WorkReady delivers summer jobs for Philly teens in an era of dwindling options
To find Thomas Doyle’s summer office, you have to go a bit off the beaten path. Then you have to follow that trail off a dock and into the choppy waters of the Delaware River, where on Wednesday, Doyle was bobbing along in a wooden rowboat.
“I didn’t think I was going to like it,” said Doyle, 17, as his oars cut into the current. “But I actually love it. It got me active. When I go to college, I’m probably gonna join the row team.”
The rising junior’s job is to collect water samples and analyze them for Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory, a nonprofit that teaches students marine science and boat-building.
Now this sort of thing wouldn’t normally pay. But Doyle gets a check from WorkReady, a group that pays about 7,000 teens to do summer work at companies and organizations around Philadelphia. Most make minimum wage and work 20 hours a week for six weeks.
WorkReady, founded 14 years ago and overseen by the nonprofit Philadelphia Youth Network (PYN), pays its young workforce by raising millions from philanthropists and local government. This summer WorkReady raised about $14 million, according to PYN president and CEO Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend.
Beyond simply providing jobs, WorkReady is supposed to be a training-wheels version of life in the adult workforce. Students have to apply for jobs and go on interviews. Their pay is deposited onto personal debit cards that they can use to access their earnings.
“If all we wanted young people to do was have money, we would just give them a check. But the most important part is the learning,” said Fulmore-Townsend. “And we learn to work by working.”