• Career Pathways Forum Panel
  • Jennifer Egmont
Categorized As:
Education & Talent

Leaders Highlight New Approaches to Workforce Development

Earlier this month, the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia partnered with the Job Opportunity Investment Network (JOIN), Philadelphia Society for Human Resources Management (Philly SHRM), and United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey to host a forum exploring new approaches to workforce training and development.  These new approaches have been developed in response to the ongoing shifts in the economy and employment opportunities across the country.


Changing Employment Landscape


As recent research by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City demonstrates, most job growth within the last 30 years in the US has occurred at opposite ends of the pay/skill spectrum - in high-skilled jobs that pay well and require significant postsecondary training, and in low-skilled (mostly service sector) jobs with low wages and limited opportunity for advancement. During the same period, the share of middle-skill jobs in our economy shrank significantly. These occupations – which include sales, office and administrative support, production, construction, and transportation jobs – have historically required limited or no postsecondary training but have still paid a family-sustaining wage. The chart below illustrates just how significant the shift in the national jobs landscape has been. In 1983, middle-skill jobs accounted for 59 percent of all jobs; in 2012, they represented just 45 percent.






This phenomenon is often referred to as job polarization, and economists point to a variety of causes, including technological innovation, international trade and the global economy, and the weakening of labor unions.


New Approaches to Workforce Training & Development


Traditional approaches to training and support for job seekers originated during a time when middle-skill jobs were far more plentiful, and unfortunately, these approaches simply aren’t working in the current era of job polarization. Low-skilled adults need more guidance and support to navigate today’s complicated work landscape and to prepare for family-sustaining jobs. And this assistance needs to be tailored to meet the needs of a broad spectrum of people - students moving from high school into the workforce, young adults, the unemployed, and the underemployed.


In response to this shifting landscape, workforce systems, employers, postsecondary institutions, and K-12 schools are developing - often in partnership with each other - new ways to prepare and support people in obtaining family-sustaining jobs.


At the World Class Council forum held earlier this month, attendees learned about how the Career Pathways approach, a strategy designed to bolster both individual prosperity and regional economic competitiveness, is working in Greater Philadelphia and around the US. 


The career pathways approach connects progressive levels of skills and education, training, and supportive services in specific sectors or cross-sector occupations in a way that optimizes the progress of individuals in securing marketable credentials, family-supporting employment, further education, and professional advancement.


The event’s keynote speaker, David Socolow, Director of the Center for Postsecondary and Economic Success at CLASP and a pioneer of the career pathways approach, underscored the complexity and impact of this strategy. When fully implemented , the career pathways approach is much more than a job training program: it requires system-wide changes, active employer engagement, and program alignment.


Many providers, however, are not equipped to advance all of the components of the career pathways approach. Yet Mr. Socolow was quick to point out that these providers can adopt certain aspects of the approach and still see real success, and a panel of local workforce development experts demonstrated as much during the forum. The panel included a training provider, an employer, and two program funders, who discussed their respective efforts to move low-skilled, low-wage workers into better-paying jobs.


Matt Bergheiser, Executive Director of the University City District (UCD) spoke about UCD’s West Philly Skills Initiative, an employer-driven model that aims to address the dual challenge of too many unfilled or high turnover jobs at Philadelphia’s largest firms, and too many unemployed West Philadelphians. The Initiative connects employers and residents to build local workforce capacity and to support people in realizing their full economic potential. Mr. Bergheiser underscored the importance of maintaining relationships with employers, noting that solving real business needs is the only way the Initiative can be sustainable.



Lisa Babikian, the University of Pennsylvania Health System’s Chief Human Resources officer for Corporate Services and Talent Acquisition, described Penn Medicine’s efforts to help employees advance their careers and gain postsecondary credentials, pointing out that 15 to 20 percent of their employees take advantage of the tuition benefits provided by Penn. Penn also works to provide flexible scheduling for workers who are pursuing postsecondary education.


And from the funding side, JOIN’s Jennie Sparandara and Frazierita Klasen from Pew Charitable Trusts spoke about trends in funding workforce development efforts. Ms. Sparandara spoke about JOIN’s work in partnership with the Economy League to leverage timely labor market information to (1) identify industries and positions that offer sustainable, competitive employment and (2) create career maps for training and education providers to help equip job seekers with the skills needed to obtain and retain those positions. Once these maps are developed, JOIN will provide training dollars to fund the strategies and test their effectiveness.


By addressing the training needs of low-skilled workers and the talent needs of employers, the career pathways approach holds the promise of improving economic growth for the region while expanding opportunity to more of its residents. In July, the Economy League will be releasing more in-depth analysis of the current state of economic opportunity in Greater Philadelphia as well as efforts to expand opportunity to those who have traditionally been left out.