University City District’s West Philadelphia Skills Initiative plans to broaden the program’s reach in the city and double the number of participants with the help of a multimillion-dollar grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Pew Charitable Trusts’ Fund for Health and Human Services awarded the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative a $3.5 million “growth grant” on Wednesday, with the funding distributed over five years to assist the organization’s job training program.
University City District’s skills initiative, established in 2011, provides training, resources and job placement for West Philadelphia residents. Its employer partners include Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Drexel University, the Philadelphia Fire Department, Penn Medicine and SEPTA, among others.
The West Philadelphia Skills Initiative typically works with about 300 people each year and has served more than 1,800 people to date. Last year it connected 127 job seekers to employment through its professional development program.
University City District President Matt Bergheiser said the seven-figure contribution, which is among the largest in the workforce program’s history, will help the initiative reach twice as many people.
“A grant like this … just allows us to accelerate the pace and the scale of our work to change more lives, to bring more untapped talent to Philadelphia workplaces, and we think it’s transformative for the Philadelphia economy,” Bergheiser said.
The new grant is not the first time the Pew Charitable Trusts contributed to the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative. Pew had previously appropriated nearly $950,000 to the program since its launch, according to a University City District spokesperson.
“Our growth grant to University City District recognizes that, as a large city with big opportunities and challenges, we need effective programs like the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative operating on a larger scale,” Pew Funds Project Director Kristen Romens said in a statement.
Bergheiser said the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative emphasizes quality frontline employment positions with opportunity for advancement and wage growth in the education and health care sectors, spotlighting lab technicians, medical assistants, information technology professionals, bus drivers, and security personnel as potential career paths.
“The kind of job that frankly can end the line of poverty in a Philadelphia family forever is what we’re after and what we’re preparing folks for,” he said.
Bergheiser said the funding will allow the program to expand its geographic presence in the city, including deepening its relationship with Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation’s venture at the Navy Yard, and to further improve the caliber of jobs offered to participants.
“How do we really identify life-changing jobs and life-changing career paths and connect unemployed and underemployed Philadelphians to those pathways?” he said.
The expansion also allows for increased eligibility to those across Philadelphia, according to Bergheiser, who noted that participation eligibility criteria stipulates participants must be Philadelphia residents who are unemployed or significantly underemployed.
“People are ready to work. People are willing to work,” Bergheiser said. “We talk a lot about labor shortages but really people are looking for quality jobs and quality career opportunities where they can grow, and that’s what we’re able to offer. So if we can continue to scale that in partnership with employers, that just changes the landscape of opportunity for Philadelphians.”
The Pew Charitable Trusts also awarded venture grants of $250,000 each to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Drexel University, and Temple University Hospital for the continued support of community violence intervention programs. The funding will be distributed over two years.