The following testimony was submitted by the PHL Neighborhood Growth Project to the Philadelphia City Council Special Committee on Poverty Reduction and Prevention on December 5, 2019, at the Jobs and Education Subcommittee Hearing.
Thank you Jobs and Education Subcommittee Chairs Sharmaine Matlock-Turner and Mel Wells for allowing me the opportunity to present testimony in this afternoon’s hearing. I also want to thank Council President Clarke and Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sánchez for inviting me to join the Special Committee of Poverty Reduction and Prevention.
My name is Yvette Núñez. For three years I have served as Vice President of Civic Affairs at the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia. The Chamber is a nonprofit business membership organization whose members employ more than 600,000 across the 11-county region.
Before joining the Chamber, I spent nearly 20 years working in community-based nonprofit organizations serving our City’s poorest communities in the areas of employment, housing, health, education, and social services.
At the Chamber, I oversee the Chamber’s social impact strategies. For the purpose of this discussion, these include but are not limited to:
Roadmap for Growth: We believe that Philadelphia’s economic growth and civic engagement must be embedded in a shared agenda and call to action among a thoughtful collaboration of top leadership from the business, nonprofit, civic, and government sectors in the development and execution of a pro-growth, pro-jobs agenda to lift and improve Philadelphia’s economic and civic life. Our members:
- Advocate for policies that contribute to the city’s economic and civic vitality in areas including inclusive growth and good jobs, education and workforce modernization, safe and health neighborhoods, and transparency in government.
- Accelerate growth through research-based decisions to reach measurable outcomes.
- Build and convene the PHL Neighborhood Growth Project coalition of businesses, nonprofits, civic, and neighborhood organizations to identify solutions and utilize resources to encourage economic growth, improved quality of life in Philadelphia, and create opportunity for vulnerable populations.
Through Roadmap for Growth, we have convened discussions to influence employers to hire from vulnerable populations including those experiencing homeless, those receiving TANF, and returning citizens. The Chamber itself has a partnership with First Step Staffing to recruit and build a pipeline of Chamber members willing to hire from the homeless population. In the first seven months of 2019, more than $300,000 in wages were paid to homeless and returning citizens as a direct result of this partnership.
Read to Me and Future Ready: Read to Me is an early literacy program and partner of the Read by 4th campaign which has provided more than 17,000 books to Philadelphia K-1st grade classrooms as well as convened more than 1,000 volunteers for in-class reading. In 2018 alone, this effort benefited more than 3,400 children across 117 classrooms in 25 schools. Future Ready is a middle-school career exposure program which provides students with in-classroom instruction followed by onsite career exposure at work-sites across the City. Since its inception, more than 1,000 students have benefited from this program.
In addition to these, the Chamber is a champion of the Philadelphia Youth Network’s WorkReady summer program, actively recruiting its members to provide students with summer work opportunities. We intend to deepen this relationship in the coming year.
PHL Neighborhood Growth Project
In the Spring of 2019, the Chamber, through its Roadmap for Growth initiative, launched the PHL Neighborhood Growth Project and its accompanying policy agenda. This agenda, which prioritizes policies we believe will help accelerate long-term neighborhood economic growth, focuses on four policy pillars:
- Inclusive Growth and Good Jobs
- Education and Workforce Modernization
- Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods
- Putting People First in City Hall
The PHL Neighborhood Growth Coalition has nearly 300 partners, including small and large businesses as well as nonprofit organizations, who are aligned with the agenda and working with Council and their own constituents to carry its recommendations forward. We also have more than 7,000 who have subscribed to its Listserv wishing to stay informed on a weekly basis.
Specific to jobs and education, I will highlight a few of the positions put forth by this policy agenda’s Education and Workforce Modernization pillar.
“We believe that too many of our citizens just don’t have the right skills for the modern workforce or are otherwise shut out from available jobs.
That leaves too many adults underemployed – locked into dead-end jobs because they don’t have the technical training or digital skills required – or barred by outdated prejudices and hiring practices, even as high-ceiling businesses struggle to find qualified personnel. Furthermore, an educated and diverse workforce is key to the long-term competitive success of the city and acts as a catalyst to attract and retain businesses. To achieve that objective, we need a strong public education system that is adequately funded and professionally managed and governed.
We believe that access to quality education across the continuum, from pre-K through post-secondary, will assure the region’s competitive advantage. We are focused on ensuring that the city’s education and workforce development systems are effective, efficient, agile, accountable, and continually produce a competitive, world-class workforce.
That is why every future legislative and regulatory initiative that the city undertakes must consider the potential impact on the competitiveness of our city.”
Hands-On Training for 21st-Century Jobs
With only 55 percent of Philadelphia public school students going on to college from high school, we must find other ways to ensure young people have the skills needed to thrive in the modern economy. Consistent with the city’s workforce development strategy, Fueling Philadelphia’s Talent Engine, the city must invest heavily in state-of-the-art K-12 education, particularly digital education, and continue to work with partners to bring to scale the many technical and creative incubator programs and internships, apprenticeships, and work-study placements to ensure all Philadelphia students are connected to high-quality experiences before graduation to prepare them for college and/or a career. We should expand existing partnerships with the School District of Philadelphia’s Office of College and Career Readiness, the Community College of Philadelphia, and local universities to increase visibility to opportunities that are aligned with career and technical education, associate degree programs, and private technical training options to boost readiness and employment.
Career Pathways for Returning Citizens
We need comprehensive reforms and support the City of Philadelphia’s recommendations as detailed in the Fueling Philadelphia’s Talent Engine strategy that include education and job training resources before release, halfway house and transitional support, workplace support and counseling resources, and legal/civil rights reforms to ensure that individuals who have paid their debt to society can find jobs and support themselves and their families. Formerly incarcerated individuals are part of our community and a grossly under-utilized resource. Helping them re-enter the workforce boosts the economy, lowers social welfare spending, reduces recidivism, and makes our communities safer.
Entrepreneurship in K-12
We believe that while investments need to continue and/or grow in helping our students prepare for college and/or a career, we are missing the opportunity to also help create future employers by not introducing entrepreneurship principles in K-12. In September 2019, Roadmap for Growth hosted “The Entrepreneurial Mind,” which brought together leaders in education, government, and business to showcase the value in encouraging entrepreneurship at an early age. Students who are taught entrepreneurship become not just business owners, but change agents in the workforce even if they never start a business. We believe that jobs are a great way to get people out of poverty, but entrepreneurship is how we begin to build wealth in communities.
I am happy to discuss these efforts further. The complete PHL Neighborhood Growth Project policy agenda can be found at phillyneighborhoodgrowthproject.com
Testimony Submitted by Yvette Nunez, Vice President, Civic Affairs, The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia