Autonomous tech / Business / COVID-19 / Hiring

Future Works Alliance PHL launches to shape and grow Philly’s workforce

The Alliance looks to inform an equitable jobs strategy and is partly looking to fill the void left by the dissolution of the Office of Workforce Development during budget cuts this summer.

Philadelphia. (Photo by Philly by Drone)

This editorial article is a part of Workforce Development Month of's editorial calendar.

Correction: Previously reported figures of projected job loss were inaccurate and have been removed, and additional explanation of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia's research has been added. (11/20/20, 9:40 a.m.) Minority workers saw five more job losses per 100, not six, and immigrant workers were not included in the analysis. (11:26 a.m.)

Over the summer, former City of Philadelphia Director of Special Initiatives Anne Gemmell sought out to bring stakeholders and leaders of Philly’s business and civic sectors together to tackle a rapidly growing issue: Advancing technology was changing jobs and folks could be pushed out of the workforce because of it.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia found in a recent report that massive layoffs induced by COVID-19 hit jobs susceptible to automation hard, in positions like toll collectors and front desk receptionists. And firms are being incentivized to use more automation because of health concerns and lockdown policies.

The Philly Fed also found that jobs at risk of automation held by minority workers were hit particularly hard. By this July, automatable jobs held by minority workers saw five more job losses per 100 than those held by non-Hispanic white workers, according to the report.

So, with 13 other members of a board of directors, Gemmell is launching the Future Works Alliance PHL, a project aiming to “future proof” Philly’s workforce. The Alliance wants to respond to challenges created by the pandemic and evolving technology by shoring up the region’s talent pool and helping employers respond to these rapid changes.

The effort is being shaped by data from national and local sources, but Gemmell told the group is leaning heavily on research from Philadelphia Works and the Philly Fed. The Alliance is also looking to help fill the void left by the dissolution of the Office of Workforce Development during budget cuts this summer.

Gemmell, who is director of the Alliance, said she believes there will be years of work on the org’s four main pillars — innovation, talent, education and environment. Those four work groups were developed from a global index of showing how economically strong regions are able to quickly adapt, she said. These groups will evaluate case studies on other countries’ strategies for future-proofing and gather intel from citizens and thought leaders across industries to inform an equitable strategy moving forward.

“The idea is to support the labor force as it goes through a transition,” Gemmell said. “The Alliance is an effort to convene these regional leaders around a strategy, a future-proofing playbook.”

Joining her on the board are recognizable tech folks and workforce pros:

  • Ashley Putnam, director of the Economic Growth and Mobility Project at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia
  • Becca Johnson, managing director of workforce and philanthropy for Tech Impact
  • Chad Womack, senior director of STEM programs and initiatives at the United Negro College Fund
  • DeWayne Gordon, first deputy chief administrative officer for the City of Philadelphia
  • Malik Brown, executive director of Graduate Philadelphia!
  • Michael O’Bryan, director of learning at The Village of Arts and Humanities
  • Naomi Housman, director of institutional advancement at Gratz College
  • Robert Peagler, senior consultant for Humanature
  • Sheila Ireland, deputy secretary of workforce development in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor and Industry
  • Tracey Welson-Rossman, CMO of Chariot Solutions and founder of TechGirlz
  • Harjeet Singh, CTO of Smart Kidz Club
  • Shaun Connolly, technology executive strategist at AccelG2M, Inc.
  • Robert Campanile, managing director at Accenture

Indy Hall’s Alex Hillman and Center City District’s Paul Levy joined as individual collaborators.

The Alliance is also looking for at least 76 – yes, a very Philly number — of “founding members,” people looking to donate, collaborate or share ideas about the future of Philly’s workforce to join the alliance by the end of the year (read more about that here). Collaboration is at the heart of the Alliance, and the tech industry should be represented, Gemmell said, even though it’s been more resilient than others in the recession.

Anne Gemmell presenting at the Future Works Alliance PHL launch event (Screenshot)

“Companies that need data managers and scientists should be collaborating with one another to build a talent pipeline instead of consistently poaching from one another,” Gemmell said. “Collaboration seems like it’s hard in the beginning, but once it’s built, it can potentially save a lot of time and money.”

Welson-Rossman echoed those sentiments at the kickoff event Thursday afternoon, saying the tech industry was facing recruiting challenges, especially diverse talent, even before the pandemic hit.

“This is just a great thing for the entire region for us to be planning and understanding what the goals are and how to get to those goals,” she said.

In 2021, the Alliance is aiming to secure a budget to begin these working groups with a focus on talent an innovation, which Gemmell said she deemed the most pressing. The Alliance itself won’t run programs, but vet strategies and make recommendations.

“We can’t wait for government to have time to address this,” Gemmell said.

Companies: Accenture / City of Philadelphia / Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia / Tech Impact
Series: Workforce Development Month 2020 / Coronavirus

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