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The next step in PhilaPort’s $300M revitalization? A new training center for workers

Leaders say the training center, which plans to serve a mix of 200 new and current workers in its first year, will help make PhilaPort more competitive.

Rich Lazer, Philadelphia's chief labor official, announcing the launch of the first training center at the Philadelphia Port.
Rich Lazer, Philadelphia's chief labor official, announcing the launch of the first training center at the Philadelphia Port.Read moreDAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer

The Delaware River is being dredged so bigger ships can come through. The giant cranes have arrived, able to unload the world’s largest container ships. And the Port of Philadelphia, now known as PhilaPort, received its largest one this year. What’s next for the $300 million state-backed revitalization? Training workers.

In January 2019, PhilaPort will launch its first-ever training facility, the Citizens Bank Regional Maritime Training Center, at 61st and Essington near the Philadelphia Airport, workforce and port leaders announced Wednesday morning. Backed by $100,000 from Citizens Bank as well as funding from Philadelphia Works, the city’s workforce board, the center will offer OSHA safety training, forklift and crane operator certification, and training for yard jockeys, who operate the tractors that move containers off ships and onto land.

>> READ MORE: Kenney’s ambitious workforce plan to tackle blue-collar skills gap

Officials say the training center, which is expected to serve a mix of 200 new and current workers in its first year, will help make PhilaPort more competitive by formalizing the educational offerings for port workers and making it easier for people to get port work, high-paying jobs that don’t require a college degree. It’s an example of the Kenney administration’s stated priority of making it easier for Philadelphians to find blue-collar jobs. Expanding the port to create jobs was also a Mayor Kenney campaign promise. (Kenney didn’t attend the announcement because of his father’s death Tuesday. In his place was Richie Lazer, the city’s chief labor official.)

“There aren’t a lot of, I’ll call it, easy pathways to get into the port," said Leo Holt, president of Holt Logistics, whose company, Greenwich Terminals, operates PhilaPort’s Packer Avenue Marine Terminal.

He said the training center is a great example of a public-private partnership that could shine a light on the kinds of work available at the port and give people the skills to make them job-ready. Businesses may have their own internal training programs, but those take time and money, he said. An individual business, for example, might not buy its own crane simulator, but a centralized training center may be able to do that.

And if training can improve safety and productivity, that will be one more way that PhilaPort can sell itself as an attractive location for shippers, said Philadelphia Works CEO Patrick Clancy.

>> READ MORE: Giant cranes from China arrive at PhilaPort, signaling a new era

There’s never been formal training for port workers in Philadelphia, said Karen Kozachyn, dean of workforce development and community education at Delaware County Community College, part of a college consortium that will help run the training. Knowledge is often passed down from one generation to another, she said, noting that jobs often stay among families. The center aims to be a way to spread work opportunities beyond those who have connections to the industry. And, if the port continues to grow, it will need more skilled workers to meet demand.

Daniel K. Fitzpatrick, who leads commercial banking for Citizens Bank’s MidAtlantic Region, said the number-one challenge he sees with his clients -- many of whom are operators at PhilaPort -- is a sufficient supply of high-quality workers. It’s why the bank is supporting the training center, said Fitzpatrick, who is also a member of the Philadelphia Works board.

The International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1291, one of the unions that operates at the port and will help design the curriculum for the training, was not immediately available for comment.

Fruits and vegetables, paper, and Kia cars all arrive through PhilaPort, which includes 15 terminals and piers on the Delaware where more than 10,300 people work. Nearly 4,600 work on the discharge or loading of ships, while the others work in warehouses inland.

>> READ MORE: From 2016: Gov. Wolf pledges $300 million to revitalize the Philadelphia port, add cranes and warehouses for cargoes and autos