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Former seminarian helps the jobless in Philly

In seminary, three years along the path to becoming a priest, H. Patrick Clancy Jr. realized he couldn't find it within himself to make the commitment.

"I just figured it wasn't the right time for me," said Clancy, 53, the new president and chief executive of Philadelphia Works, the city's chief workforce-development agency. Mayor Kenney appointed Clancy late last year. Philadelphia Works helps people find jobs and employers find people.

"And, no, I did not meet anybody while I was in seminary," said Clancy, married and a father of three. "I guess part of me wanted to have a family. There was celibacy and then obedience. Obedience was probably just as important to me, because you then have a bishop who will rule your life.

What initially drew you to the priesthood?

I always wanted to be somebody who helped people through tough situations. Who I am, really, is a giving, helpful personality. This was something I really wanted to do, because there is a value in helping people in crossroads. When you think of the church, you are always interacting with people at a crossroads, whether it's death, marriage, baptism, the real teaching moments in life.

Instead, you’ve had a long career in workforce development.

It became something that I really enjoy, because, again, I can help people at crossroads. I've got people being laid off. I've got people coming back from incarceration. I've got people on [welfare]. Movement into this work is really somewhat of a passion.

Do you miss the religious life?

That was a very structured life: morning prayer; attendance at daily Mass; evening prayer. It's something I still hold on to somewhat. I do pray in the morning. I try to pray at night before I go to bed.

So much is changing under the Trump administration. How is it affecting workforce development?

The repeal of the Affordable Care Act has two major issues for us. One is a lot of people losing health insurance. As important is a lot of people losing jobs because they worked for people who provided Medicaid-covered services. So if you were a direct-support professional, or if you worked in the behavioral-health field, you probably got more work because of the expansion of Medicaid and Medicare. Once you draw back that money, it ultimately results in layoffs.

Meanwhile, workforce professionals like yourself have been recruiting in health care to assist the aging population.

And for us, one of the big challenges is whether we continue to invest in those occupations. We've been recruiting and training. Maybe I need to slow that down. We're trying to figure that out.

I think about President Trump's promise to keep jobs in the U.S. In Philadelphia, we have Cardone Industries Inc., the auto-parts manufacturer, moving production to Mexico. Philadelphia Works has been helping the employees. How many will be losing jobs?

Thirteen hundred. At first it was a trickle, but we're beginning to see they are laying off 150 at a time. They are Trade Act eligible, which means there's funding to help individuals who lose jobs to an overseas employer. You can go to school, and you can get your unemployment extended. At Cardone, the language barrier is one of the things we're seeing. We're concerned about the deluge of the numbers and the inability of interview capacity for some of them. Some cultures are just shy and don't want to boast about the good things they do. So we're working with them on interviewing techniques.

What is the biggest challenge for Philadelphia job seekers?

Literacy. We have 217,000 people without a high school diploma.

How about for employers?

Being realistic about what they want and what they're willing to pay for. Employers need to be thinking an apprenticeship model more and more, where you start people and try to help them grow into a career.

What was your first job?

McDonald's, cleaning bathrooms. It taught me attention to detail, to interact with others, to finish a project. It also taught me I wanted to do something else.

How are you at cleaning bathrooms?

My wife may debate me, but I'm actually pretty good. I'm a very good cook.