The West Philadelphia Skills Initiative is connecting students and residents with employment and training

Wednesday, December 7, 2011
For Immediate Release

Contact: Mark Christman, Communications Manager, 215-243-0555 or [email protected]


Now exceeding $1 million in operating capital thanks to $168,000 from The Pew Charitable Trusts, the pioneering workforce program unites prestigious University City employers with West Philadelphia’s young adults and unemployed residents


(Philadelphia, PA) – Over 40 West Philadelphia high school graduates will be employed at Penn Medicine while pursuing college degrees and career opportunities.  55 neighborhood high school students are placed in paid summer internships and receiving college and career preparedness training at University City’s largest institutions. Dozens of underemployed West Philadelphia residents will become animal care technicians at Penn and medical assistants at Drexel’s College of Medicine. 10 West Philadelphia high school students are placed in year-round, after-school internships at University City small businesses such as Metropolitan Bakery and The Gold Standard Café.   In just one year’s time, these new opportunities have been created thanks to the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative (WPSI), a new workforce program designed by University City District (UCD), the neighborhood improvement and economic development organization in West Philadelphia.


University City’s private sector earnings represent an impressive 10% of all Philadelphia County earnings, and the neighborhood is home to over 60,000 jobs—many at some of the most prestigious academic and medical institutions in the world. The broader West Philadelphia community, however, is home to thousands of residents lacking the skills and know-how to successfully pursue these jobs. WPSI works to connect these residents seeking opportunity with those major University City institutions seeking talent. WPSI is a comprehensive workforce intermediary program with a dual mission to: support specific human capital needs of West Philadelphia’s anchor institutions and mid-sized employers; and connect West Philadelphians to opportunities for employment, advancement and skill-building. WPSI not only strives to recruit, train and place vulnerable adults into full time jobs, but also supplements their employment with tuition assistance, one-on-one coaching,  and professional development and college readiness training.


Since the organization’s inception over 13 years ago, UCD’s success has been largely in the areas of physical improvement and economic vitality. With WPSI, UCD can now focus on the long-lasting socioeconomic impact on the neighborhood.   “UCD is a partnership of West Philadelphia’s academic and medical institutions, business sector and neighborhood residents to make University City a better place,” notes Executive Director Matt Bergheiser.  “Our foundational focus is on the physical world – clean and safe streets, commercial vitality, world class public spaces – but with committed anchor employers at our table and with significant evidence of economic disconnection in our broader neighborhood, we saw an opportunity to create pipelines for West Philadelphia residents into jobs and careers at our universities and health systems.  Our employer partners have real needs and an authentic commitment to this community.”

Sheila Ireland, Director of the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative, adds “WPSI’s approach to workforce development is driven by employer needs; based on a holistic support system, informed by data driven assessment and evaluation which results in a bottom-line results focused orientation.  This model creates a value proposition for investment in local workforce development that moves the dialogue away from charity and towards developing pipeline programs that develop opportunities for both candidates and employers.”


The West Philadelphia Skills Initiative is made possible by generous support from nine funders.  More than $350,000 in grants received from the Job Opportunity Investment Network and the Obama administration’s Social Innovation Fund provide the operating capital for WPSI.  Other grants include $168,000 from The Pew Charitable Trusts, $60,000 from United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania, $300,000 from the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, $26,000 from the Fels Fund, $50,000 from the Philadelphia Foundation, $10,000 from the Claneil Foundation, and two separate grants from the Philadelphia Youth Network to support WPSI’s Youth Employment Network, a 2011 grant totaling $31,750 and a 2010 grant for $30,250.  These generous grants make it possible for WPSI staff and University City employers craft specific programs that fill specific needs for entry level workers.

For more information about the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative and its three major components - Youth Employment Network, Apprenticeship Program, and Neighborhood Job Pipelines – visit WPSI online at



The University City District was founded in 1997 by a consortium of organizations in the University City area of West Philadelphia. Historically, UCD has leveraged the power of its institutional partners to foster positive change in the community it serves. For its first twelve years of operation, UCD’s focus was commercial revitalization and quality of life, emphasizing public safety, public space maintenance, planning, economic development, capital improvements, and marketing and promoting the District’s attractions and amenities. In 2009, UCD’s board recognized that increasingly, the place-making activities of community development organizations will focus on talent development and economic opportunity. The result was the formal establishment of the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative, which creates infrastructure to support systemic change in the relationship between major employers and place-based workforce institutions.