Lots of $, but where are the jobs?

Posted: January 19, 2012

WHAT'S A half-billion dollars in public money buy you in Philly these days?

Not much, apparently, if it's spent on substandard workforce- development initiatives while the economy is tanking.

A report released yesterday by the Pew Charitable Trusts' Philadelphia Research Initiative found that the city's job-training and placement programs have burned through $493 million in the last four years - but only 12 percent of the city's employers are registered to participate in them.

That's half the average of anywhere else in the state. And many employers seemed unaware of the services provided by the multimillion-dollar system, run by two nonprofits, the Philadelphia Workforce Development Corp. and the Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board.

"Awareness and marketing is one of the problems," said Thomas Ginsberg, the report's primary author and researcher.

The Pew report describes the two nonprofits - funded largely by federal and state dollars - as part of a "befuddling patchwork" of government and private agencies around the country that have struggled to assist an increasing number of job seekers.

Workforce development initiatives in Philadelphia, which include training potential workers and recruiting for employers, have resulted in job-placement rates below those in other parts of the state, and, in some categories, other major cities.

For example, among Philadelphia residents not on welfare who received services through the CareerLink network, 59 percent got jobs in the 12 months ending Sept. 30, 2010, compared with 72 percent in other parts of the state, the report found.

Ginsberg said that the city's programs have suffered from a "cumbersome and confusing" organizational structure and years of inaction by politicians. But Philadelphia's large number of low-educated job seekers poses a challenge for any workplace development system, he added.

"Even the best run, most efficient system here is going to have trouble," Ginsberg said. "Philadelphia has a talent mismatch. There are a lot more lower-educated people than there are jobs for them. That's not a new condition."

The upside is that elected officials are now paying attention, and the city's two workforce nonprofits are in the process of being merged into one agency, Philadelphia Works Inc.

Ginsberg said the restructuring and other changes should eliminate some of the bureaucratic and strategic issues detailed in the report. He recommended that the programs seek to broaden the skill levels of job seekers and tailor training programs based on the needs of the city's employers.

"It's all going in the right direction," Ginsberg said. "A lot of what they're doing is perhaps an acknowledgment of where they had weaknesses."

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