Part pep rally, part meet the players, Thursday’s breakfast launch of Philadelphia’s new workforce strategy brought together 300 workplace experts, counselors, leaders, executives from every workforce development agency in the city, and Mayor Kenney.
And true to form, speaker after speaker, more than a dozen in all, used all the workforce words — bridge curriculum, stackable credentials, career ladders, apprenticeships, interns, diversity, racial inequity, employment, employer-driven, path out of poverty, skills, soft skills, strategies, talent, pipelines.
But it took a single mother of three, a victim of domestic abuse who became pregnant at age 17, to use perhaps the most important word: hope.
“When I was trying to figure out my life, I needed hope,” said Joyce Bacon, a panelist and personal coach, responding to a question about what helped her the most as she struggled out of poverty into a career in program management at the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative. “That’s what [everyone] needs. They need hope.”
Kenney’s workforce initiative, titled “Fueling Philadelphia’s Talent Engine: A Citywide Workforce Strategy,” aims to lift people such as Bacon, 40, and speaker Aaron Kirkland, 29, a former drug dealer who now is a city civil service worker in green stormwater management for the Water Department, out of poverty through sustainable careers.
But that is not its only goal. It also intends to lift the city’s overall educational and economic attainment, positioning it to be more competitive in a global market.
“It’s unacceptable for any Philadelphian to be working a full-time job and still living in poverty,” Kenney said. Also unacceptable? The city’s 25.7 percent poverty rate, with 12.3 percent living in deep poverty, which is defined as 50 percent of the federal poverty rate.
“It’s embarrassing. It’s disgraceful. We can do better,” Kenney said.
Kenney told the group at Community College of Philadelphia that the program “is not a plan for city government,” but instead a partnership involving employers, workforce experts, and educators. “When we do this right, the result will be outstanding.”