• Laura Johnson Head Shot 2014
Categorized As:
Education & Talent

School's Out... and Work's On!

As uncertainty lingers about what kind of classrooms public school Philadelphia students will return to this fall, thousands of the city’s youth and young adults reported to work earlier this month. They did so as part of the WorkReady Philadelphia summer employment program, which, over the last decade, has become a national model for offering academically enriched work experiences to in- and out-of-school youth.


The success of work readiness and training programs for young adults in this region, such as WorkReady, is a major reason why strengthening connections between education and career opportunities emerged as one of three priority K-12 strategies in the World Class Education & Talent Development Global Positioning Strategy. These career-connected educational opportunities, which range from short-term, direct workplace experiences – like WorkReady’s summer program – to multi-year, career and technical education tracks within schools – like Philadelphia Academies – provide a great foundation to build from.


But given that summer is prime time for high school students looking for workplace exposure, it’s the perfect opportunity to spotlight WorkReady’s significant efforts to scale its summer internship model. In the early 2000s, the Philadelphia Youth Network (or PYN, which operates the WorkReady program), recognized a significant need and demand for internships among the city’s young people. PYN set out to make it easy for employers of all sizes to provide opportunities by investing in outreach, partnering with the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, and creating back-office infrastructure to handle payments and other administrative matters that can create barriers to offering internships for many small to mid-size employers. PYN also developed trainings for employers’ staff on how to work effectively with young people. 


All this hard work paid off: WorkReady Philadelphia has served more than 74,000 young people through its summer programming. Last year, 6,800 youth completed a WorkReady summer internship, but with thousands still on the waiting list, Mayor Nutter challenged the business community to do more. The result? 7,600 opportunities were created this year.


This sustained support from the Mayor, as well as top leadership at the Chamber of Commerce, has been critical to reinforcing the importance of summer internships and emphasizing the link to student success as well as regional economic growth. In many ways, WorkReady is a model for the kind of sustained cross-sector collaboration around a shared goal that is at the heart of the World Class initiative. 


Still, there is work to be done. Despite the efforts of committed partners, this year more than 18,000 applicants were still on the waiting list – young people who wanted to work, but couldn't because the demand for summer employment far exceeded the available supply. While many challenges remain to ensure high-performing classrooms in schools across the region, providing ways for youth to experience meaningul exposure is something businesses can concretely do to make a difference. To make progress toward our World Class goal of every student graduating from high school college and career ready, we need to work together to significantly scale these opportunities for all the youth who are eager to participate. 


In addition to summer employment, WorkReady also provides year-round career exposure, internship, and industry pipeline programs for students as well as occupational skills training for out-of-school youth. Click here to get involved with WorkReady Philadelphia.