West Philadelphia Skills Initiative

The big picture

The West Philadelphia Skills Initiative (WPSI) will build neighborhood pipelines and apprenticeship programs to help low-skilled adults to move into high-demand jobs in the community’s anchor institutions. WPSI has two core functions:

  • Working with employers to define pathways into entry level and career ladder jobs across West Philadelphia’s institutional employers.
  • Developing “shared service models” that prepare community residents for these career pathway opportunities.


The problem

West Philadelphia has some of the region’s fastest growing employers, as well as some of its most vulnerable adults, creating an unusual environment of talent shortages amidst high unemployment. The root cause of this problem is the mismatch between the low skill levels of area residents and the higher skill levels required for careers in the community’s anchor institutions. Most working-age West Philadelphians are low literate and a H.S. degree or less. Given that nearly all jobs that pay family-sustaining wages require at least intermediate literacy skills and some vocational training, these low-income adults are currently unable to access the region’s most vibrant and resilient employment sector. Meanwhile, this dearth of skilled workers also hurts employers, who experience shortages for positions that are critical to community well-being. Even at the height of the unemployment crisis in February 2010, the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania had 446 openings and Penn Health had 290 openings. Many of these positions, such as nursing support staff and unit secretaries, require less than one year of specialized training. Thus, jobs currently go unfilled even as residents in the community could be prepared to move into them.


The solution

WPSI is an employer driven, place-based workforce intermediary that is identifying available careers pathways at West Philadelphia’s anchor institutions and then creating tailored “shared service models” to move residents into these jobs. Currently, WPSI supports three promising models:

  • Neighborhood job pipelines: By working with departmental hiring managers across a number of institutions, WPSI has embarked on designing a series of programs that will recruit, assess and offer basic skills training to West Philadelphia adults, with the intention of delivering work-ready candidates for positions of high need at our employment partners.

  • Apprenticeships: Employers, through WPSI, will recruit 18-24 year-olds into positions of high need, and pair a 20-hour work week with a health career focused, 20-hour, tuition-paid associate’s degree curriculum. Participants are paid a full-time salary and go to school part-time. At the end of the program, participants will have completed two years of paid work experience, and will have a marketable, portable credential to apply for permanent employment within Philadelphia’s strongest industry sector.

  • Youth Employment Network: WPSI has built a network of seven West Philadelphia employers who participate in the Philadelphia Youth Network’s summer internship program. Through recruitment efforts, and by serving as an interface for employers to the public workforce system, WPSI is able to systemically expand the number of West Philadelphia organizations participating in pipeline programs.

WPSI is also exploring the creation of a building trades alliance with INTECH Construction. University City institutions are among the biggest builders in the region, despite the down economy. With sustained, predictable construction comes the opportunity to allocate pre-apprenticeship slots for local residents.



WPSI is led by University City District (UCD), a nonprofit, neighborhood-based 501 (c) 3 special services district dedicated to improving the quality of life in the 2.4 square mile area of West Philadelphia, known as University City. An independent organization, UCD builds effective partnerships to maintain a clean and safe environment and to promote, plan, and advocate for University City’s diverse, urban community. Historically, UCD has focused on commercial revitalization and enhancements to the physical environment: planning, capital improvements, greening, public safety, and public space maintenance. Recognizing the centrality of human capital to UCD’s mission, in the fall of 2009, UCD’s board approved the formation of the WPSI to improve access to the myriad job opportunities at West Philadelphia employers for community residents. UCD’s partners include: the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Pennsylvania Health System, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Drexel University, Mercy Hospital of Philadelphia, the University of the Sciences, INTECH Construction and the National Board of Medical Examiners.

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