Guest Commentator: Chekemma J. Fulmore-Townsend, President & CEO, Philadelphia Youth Network @PYNinc

How can employers ensure that young people are not left out of economic recovery efforts by preparing them for the future of work?

Every year, young people across the country participate in summer jobs, gaining valuable workforce skills and earning money. WorkReady, managed by the Philadelphia Youth Network (PYN), provides real-world experiences through early to advanced opportunities preparing young people for a competitive workforce. While this year will be dramatically changed by COVID-19, we know that summer programs for our young people will be even more important as we recover from the impacts of this pandemic. This is why Philadelphia partners are united and committed to ensuring young people are safe, healthy, and able to engage in paid summer experiences.

Cities across the country are experiencing the devastating realities of this crisis, and many announced the difficult decision to suspend summer jobs programming this year, and others are exploring digital and virtual opportunities. Here are key takeaways we believe are crucial to ensure young people are not left out of economic recovery efforts.

  1. Adaptive thinking – Learn fast, adapt fast, repeat. We rapidly gathered data, redeployed staff, retooled youth experiences, and re-engineered the system for implementation. In four weeks, Philadelphia had a working plan to continue summer jobs announced by the Mayor on May 5, 2020.
  2. Coordinating partners – I am humbled and energized by our network of partners including the business community, and their willingness and ability to help us push forward quickly. We could not have developed a plan without their insight and responsive way they gathered data, shared ideas, and contributed to our plan.
  3. Programmatic shifts – During a time of uncertainty about the duration of worksite closures and safety protocols for reopening, digital experiences allow young people to safely and easily access workforce opportunities where they are. It also gives them the chance to immediately participate in and prepare for the future of work.
  4. Coordinated Plan – Together, we’re implementing flexible options for youth-serving organizations and participants, working with funders and system partners to problem-solve obstacles as they emerge, and striving to be solutions-driven.

Summer employment is a critical part of PYN’s Career Development Framework and we believe this summer will give us insights and lessons for improving WorkReady. The shifts we’re making will better prepare young people for the future of work equipped with digital and remote experiences. While the challenges from COVID-19 are far from over, we believe in the promise of young people and our commitment to prepare them for the future they deserve.

The Philadelphia Youth Network is a member of the Chamber’s Talent Action Team, a cross-disciplinary group of 120+ leaders focused on creating clear pathways for the alignment between individuals and employers to assure that we are training and engaging the region’s current and future leaders.


The Chamber is an enthusiastic employer partner of WorkReady, a citywide effort to address the skills gap by convening partners, employers, leaders of youth-serving systems and youth to build a coordinated approach to preparing young people for future employment.