Planning for the coming recovery by building careers

Students from a Philadelpia OIC BankWork$ cohort partipating in commencement exercises.

As communities across the nation continue to deal with the economic impacts of COVID-19, leaders are looking at immediate ways to keep families afloat, from unemployment benefits to preventing evictions. That’s the right thing to do, for the individuals most affected by this crisis, and the economy.

But while we’re doing that, we also need to be looking ahead.

How are we preparing people to not only ease back into work, but hit the ground running with new skills that will land them better opportunities when the economy opens back up?

For long-term equitable economic recovery, we need more entry-level job training — and we need that even before those jobs are ready to be filled.

We need to create opportunities for people with low incomes and people of color to access living wage jobs in industries where career growth is possible.

In August, the national unemployment rate was 8.4 percent, while the unemployment rate for Black Americans was 13 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nearly 40 percent of Black Americans work in jobs that are at risk of layoffs, furloughs, or reduced hours, which is five points higher than their White counterparts, according to McKinsey.

The time is now for an approach to workforce training that integrates employers with communities, and doesn’t require a college degree, so unemployed individuals can get back to work quickly, in jobs with futures. Fortunately, it’s already begun, it just needs to expand.

In cities across the country, nonprofits and businesses have joined together to conduct entry-level workforce trainings through initiatives like CareerWork$ that help graduates, communities, and employers succeed. This national training program, created by The Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation, connects young adults from underserved communities with employers in banking and healthcare. For over ten years, CareerWork$ has been providing placement assistance and ongoing coaching to give young adults the support they need for not only getting the job, but advancing in a career. CareerWork$ operates in 13 cities across the country, forging alliances between local workforce development organizations, banks, and other financial institutions, as well as hospitals and healthcare partners.

Philadelphia Opportunities Industrialization Center, Inc. (OIC), a local workforce development organization with a deep legacy in civil rights, administers BankWork$, a program within the CareerWork$ initiative, to individuals looking to pursue a career in the banking industry. This is one of the many entry-level programs OIC provides to help people swiftly obtain the jobs of today and tomorrow, while promoting inclusive hiring within the local community.

The unique BankWork$ model involves the employers right from the start. Employers who financially support the program present to students at the trainings and commit to attending hiring fairs at graduation. This full-cycle process has built enduring neighborhood relationships that are good for communities and for employers working in those areas, focusing on communities of color.

The results for these types of trainings are outstanding. In Philadelphia, BankWork$ has an 81 percent graduation rate, a 74 percent placement rate, and over 150 graduates since 2017. In cities like Seattle, BankWork$ graduates see an average wage increase of 134 percent in the first three years.

BankWork$ graduates are now working at over 80 banks across the country, including local branches, such as Wells Fargo, PNC Bank, Univest, Key Bank, Citizens Bank, Santander Bank, and Fulton Bank. BankWork$ founding partners include Bank of America and Wells Fargo.

There was a time when “on-ramp’’ job programs like these received more federal funding. The Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) established in the 1970s — and modeled on the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration — funded programs that provided entry-level training, but there’s not enough funding today for these types of programs, as most goes toward apprenticeships and credentialed training.

Working together, we need to do more to prepare for the coming recovery. We ask foundations, corporations, and local governments to help expand this entry-level training model now, in communities where young adults lack the access to career-building opportunities, and where employers have positions to fill.

What if we expand this training model across the country, to triple the number of graduates from programs like these? What if we multiplied it tenfold? Imagine the effects on our economy from the increases of lifetime earnings. That’s what could happen if such programs were implemented across the country, prepping applicants for any industry where needs arise.

Everyone deserves the opportunity to be trained for jobs with career potential, not just the privileged few. Together, we can provide this training. Our communities will recover stronger when we do.

Sherry Cromett, President, CareerWork$
Judge Renée Cardwell Hughes, President & CEO, Philadelphia Opportunities Industrialization Center, Inc.

This commentary was originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on October 15, 2020.

Storied Workforce Development agency eradicating poverty in Philadelphia.