Otis Hackney, Philadelphia’s chief education officer, pointed out that in a city with one of the highest poverty rates, the challenge is to identify how to balance the needs of the workforce while addressing issues such as high school completion rates that fall below the national average, academic proficiency and family stability. Additionally, the city must determine a process in which businesses and community colleges can work together to expand job opportunities for young people.
One of those businesses, Starbucks, has already created such pathways through the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative, a coalition of leading U.S.-based employers; it aims to provide youth who face systemic barriers to jobs and education with internships, along with part-time and full-time jobs. Recently, Starbucks partnered with Community College of Philadelphia for a job fair that drew more than 200 invited job seekers. Starbucks interviewed applicants for 150 openings on the spot.
Dr. Generals has frequently engaged in conversations with community and business leaders about ways the College can best connect with businesses to produce an educated and skilled workforce. His overriding conclusion? “We need to be more comprehensive and more organic in everything we do,” he said.
Some of the ideas highlighted included:
- Supporting a more holistic approach to education through a community schools model
- Offering more high school internships so students can learn what having a job entails
- Facilitating a more substantial dialogue between business executives and higher education leaders to better serve evolving workforce needs
- Making Philadelphia a destination for educators and teachers potentially through incentive programs
- Exposing students to potential careers — especially insurance, finance and accounting — at an early age
- Using technology to scale the impact of education at a reduced cost
The gap between workforce development and placement must be closed, Dr. Generals said. “We need to have real-time, right-now job opportunities for our students,” he said. “We can train them and get them ready, but we need to know jobs are there today to have a more effective system of workforce innovation.”