Drexel Connects Community Members to Training for Workforce Development

The graduates of the Salesforce training program on a Zoom call with Drexel professional staff. Photo courtesy Soneyet Muhammad.
The graduates of the Salesforce training program on a Zoom call with Drexel professional staff. Photo courtesy Soneyet Muhammad.

This story was written by Soneyet Muhammad, director of workforce and economic inclusion in the Office of University and Community Partnerships at Drexel University, and Breanna Riddick, a freelance journalist.

Drexel University’s Beachell Family Learning Center celebrated the conclusion of its first technology training program for Salesforce, a customer relationship management service. In January 2020, 13 program graduates from across Philadelphia completed this credential training program offered through the Beachell Center’s workforce development programs with 19 super badges, or micro-credentials, and one certified Salesforce Administrator in the CRM software. Program graduates are scheduled to complete the Salesforce Administrator certification by spring 2021.

The Beachell Center grounds the institutional economic inclusion initiative of the Office of University & Community Partnerships' place-based strategy in West Philadelphia. Located at the Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships, the Beachell Center leverages the practical knowledge of Drexel's business offices, community partnerships and relationships borne from the Dornsife Center's neighborhood work, and Drexel's academic rigor to help community members complete education goals, earn family-sustaining wages, build wealth and income security, and sustain their businesses. 

The Salesforce credentialing training program was offered through one-time grant funding as part an institutional commitment to serve Drexel’s neighbors by facilitating opportunities for technology skills development. Participants shared that the rapidly changing job market in the COVID-19 pandemic encouraged them to apply to the program. 

“I didn’t have sales experience,” explained Gin Sum, a program participant and refugee from Myanmar. “I took in how Salesforce could be crucial in making business work from a prospect to a successful stage.”

Leveraging its internal relationships with the Promise Neighborhood, Dornsife Center, and external partnerships with the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and the Commerce Department, the Beachell Center received 142 program applications, 36% of which were from West Philadelphia. Program graduate Sheltimah Jackson shared that she learned about the program through her job at a non-profit that focuses on job development. As a digital literacy instructor herself, Jackson said that her organization already uses Salesforce and she will be able to leverage her new super badges to pursue internal career advancement opportunities.

“I have a better approach to things now; if I don’t get it the first time, I don’t get frustrated,” said Jackson. She added that she hopes the program can continue to grow, stating, “They are doing things that can really change people’s lives.”

Over the pandemic, the Beachell Center shifted its in-person, digital literacy classes into online technology credentialing programs to meet market workforce demands. The program started with a Microsoft Office credentialing training program lead by Drexel staff. Participants from that program were selected to participate in follow-on Salesforce training, which was administered by an AAPI-owned firm, Eigen X. Classes were offered both synchronously and asynchronously and utilized Trailhead, and instructors held office hours to support participants along the way. The program also hosted several events in which local technologists spoke of their career paths.

“It’s important to share with budding technologists that there are opportunities for technologists of color in Philadelphia. We welcomed Wilco Electronic Systems, HopeWorks N’ Camden and Salesforce executives to speak to the program participants to share their own career journeys to encourage participants,” said Soneyet Muhammad, director of workforce and economic inclusion. 

One participant highlighted this as one of the things they appreciated most about the program because it was such a tremendous networking opportunity that participants might not have gotten otherwise. 

“Our strategy at the Beachell Center has been to connect local residents to diverse opportunities because we recognize that Black folks have different needs and ambitions. It’s our function to support them,” said Howard Pinder, assistant director of workforce and economic inclusion, who led this program on Drexel’s behalf.

Since February, Drexel leveraged its institutional relationship with Salesforce to offer program graduates free vouchers to take the Salesforce Administrator Certification. One local class member has already earned her certification and is newly able to participate in career growth opportunities at a national telecommunications company. This spring, program graduates volunteered to support Lancaster Avenue 21st Century Business Association (LA21). Under the mentorship of Salesforce staff, program graduates plan to help LA21 best use Salesforce to support its commercial corridor development efforts on Lancaster Avenue near the University City campus. This customized opportunity allows program graduates to continue to develop their new technology skills in a way that supports local community development.