Connecting the West Philadelphia community to careers 

The West Philadelphia Skills Initiative is a workforce development partnership between the University City District, Penn Medicine, and the University committed to develop career opportunities for local residents.

The beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 was an especially difficult time for Antoinette Moore. Besides just the uncertainty about a brand-new virus and its ramifications—masks and social distancing, normal ways of doing everyday things upended—she’d been laid off months before from her job at a community organization working with young children and was doing “odds and ends” to pay the bills.

But luckily, she was on the email list for the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative. Thus began a four-year journey in which Moore began, and continues to grow, her career at Penn Medicine.

A medical professional at work wearing a mask.
Image: Courtesy of Penn Medicine Service in Action.

The Skills Initiative is a workforce development program run as a partnership between the University City District (UCD) community group and major area employers, including Penn Medicine and the University of Pennsylvania, who have committed to develop career opportunities for local residents.

Moore noticed an email about applying to a lab assistant program that was helping the health system staff up its COVID testing and sample processing capacity while helping unemployed people like herself, just one day before the deadline, and it changed her life.

After weeks of virtual classes and limited in-person training, Moore performed COVID tests on the Penn campus and then transitioned to working in the blood bank. “I wanted to be helpful, and I loved learning so much,” she says.

More than three years later, Moore is still at Penn Medicine, and still learning. Her story is an example of the “win-win” nature of Penn’s partnership with the Skills Initiative.

The idea is simple: People in West Philadelphia, an area of the city with high rates of poverty and un-/under-employment, need good jobs that pay well and can evolve into careers; and organizations like the University of Pennsylvania Health System need well-trained frontline employees who are dedicated to their work and motivated to succeed. Participants in the program have been out of work for an average of 30 weeks; most are Black and fewer than one-third have post-high-school education or training. The Skills Initiative helps recruit the right people for the open entry-level positions and assists with onboarding, professional development skills, and job coaching.

Read more at Penn Medicine Service in Action.