Penn hires Philadelphia residents to work as laboratory assistants to expand COVID-19 testing

The West Philadelphia Skills Initiative (WPSI) | Penn hires laboratory assistants

Penn Medicine hired 50 new laboratory assistants through the University City District’s West Philadelphia Skills Initiative to strengthen testing capabilities and give nontraditional applicants access to STEM careers, Penn Medicine News reported. The Skills Initiative is a longstanding community workforce program connecting Philadelphians who are unemployed or underemployed to major employers, providing an opportunity for city residents to secure higher-wage, secure careers.


The laboratory assistants will play a key role in collecting and processing large quantities of testing samples. After receiving nasal swabs and saliva specimens, lab assistants will log them into the computer system and prepare them for lab technicians to perform molecular diagnostic testing.

Three cohorts of employees from the WPSI program joined Penn Medicine this past fall. Training consists of professional development taught by WPSI staff and laboratory skills taught by Penn Medicine staff delivered in two and a half weeks of self-paced classroom learning, small group work, and 40 hours of hands-on technical experience.

“Hiring our talented neighbors not only ensures that we will continue to meet the testing needs of the community, but also that we are creating pathways to healthcare and laboratory science careers for local jobseekers, many of who have been living in intergenerational poverty,” Kevin Mahoney, CEO of the University of Pennsylvania Health System, told Penn Medicine News.

Founded in 2011 as a small internship program to address the high poverty rate among West Philadelphia residents, the WPSI program has since progressed into one of the nation’s highest-performing workforce development organizations.

Although health system jobs have historically been withheld from those lacking college degrees, WPSI is able to connect 95% of graduates to employment, with 83% of graduates retaining employment for at least a full year.

The hiring of additional laboratory assistants is the latest effort by Penn Medicine to respond to the increasing demand for COVID-19 testing in Philadelphia.

Penn Medicine and the Mercy Catholic Medical Center partnered with Black faith leaders to administer COVID-19 vaccines to city residents earlier this month. The health system is also preparing to open a laboratory in Rittenhouse Square later this spring, Penn Medicine News reported.