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The mission of University City District's West Philadelphia Skills Initiative (WPSI) is to connect West Philadelphia employers seeking talent to West Philadelphians seeking opportunity, to build local workforce capacity, and to support people in realizing their full economic potential. By working within an employer-driven, jobs-first model and leveraging the economic might of West Philadelphia’s’ anchor institutions and philanthropic funders throughout the region, we create programming that effectively connects people to work.
In 2010, UCD established the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative to provide an innovative solution to a complex economic challenge: too many unfilled or high turnover jobs at some of Philadelphia’s largest employers, and too many unemployed West Philadelphians.
On the one hand, University City is prospering, with dense economic activity unmatched in all but a few communities in the United States. The anchor institutions in West Philadelphia – the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia – employ 72,000 people, representing 10.5% of the total jobs in Philadelphia. These institutions invest $1 billion per year in research and development, and University City is also home to $4 billion in new or recently completed construction projects.
In contrast, 31% of the population of West Philadelphia lives below the poverty level, and 45% of households have incomes below $25,000/year. Only 21% of adults aged 25 or older have a bachelor’s degree. West Philadelphia’s unemployment rate is 15% (compared to an 11% unemployment rate citywide). Such disparity effectively means that thousands of people are disconnected from the economic vitality that hallmarks University City.
WPSI operates from the viewpoint that many of West Philadelphia’s unemployed residents are talented individuals ready and willing to contribute value to their next employer – given the right opportunity. Finding these opportunities is WPSI’s strength. UCD’s long-standing track record of mutual trust and effective partnership with West Philadelphia’s most prominent institutions uniquely positions WPSI to extend these relationships to transform human capital. Whereas most workforce efforts follow a “train and pray” model – training people and hoping that they will find jobs – WPSI works in partnership with major employers to design recruitment, selection and assessment strategies and training solutions. By identifying real jobs with real vacancies and then preparing unemployed West Philadelphians to excel in these jobs, WPSI mitigates the skills gap and puts people to work in their own community.
Meet 3 WPSI Graduates
WPSI’s investors are crucial partners and visionary funders who have joined with us to make this program a reality. We thank the following organizations and institutions for making pivotal investments in the vitality of West Philadelphia’s communities:
- DCED, through the Mayor’s Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity
- Job Opportunity Investment Network
- The Patricia Kind Family Foundation
- United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey
- West Philadelphia Partnership
If your organization would like to invest in the Skills Initiative, contact Sarah Davis, our Director of Development.