Guest Commentator: Joanna F. Wusinich, Esq., Director of Work Study Program, Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School @CRPHS

Why is it important to teach young people different skillsets? How does this prepare them for the workforce?

On a balmy September morning at 7:45 a.m., something extraordinary happened in Philadelphia. While the typical Philadelphia area businesswoman was sitting in traffic on 76, navigating SEPTA, or grabbing her morning coffee, a group of 155 eager and anxious 14-year-olds gathered in the bleachers of a high school gymnasium in North Philadelphia. Except these students were not on their way to classes — they were on their way to their very first day of work! In less than one hour, 155 members of Philadelphia’s future workforce would invade the beautiful offices that comprise the Philadelphia skyline and the surrounding suburbs.

They left the gymnasium scared and wary of what to expect. Will my supervisor like me? Will I get lost? What if I don’t know how to do something? They also left full of hope and armed with two very important things: an arsenal of professional skills that they began to develop through an intensive training week and the support of an army of adults who believed in them.

Every student at Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School (CRPHS) has a job and spends 4 days in the classroom and 1 day at work. Cristo Rey partners with 100 businesses across the Greater Philadelphia area including but not limited to top law firms, hospitals, financial firms, and service providers. The money that students earn on the job offsets the cost of their college preparatory high school education. But the real magic is the skills and relationships that the students cultivate while on the job. Because Cristo Rey students work, they MUST learn the skills that make a successful employee: how to effectively communicate, how to receive constructive feedback without getting defensive or upset, how to manage time, how to delegate, and how to work on teams.

If we expect the future workforce to be innovators and leaders, it’s not enough to teach young folks how to solve an algebraic equation, deconstruct Romeo and Juliet, or analyze the causes of World War II.

This past weekend the local news showed pandemonium during a high school football game in North Philly because two teenagers were shooting at each other outside of the stadium. The future of the city is inextricably linked to what we teach our young people and how we prepare them to make good decisions and to lead. This only happens if our current business leaders and professionals arm our youth with the skills and education necessary to gain employment and excel at work. Become a mentor, sit on a panel, or hire a young person. The future of Philadelphia depends on it.

Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School is a member of the Chamber’s Roadmap for Growth Action Team, a group of 180+ Chamber members and partners united to engage with a broad range of civic and neighborhood organizations in the development and execution of policies and initiatives that enhance the economy, encourage civic engagement, and support an efficient and impactful government in order to lift and improve Philadelphia’s economic and civic life.

Upcoming Roadmap for Growth Event

At this Roadmap for Growth issue forum, participate in an honest dialogue about how we can overcome our city’s staggering unemployment rate by mobilizing schools and incentivizing businesses to train the next generation of our workforce.