Challenged job system must help the hard-to-market

The problems with Philadelphia's workforce system, designed to find jobs for the unemployed, go well beyond the system's tangled and confusing organizational chart described in a report by Pew Charitable Trust's Philadelphia Research Initiative released Wednesday.

"The city suffers from a talent mismatch,” said Pew's project director, Tom Ginsberg. Job openings require workers with skills, yet one in three applicants at CareerLink need to be referred to city-run adult-literacy courses for basic mathematics, reading and writing.  At a time when the unemployment rate in the city tops 10 percent, this lack of basic readiness amounts to a crisis.

The Pew report, as explained in my story for, details lackluster job placement rates and low-employer engagement.

Yes, the numbers are bad, but the challenges are immense, said Edward Sikina, a Philadelphia Workforce Development Corp. employee who manages the CareerLink office at Suburban Station, one of five in the city. His is one of the most successful, according to an earlier report commissioned by the Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board and the Philadelphia Workforce Development Corp.  Of the city's five centers, his consistently places the highest percentage of jobseekers at the lowest cost per client in jobs commanding the highest wages. 

Even so, only 46 percent who came through the door got jobs, the report said. The report is available on the PWDC's website.

“The competition out there is tremendous,” Sikina said, noting that the job developers in his office must face off against “temp agencies, companies that have their own systems, Monster, Hot Jobs, Indeed, all the job boards. It’s all those job sites and just piles of resumes that companies are receiving.”

Even so, his office has formed a successful partnership with the Center City District to help them hire the teal-coated customer service representatives who patrol Center City streets. His office also developed a specialty in health staffing, a consistently strong sector in the city and region.

Sikina said that generating jobs for CareerLink clients is tough, particularly in this economy and particularly in the public workforce system, which must accommodate the jobless who can’t find work on their own and who aren’t sought after by private-sector recruiters. “The labor market will pick and choose who they want,” he said. “We are left with the people who are hard to market.”

Ironically, Sikina and some of his staff may need to use CareerLink's services themselves. 

As part of a reorganization effort, the Philadelphia Workforce Development Corp., which employs Sikina and a good percentage of career counselors and business development officials in the CareerLinks, will no longer have a role in the centers. On Friday, the Workforce Investment Board posted a request for bids to run the centers, with the change to come in the spring or summer.

Mark Edwards, who heads PWDC. will keep his job and become the head of a newly formulated PhiladelphiaWorks Inc., which will supervise the contract with the new provider. Edwards said that his past experience will similar transitions leads him to believe that at least 70 percent of the PWDC employees will wind up with the new contract holder, but there are no guarantees.

"It has us in limbo," Sikina said. "You can't throw the baby out with the bath water."    

To read the complete report, click here