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How does this 14-partner pandemic recovery committee plan to get more Philadelphians to work?

The Workforce Recovery Strategies Committee aims to tackle pandemic employment challenges through collaboration. Plus, Philadelphia Works' Patrick Clancy on what's really behind the phrase "people don't want to go back to work."

Workforce development orgs are deploying resources to industries that are growing in the pandemic. (Photo by Flickr user, used via a Creative Commons license) is one of 22 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice.

It’s a common refrain: Preparing Philadelphians for the workforce of the future will take collaboration.

A City of Philadelphia-formed group of government employees, community stakeholders and business leaders has aimed to keep this top of mind while addressing the racial and economic inequities that were brought into the international spotlight in summer 2020.

This group, called Pathways to Reform, Transformation and Reconciliation, had been meeting every other week to address these issues exacerbated by the pandemic. When checked in this June — one year later — we heard from member stakeholders that the events over the last year had changed “everybody.” Per its own report, the City outlined the changes it was making to its police department, how it had tackled economic recovery and assistance, and how it would be working toward community reform, including racial and social issues.

Another changed spurred by a year’s worth of meetings was the formation of the Workforce Recovery Strategies Committee. Philadelphia Works President and CEO Patrick Clancy said in June that its 13 other partner organizations had realized that instead of running parallel efforts to increase access to workforce development and training programs, they ought to work together. Philadelphia Works formed the committee earlier this year with the goal of aligning and coordinating resources from the city, state and federal governments to invest in a shared workforce strategy.

“We realized that we should not be duplicating effort, but maximizing it,” Clancy said then. “The outcomes will be better if we work together on these initiatives.”

So, how’s it going? It’s too soon to tell what the outcomes will be, but this month, Clancy shared some more details of the workforce committee’s plans, including the partner orgs. Along with Philadelphia Works — a quasi-public nonprofit serving employers and connecting career seekers to employment and training opportunities — here are the orgs involved:

  • City of Philadelphia, including reps from six departments and city agencies such as the Department of Commerce and Mayor’s Office of Education
  • Philadelphia Youth Network
  • Urban Affairs Coalition
  • United Way
  • Community College of Philadelphia
  • Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation
  • Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia
  • Philadelphia Housing Authority
  • School District of Philadelphia
  • Philadelphia OIC
  • Urban League of Philadelphia
  • City Council President’s Office
  • Philanthropy Network of Greater Philadelphia

In their virtual meetings, Clancy said, partners have been assessing funding that existing programs could be eligible for and how current workforce programs can intersect with each other. They’re also identifying where the city is lacking in certain training programs or where new opportunities are soon to present themselves.

The recent $1 billion infrastructure bill, for example, provides multiple avenues for future programming to ensure Philadelphians are trained for jobs in energy, roads or travel. A lot of the infrastructure work will be union work, Clancy said, and they’re talking to local reps about preparing for that work and the creation of life-sustaining jobs — that is, jobs that offer long-term possibility, a high pay rate, benefits and opportunity for growth.

Another piece of the current landscape is anti-violence work going on in the city, Clancy said. The partners are aiming to raise workforce development money relating to youth programs to create opportunities for young people that will keep a focus on career potential, though he didn’t share how much.

A main objective of this collaborative, he said, is to “make sure we don’t miss large groups of individuals who, for other reasons, don’t have enough connecting points to jobs.”

A direct result of this collaboration has been Philadelphia Works’ work growing the Women in Nontraditional Careers program which trains and connects women to high-demand trade programs. It’s also rolling out 10 new training programs in the IT and healthcare spaces, after finding that those industries were in high demand for new workers.

The conversation around workforce development and work amid the pandemic has been a convoluted one, Clancy said — and as the leader of an org with a goal of employing people in steady jobs, it’s been hard to watch unemployment skyrocket and people be let go amid a pandemic. As vaccines have become more widespread, there’s been some economic recovery, but folks are still leaving jobs at extremely high rates.

In August, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a small decline in national unemployment. Industries like professional and business services, transportation and warehousing, private education, and manufacturing saw more traction, while retail jobs continued to see a decline in workers.

Clancy said his org is in the midst of surveying clients about what could be holding them back from working. While unemployment assistance was cited, working conditions and safety with the Delta variant, access to childcare and work culture topped most peoples’ lists, he said.

In other words, it’s not just that people don’t want to go back to work. Instead, jobs in restaurants or retail, where traditionally, the turnover is very high and workers have direct contact and exposure to the public, aren’t being seen as “worth it” for the pay and unpredictable scheduling that’s often associated.

“There’s a sense that people are tired of the way it’s been,” Clancy said.

Companies: Community College of Philadelphia / Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia / Philadelphia Housing Authority / Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation / Philadelphia OIC / Philadelphia Works / Philadelphia Youth Network / School District of Philadelphia / United Way of Central Maryland / Urban Affairs Coalition
Series: Philadelphia Journalism Collaborative

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