June 10 — 8:52 am, 2018

Why education is a critical part of Philadelphia’s workforce strategy

Ensuring youth and young adults obtain a high school diploma or equivalency is a crucial step toward long-term success; however, the work doesn’t stop there.

Chekemma J. Fulmore-Townsend

At PYN, our work is grounded in the understanding that young people need access to both education and employment, proven factors in being prepared for a career. Our city has made great strides in collaborating across sectors to provide supports for young people that can help them be successful. It takes collective expertise and action to create sustainable impact. While we are making progress, we know that there is always more we can do to support Philadelphia’s youth. We also know that individuals are better equipped for the future when workforce and education activities are well-coordinated and connected through systems across our city.

This year, systems leaders have formally joined forces to develop a citywide workforce plan. Working together, we can foster the abundant amount of talent in our city through viable career pathways, and no plan is complete without thinking about our future— our young people. Through the support of a workforce steering committee, the City of Philadelphia released Fueling Philadelphia’s Talent Engine. I have been honored to work alongside these leaders, on behalf of PYN, to produce a tangible strategy connecting education and employment to produce attainable goals for young adults. The plan’s first goal, to prepare Philadelphians with the skills employers need for a world-class workforce, includes a critical recommendation centered on education. It calls for action to raise the high school graduation rate and connect all Philadelphia public school students to a high-quality work experience prior to graduation.

Project U-Turn, managed by PYN, is an alliance dedicated to increasing the graduation rate and preparing young people for future opportunities. While the four-year high school graduation rate has increased nearly 30 percent (52 percent to 67 percent) since 2006, recent years have shown only slight annual increases. Recognizing that these rates still lag behind state and national figures, Project U-Turn alliance members renewed their commitment to young Philadelphians last year. As reinforced in the workforce plan, Project U-Turn partners have set a goal to work toward a 4 percent increase in the high school graduation rate. Partners are working together to move the needle forward, at a quicker pace, by coupling disconnection prevention strategies with re-engagement efforts to ultimately make an even greater impact for our young people in Philadelphia.

Ensuring youth and young adults obtain a high school diploma or equivalency is a crucial step toward long-term success; however, the work doesn’t stop there. PYN is also playing a key role in the plan’s goal to have 16,000 young people participate annually in high-quality work experiences, including summer and year-round opportunities. Every one of these opportunities is an important chance to set a young person up for a successful future. Preparing our city’s young people with the skills employers need requires a common understanding of what those needs are. The Career Development Framework, created by PYN, is a tool based on research that bridges what individuals need to succeed in the workforce with employer expectations for career entry, retention and advancement.

Tailored to describe youth and young adults, the Framework denotes four distinct phases along the career continuum: awareness; exploration and preparation; training and immersion; and advancement. By learning specific skills and mindsets along the continuum, and achieving key milestones, an individual can enter a career being prepared for the future of work. We hope that this framework will foster shared understanding and dialogue among educators, employers, policymakers and others who are involved in helping prepare young people to become productive working adults. Accomplishing these shared goals is going to require not only partnerships, through both Project UTurn and the City’s Workforce Development Steering Committee, but also changing our understanding of what it’s going to take to get there. Preparing the future workforce of our city is an “and” conversation, not “or.” Our young people need access to both education and employment opportunities, early exposure to the world of work and ongoing opportunities to learn, grow and succeed.

As an alliance, Project U-Turn is inspired and energized to keep moving the needle and transforming young people’s lives. To learn how we can work together to increase the graduation rate and prepare young people for future opportunities, visit www.projectuturn.net or email projectuturn@pyninc.org.

Chekemma J. Fulmore-Townsend is President & CEO of Philadelphia Youth Network (PYN); Steering Committee Member, Project U-Turn; Member, Philadelphia Workforce Steering Committee.

PYN and Project U-Turn are generous sponsors of the Notebook’s summer 2018 Building a pipeline for college and career success edition.

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