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Workforce Development for a 21st Century Job Market

Last July we brought you a Humans of the Science Center edition featuring our new STEM Workforce Partnerships Director, Phil Brooks. Phil had just started in his ambitious new role to connect West Philadelphia residents without a traditional four-year degree with family-sustaining careers in the life sciences.

But what does building a new workforce development initiative entail? And what progress has been made since then? Here’s a look inside the steps we’re taking to build a foundation for more inclusive growth in Philadelphia’s growing biotech sectors.

A Needs Assessment

You can’t plant the seeds of opportunity without knowing what the landscape looks like.

In partnership with the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce’s CEO Council for Growth and our local business improvement district University City District, we commissioned a study this past fall to identify opportunities within growing and established biotech companies for individuals with varying education and work experience. The survey was shared with the wider biotech and life sciences community.

In conjunction with this research, we conducted focus groups to hear from higher education, human resources professionals, city government, workforce training programs, life science industry professionals, trade associations and healthcare institutions. All in all, 57 stakeholders across these distinct walks of life played a role in developing the study.

Among the early findings? Students graduating from high school don’t have the same awareness of biotech careers as they do for other healthcare and healthcare-adjacent fields like nursing.

As such, there’s a need for increased information sharing and career exposure to ensure biotech jobs are not just on the radar of those attending traditional colleges and universities, but associate’s degree- and certification-holders as well; or better yet, even before high school graduation.

The Adult Learner Curriculum

The result of these efforts will be to help identify the types of jobs that are ripe for this opportunity and begin building a training program.

The University City District’s West Philadelphia Skills Initiative, Drexel University, The Dornsife Center, Wistar Institute, Jefferson, Invisible Sentinel, Design Science, eCLOSE Institute and Integral Molecular and Century Therapeutics have been supportive partners in shaping the curriculum for the program, incorporating foundational, technical and on-the-job training.

The three-phase training model will be designed for 10-15 participants, each of whom will receive stipends and wrap-around supports from the Science Center. Those wrap-around supports aim to address known participant barriers to participation such as transportation, child care, and need for income while in a training program.

Here’s what it will look like:

  • Foundational Training
    This first phase will leverage the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative’s foundational training platform. Participants will undergo different modules encompassing soft skills in the workplace and initial on-the-job training with industry professionals.
  • Technical Skills
    Participants will receive specialized training, a combination of instructional curriculum and hands-on application, from technical experts in higher education and institutions.
  • On the Job Training
    We will work to actively place participants with Science Center-affiliated companies across University City and beyond.
  • Why it matters to the Science Center
    While breakthrough research in University City continues to make headlines, so too does Philadelphia’s place as the poorest large city in the United States.

At the Science Center we’re in a unique position to help bridge that gap, physically and figuratively. We’re working to address these issues in a number of ways, with Workforce Development being our latest effort. Apprenticeships and training models are a proven combination for the creation of job opportunities without obtaining a four-year degree and if we succeed, our program will serve as “an on-ramp to open up opportunities in an industry with traditionally high barriers to entry.”