One of the silver linings of the pandemic is the opportunities it has created with remote work. Philadelphia was a beneficiary of that shift, with an 8.1% increase in software and IT jobs over the last year - good for fourth in the nation during that span. As the workforce continues to develop around ever-evolving technology, the city and state are looking for more ways to promote the industry and train the next generation of workers.
“These businesses no longer have to sit where investors are. They are changing to come to areas where there is an ecosystem that is strong,” said Dawn Summerville, deputy commerce director, Office of Business Development, City of Philadelphia. “Philadelphia has a significant, highly-educated workforce, and that workforce provides a talent pipeline for a lot of companies to tap into.”
There are several ongoing initiatives in Philadelphia and the Commonwealth that look to support those trying to upskill or pivot to a new career path. The city’s department of commerce established the PHL: Most Diverse Tech Hub initiative last year, which allocated $500,000 to invest in organizations that enable Black and brown Philadelphians to be trained in technology fields to fill the future talent pipeline and strengthen diverse tech startups and partnerships.
Heloise Jettison, deputy commerce director, Office of Workforce Development, City of Philadelphia, said the city has been committed to not only elevating the opportunities in the tech industry, but also ensuring opportunities are provided to the diverse workforce in the city. She said the city needs to diversify the tech industry, and make students aware of the paths to go right from school to the workforce.
“We are spreading awareness to all generations that need to reskill, upskill, or pivot, and trying to get our economy and people’s personal economies better so they have a sustainable future,” Jettison said.
Steve D’Ettorre, deputy secretary of technology and innovation, Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development, said that Philadelphia is a region where - contrary to places like New York City and Washington D.C. - the cost of living, higher education opportunities, and travel accessibility all converge.
“The tech community and innovation economy thrive on community. Does the region support them with networking, a talent pipeline, and access to capital?” he asked. “Making entrepreneurs and the tech industry feel welcome in the state is vital to a successful innovation economy.”
Among the organizations focused on educating the future workforce is Beyond Literacy. The adult education organization is the product of a recent merger between the Center for Literacy and Community Learning Center. Kimmell Proctor, CEO, Beyond Literacy, said the new brand was picked “as a nod to our focus on not just learning, but on taking students from learning to earning.”
Marcus Hall, workforce development manager at Beyond Literacy, said the increased interest in the tech industry has become more apparent during the pandemic. He said about 30 percent of the training programs being offered are IT-based, but that despite increasing interest, the gap between interest and knowledge is still wide.
At the state level, the Digital Literacy and Workforce Development Grants program, run through the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, recently gave $1.3 million to programs providing computer skills training.
Beyond Literacy is among the recipients of digital literacy grants, receiving a $45,000 grant to provide digital literacy skills through instruction, computer lab access, and job seeking support. Hall said one of the biggest barriers to educating the workforce is accessibility, for both educators and students. “The ability to professionally develop staff to get them to a place where they can deliver content equitably and efficiently is always something we struggle with in adult learning,” he said.
As Philadelphia and the Commonwealth come out of the pandemic, initiatives like these are vital to train the workforce of the future and continue bringing jobs to the region. Bridging the digital divide will not only provide access to technologies necessary for workforce development, but also allow people more opportunities to find a passion within the tech industry.