WPSI trains Lab Assistants for new Penn Medicine labs

The West Philadelphia Skills Initiative (WPSI) | Penn Lab Assistant

In November, WPSI launched a partnership with Penn Medicine to recruit and train Lab Assistants to fill an urgent need to expand COVID-19 testing capacity for the entire Philadelphia region through its molecular laboratory. The positions, starting at $18 an hour, do not administer COVID testing for patients; instead, they work with lab and instrument maintenance.


WPSI developed a multi-pronged solution which started by recruiting high-quality candidates from amongst our alumni, as well as first-time participants accepted through a well-rounded recruitment process. Participants accepted into the Lab Assistant Program completed two weeks of targeted, professional development led by the WPSI team, leading to an interview with Penn Medicine. After receiving offers for hire, participants engaged in two weeks of lab basics training, built and facilitated by the Penn Medicine team, while completing crucial onboarding steps with HR coordinators so that they could begin work as soon as they completed the program. We offered a $150 weekly stipend to those enrolled in the 4-week Lab Assistant Program and full PPE was provided by Penn Medicine facilitators.


Notably, applicants for this program did not need to have any specific education beyond a High School Diploma or Equivalency, or specific lab experience. Lab Assistant roles traditionally require extensive laboratory experience, and by removing that as a requirement and relying on WPSI’s customized program, Penn Medicine opened up these high-quality jobs to a broader group of Philadelphians. This type of outside-the-box talent thinking will be needed on a much larger scale as the needs of businesses change and adapt rapidly in the coming year.


West Philadelphia resident Vanessa Dicks heard about the program through her role as a youth pastor at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church at 39th and Lancaster. She routinely receives updates on WPSI job training programs to forward to members of the congregation. When she saw the specifics of this partnership with Penn Medicine, however, she realized it was a good fit for her to pursue.


“This particular one came across my desk and I said ‘I have to participate,’” Vanessa shares. She studied to be a lab technician and earned an associate degree in 1996, but was never able to earn a job in the field. “Through this program, I was able to learn skills such as interviewing and assessing difficult situations at work. Everything that they prepare, from the personality assessment down to the interview skills, I’ve used everything going into this job.”


Vanessa now believes due to her associate’s degree, her on-the-job performance, and the training by the Skills Initiative she is poised to move up with Penn Medicine. She says since completing the program she has been recommending the Skills Initiative to everyone she knows.


The partnership with Penn Medicine proved to be a success. At the conclusion of their training, 54 participants were offered positions with Penn Medicine, and 50 accepted.