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How startups can join the city’s new workforce-development strategy

Tech is one of the sectors poised to join a new partnership model out of the Office of Workforce Development.

Philadelphia City Hall. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

As part of the City of Philadelphia’s new workforce-development strategy, aimed at bridging the skills gap in Philly’s workforce, tech companies might have the chance to play a key role.

Fueling Philadelphia’s Talent Engine,” a plan 18 months in the works from a 40-member stakeholder committee with representatives from the education and workforce training sectors, was announced by Mayor Jim Kenney on Feb. 6. Here’s the 64-page proposal.

“Fueling Philadelphia’s Talent Engine calls for more intentional coordination and collaboration across education, job training, and other supportive services to drive economic growth with equity,” Kenney said in a speech before the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce announcing the plan. “We will train Philadelphians with the skills employers actually need, match them with jobs that are available now, and continue to support career advancement in the future.”

(Though the plan specifically targets middle-skills jobs, local tech employers also have their fair share of available high-skills jobs.)

The plan sets goals, too: By 2020 it hopes to have deployed some $13 million in workforce education and training. It sets a two-year goal of 16,000 young people participating annually in high-quality work experiences, including summer jobs and year-round opportunities.

As part of the strategy, the city calls local businesses, like, say, tech companies, to become “Model Employers” by following three key guidelines: supporting local schools and engaging youth; providing career development for employees; and creating opportunities for priority populations like returning citizens and immigrants.

But there’s an even closer tie to the local technology sector. Something called “Tech Industry Partnership” is currently in the development stage at city’s Office of Workforce Development. Tech is one of seven target sectors identified by the Economy League of Philadelphia for their growth opportunities.

Industry Partnership participants will:

  • Provide leadership to the partnership to ensure that it is industry-driven
  • Assist the partnership to identify the underlying “core” workforce issues that need to be addressed
  • Identify and articulate specific skills needs of their industry

Companies interested in joining the push can reach out to the Office of Workforce Development.

Connecting local startups to that push seems like a job for 10-year-old nonprofit Philly Startup Leaders. And it will be, per the organization’s president, Bob Moore.

“We are eager to help identify and recruit businesses to participate in the Tech Industry Partnership,” said Moore. “PSL supports the City’s workforce development efforts, and these action items represent great ways for us to collaborate. We’re excited to leverage our networks and events to help raise awareness of these recommendations and link startups to the necessary resources to take action.”

Meanwhile, like others in the local tech industry, software company Stitch — cofounded by Moore and Jake Stein — had already been trying to earn the “Model Employer” badge.

“We’ve been working on being a better option for talented people who may be looking for their first role in our industry,” Stein said. “Especially those from underrepresented backgrounds.”

The startup’s head of HR, Sam Glasberg, outlined some of the policies enacted in that direction, like removing implicit bias from the hiring process and interviewing candidates from underrepresented groups.

Other companies already pushing to provide on-ramps for entry level talent include Interactive Mechanics, which created a diversity-geared fellowship, and Think Company, which created its first apprenticeship in January.

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