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West Philadelphia Skills Initiative

A Model for Urban Workforce Development
By Bruce Katz and Megan Humes

WPSI Brandywine Planters in action

This report is the second in a series of Nowak Metro Finance Lab City Cases, a set of case studies that will dig deeply into institutional and financing models that have driven large-scale urban transformation. City Cases seek to provide sufficient detail to enable large-scale adaptation and adoption and, over time, contribute to a new paradigm for financing inclusive cities by demonstrating how reorganizing public, private and civic resources in novel and creative ways can reshape local economies and remake local places.

WPSI was founded by the University City District in 2012 to connect ambitious, under-resourced residents with specialized employers – such as hospitals, universities, transportation authorities, and laboratories – in West Philly. WPSI follows an established process that produces work-ready graduates for a variety of industries. Unlike traditional workforce development organizations, WPSI provides training only to the number of participants its employer partners are able to hire. 

WPSI has proven to be extremely successful in the area, accomplishing:

  • Increased local labor participation for previously excluded workers: 530 WPSI graduates have been placed in local jobs
  • High success rates for program graduates: 97% of 2019 graduates secured full-time employment or positions with a promotion path to full time, exceeding the last reported public system placement rates by 29%
  • Lasting diversity and inclusion in workspaces: 97.6% of WPSI participants come from minority groups; employers report WPSI hires turn over up to 50% less than other workers
  • Regional Economic Growth: WPSI graduates experience a 25% increase in wages over other workers, this has generated $37 million in wages and increased disposable income and tax revenue

"The West Philadelphia Skills Initiative is a significant model for cities to adopt and adapt in creating income as a first step toward community wealth in some of our most disadvantaged neighborhoods. Its groundbreaking formula of employer-driven skill-building leverages its location in the heart of a global innovation district housing major hospitals and universities.”
— Bruce Katz, Director of the Nowak Metro Finance Lab

Looking beyond West Philadelphia, the report highlights key learnings that can be adopted by workforce development institutions in other cities. Crucial considerations include identifying strong anchor employers adjacent to underemployed populations, removing barriers to participation, leveraging intermediary organizations, developing credibility through local partnerships, focusing on in-demand professional entry-level jobs, and maintaining sufficient funding.

“As cities redevelop, it is imperative they work to provide a high-quality of life and opportunity for all. Organizations like WPSI can provide communities with a framework for inclusive economic growth, fostering collaboration across different stakeholders to create a common vision for the city.”
— Dan Vogel, Director of North America at The Centre for Public Impact

CPI aims to be a driver in the national push for economic mobility, with work already in progress on implementation of the Public Impact Fundamentals for inclusive investment and the future of US jobs. The organization is also seeking to work with partners across the US to uncover more high-potential models to create a better future of work and support economic growth opportunities for all.

Read the City Case [PDF]

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