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Philly needs stronger workforce development | Opinion

To support creative workforce development, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia is co-hosting the Business Innovations for the Future of Work summit at Drexel University November 6-7.

In June 2017, Patrick Harker (right), president & CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, met with workers at the Aker Philadelphia Shipyard to learn about workforce development opportunities.
In June 2017, Patrick Harker (right), president & CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, met with workers at the Aker Philadelphia Shipyard to learn about workforce development opportunities.Read moreCourtesy of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia (custom credit)

When it comes to today’s workforce, technology is a double-edged sword: Automation is eliminating some jobs while the growing need of employers for digital skills means other jobs are in great demand but going unfilled. This churning in the labor market is having big impacts on two key ambitions for our region: creating an inclusive economy that works for all, and establishing the Philadelphia area as a center for tech companies and jobs.

To keep these goals on track, we need to act now to rethink workforce development, especially in ways that use partnerships to cross over the economy’s many sectors. That’s our hope at the November 6-7 Business Innovations for the Future of Work summit at Drexel University, co-hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

The news about jobs and technology is not new. According to a study the Philadelphia Fed conducted last year, almost 18 percent of jobs in the greater Philadelphia region are at high risk of being eliminated through automation. The projected losses will be greatest among women, people of color, and younger workers, who will have to look for new jobs.

At the same time, nearly 45 percent of employers surveyed nationwide last year said they struggled to find workers. This phenomenon at home has hindered our regional economic vitality and growth. Our research has found that businesses in the Philadelphia area take an average 41.5 days to fill an opening — far higher than the 37 days average across the top 50 metro areas. To add to the problem: public funding for workforce development — money which normally would train the displaced workers to move into “middle skill” jobs — has been shrinking nationally.

The news isn’t all grim, however. We know technology is also creating jobs, new jobs that require digital proficiency, creativity, and strong analytical skills. Surprisingly, our recent research on job requirements showed the skills most in demand from technical employers are not necessarily coding languages, but communication, decision making, and critical thinking. In other words, the skills that are the most difficult to automate are the ones that are essentially human.

The Philadelphia Fed is involved in this effort because we believe workforce development is an important part of the Bank’s mission to support a strong and inclusive economy. Research done across the entire Federal Reserve System has shown that a holistic approach to training and education will allow the U.S. economy to tap into sources of labor that are currently under-utilized, including the women, people of color, and younger workers most at risk of losing their jobs through automation.

The Philadelphia Fed is proud to cohost the Drexel summit with the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and the City of Philadelphia to examine the ways businesses are joining with the public sector to reinvest in workers.

We know from Philadelphia Fed research that funding is crucial for retraining workers. Current workforce funding, however, pays primarily for outputs, like finishing a training program, rather than outcomes, like being retained in a company for at least six months. The result is that both employers and workers lose out.

To address this issue, we need new workforce funding models that bring together government and private businesses to create better feedback loops and invest in outcomes, rather than just outputs. The Bank’s Economic Growth and Mobility Project has been doing just that. Last year we engaged with Social Finance, a national leader in outcomes-based funding, to build a partnership between Comcast and Philadelphia Works. This collaboration reinvents the way businesses partner with local workforce boards, while also preparing Philadelphia residents for in-demand careers.

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This pay-for-success pilot creates a better feedback loop between the company, Comcast, and the public system, Philadelphia Works, to not only hire graduates, but also cover in part the cost of training programs. If successful, this program will be the first of its kind in which an employer is the back-end investor in pay-for-success workforce development. More importantly, it challenges businesses to think about the role they can play in partnering more deeply with workforce organizations, community colleges, and those who are building Philadelphia’s talent pipeline.

Workforce development isn’t charity or social service. It’s an investment in the future of our region and our economic prosperity. When an employer commits to training and developing workers’ skills, it earns a return on that investment, through the bottom line benefits of increased productivity, reduced turnover, and decreased time to fill a position. Cross-sector relationships like the Comcast-Philadelphia Works partnership are necessary for the region’s economic future.

We hope that more business leaders will take up the challenge.

Patrick T. Harker is president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. The views reflected in this article represent those of the author and not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia or the Federal Reserve System.