West Philly Skills Initiative Continues To Make A Significant Difference

University City Review
By Nicole Contosta

Today, West Philadelphia employs over 75,000 people. When the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative (WPSI) formed in 2010, it employed 72,000 people. Conversely, 31 percent of West Philadelphia lived below the poverty line. And 45 percent of its households had incomes below $25,000 a year. West Philadelphia’s unemployment rate stood at 15 percent compared to 11 percent citywide.

Since its inception, the WPSI has trained 500 students. Ninety-five percent have gone on to find career ladder jobs with family sustaining wages.

“We define a family sustaining wage as $13 an hour,” explained Sheila Ireland, the University City District’s (UCD) Vice President of Workforce Solutions. “Generally, it’s full time work because part-time is not moving the dime on the economic opportunity divides.”

Ireland, who helped launched the WPSI, met with this reporter at its new location on the 3800 block of Market Street. The move, Ireland explained, “was about expanding capacity and being able to serve more people. We’re ramping up staff as well to be able to do more.”

Based on the WPSI’s overwhelming success, “there’s pressure from both employer partners looking for workers and West Philadelphians looking for jobs.”

Ireland then proceeded to give this reporter the “skinny” on why.

In the past, employee partners have contacted WPSI because there’s either a high-level of turnover or they need better quality service. “They will come to us specifically for the quality that our graduates have taken to those institutions,” Ireland explained.

Speaking of quality, a class of fifteen students was assembled in a classroom for training with Allied Barton during our interview. “This is our 7th or 8th training session with Allied Baron,” Ireland said, explaining the program last 4-6 weeks. “It depends on the needs of the job. Obviously here are many different kinds of security ambassadors such as bike—they get more training.”

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