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Building a Stronger Workforce Requires a Cooperative, Collective Approach

Jim Kenney
By Jim Kenney Mayor, City of Philadelphia

In a rapidly changing world economy, our success is increasingly dependent upon the development of a strong, skilled workforce. To prepare our residents for careers that not only provide jobs today, but will continue to support them and their families for decades to come, a collective effort—spanning government, education and industry—is required.

Earlier this year, Philadelphia set out to launch such an effort when we released our citywide workforce development strategy, “Fueling Philadelphia’s Talent Engine.” Key stakeholders from across the city came together to create a set of recommendations that will help align Philadelphia’s education and workforce systems to the talent needs of business. To drive these efforts, we also established the City’s first-ever Office of Workforce Development.

Data-Driven Approach

As the City of Philadelphia and our partners began the process of creating a workforce development strategy, we recognized the need to tie our plans to labor market trends. The Economy League of Greater Philadelphia conducted a quantitative analysis of employment, growth trends, and wages for seven key sectors: Healthcare, Retail & Hospitality, Early Childhood Education, Technology Services, Business & Financial Services, Construction & Infrastructure, and Manufacturing & Logistics. In 2016, these seven industries accounted for 71% of all jobs in Philadelphia.

Although there was a slight loss in manufacturing jobs over the course of the past decade, in recent years (2013–2016), the sector actually added more than 400 jobs in our city. It also continues to provide a significant portion of middle-skill jobs for our residents. Forty-five percent of all manufacturing jobs in Philadelphia are classified as middle-skill, which is a higher percentage than any of the other sectors we prioritized. Manufacturing also offers a number of low-skill positions (42% of its current jobs) that can serve as on-ramps to a long-term career for individuals who lack a secondary credential or the skills required for more advanced positions.

By leveraging existing and new resources to target opportunities connected to these low- and middle-skill positions, we will be able to move more Philadelphians into viable career pathways that can support employees and their families.

Creating Career Pathways

At the center of our strategy is a shift in focus from short-term job placement to long-term career planning and advancement. The choice to focus on career pathways was a deliberate one and served two purposes: helping business to avoid high employee turnover and ensuring that individuals are prepared for a lifetime of work, not just a temporary paycheck.

The School District of Philadelphia offers more than 120 Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs in 30+ high schools, covering more than 40 occupational areas.

As you evaluate and make changes to your own workforce development programs, I would encourage you to consider moving towards a career pathway system. These systems pair progressive levels of education and training with career coaching and social service supports to help employees advance to increasingly higher levels of employment.

This kind of realignment requires intentionality from all involved. Employers and employees must consider long-term planning for themselves and the company. Education and training partners must be willing to incorporate feedback from industry in order to meet their needs and build a workforce prepared for jobs of the future. And most importantly, all of these individuals, organizations and systems must work together.

Role of the Employer

One of the recommendations that is vital to the success of our strategy is placing employers at the center of efforts to advance local talent development. Two of the key tactics for achieving that increased involvement from our employers will be the creation or strengthening of industry partnerships and engaging companies in a “Model Employer” campaign.

AgustaWestland, a subsidiary of Leonardo S.p.A., is an Italian helicopter design and manufacturing company with facilities in Philadelphia. It is one of several employers involved in the formation of the city’s workforce development strategy.

In Philadelphia, we are lucky to have a number of industry partnerships already in place, including one for advanced manufacturing. Philadelphia Works, which funds and oversees employment and training services to help area employers and job seekers, serves as the point of contact for the Southeast Regional Advanced Manufacturing Partnership. This partnership was formed to address the loss of manufacturing jobs due to global competition and rising costs; with nearly 60 companies ranging from 10 to 2000 employees, it is working to maintain the competitive advantage of the manufacturing industry, focusing on retaining workers and enhancing business.

Together with the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia, Philadelphia Works, and the Philadelphia Society for Human Resource Management, we plan to strengthen our existing industry partnerships and launch new ones to cover the seven key sectors identified for their growth opportunities. Leaders from business, education, workforce development, and philanthropy will be engaged to ensure the industry partnerships produce a measurable impact for employers, job seekers, and incumbent workers alike. Dedicated staff for each of the partnerships will provide seamless support for businesses, helping them to access incentives, financial resources, and supplemental services more easily.

As part of our new workforce strategy, we are also engaging businesses in the Model Employer campaign to recognize and support employers that are committed to promoting career advancement, particularly from low-to-middle-skill jobs. Led by the City’s Office of Workforce Development, the campaign will focus on small and mid-size companies that have embraced practices to expand, diversify, and strengthen their workforce. Such practices include establishing tuition assistance programs, creating on-the-job training opportunities that lead to industry-recognized credentials, and developing apprenticeships or pre-apprenticeships.

With the industry partnerships and Model Employer campaign, Philadelphia hopes to engage employers in a meaningful way, bringing them into the fold when it comes to workforce development. For too long, we have operated in silos; the result has been less than ideal for both job seekers and employers. To prepare our residents with the skills employers need to build a world-class workforce, all stakeholders must come together to connect education and training to the industry needs of today and tomorrow.

Time for Action is Now

Across the country, there is tremendous untapped potential sitting on the sidelines of our economy, while too many companies struggle to fill open positions or find the skilled employees they need to grow their business. The persistent skills gap that exists for American workers is an issue that deserves our immediate attention as we continue to compete in a global economy. We cannot afford to waste another minute.

To learn more about Fueling Philadelphia’s Talent Engine and our workforce development partners, visit

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