University City: Jobs Training Organizations Seeks To Build Careers for West Philadelphia

The West Philadelphia Skills Initiative provides custom job training to produce valuable workers for institutions like Penn MedicineChildren’s Hospital of Philadelphia and other major employers from day one on the job.


WPSI is a part of University City District, an organization that promotes vibrancy in the area through community engagement.

Sheila Ireland has been a director of the program since it began in 2010. She remembers the organization’s humble beginnings.

“We started out with a small summer jobs program and today we are running major pipelines to these institutional employers,” Ireland said.

The organizations has served as a vital resource for employers looking to hire custom-skilled workers in specific positions.

huxtablefall2014wpsi4WPSI holds eight training programs a year but is extremely selective when accepting their trainees. This year they received 515 applications for their medical assistants training program and only ended up  admitting fifteen students.

“In the classroom people are really trying to help each other succeed,” Ireland said. “It says a lot about the synergy of like minded people.”

The training has paid off so far. Drexel University medical facilities have been able to cut their retention rate in half since WPSI trainees began working there. Now they are down to 32 percent turnover rate compared to its previous 64 percent.

Being a non-profit still comes with the common problem of struggling with funding. WPSI works with backers like Job Opportunity Investment Network to help finance their various projects.

Jennie Sparandara, director for JOIN, understands the need for employer driven job training.

“Employers are looking for people who can have some longevity in the company but that’s something that takes time,” Sparandara said.

Stephen Herzenberg, executive director of the Keystone Research Center, helped to create JOIN.

huxtablefall14wpsi9“If you’re going to help low income workers, you need to have strong connections to employers,”  Herzenberg said.

Herzenberg has found it most effective when industry sector leaders come together and address common needs they want to see achieved in their company. WPSI looks at those needs then tailors their training to suit those companies.

WPSI has had their fair share of obstacles but the organization is still confident  that they will continue to promote further employment and expand their reach to the Greater Philadelphia Region.

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Video, text and images by Jamila Huxtable.

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