Workforce training in Philly is really, really expensive

A DN editorial reveals that the city's workforce development program pays a lot of money for each person it successfully trains and places in a job:

HALF A BILLION dollars over four years. That's the astonishing amount a new report from Pew's Philadelphia Research Initiative says has been spent on workforce development in the city.

And if you don't quite know what "workforce development" means, you're in good company. Neither do most of the businesses in the city that might take advantage of publicly funded programs that train residents for jobs ... to say nothing of laid-off or unemployed workers who might access the services.

In a city with 11 percent unemployment, providing skills and training to future workers is obviously an important tool, but the report says that historically, the city's system has not been as effective as similar programs around the state, for either helping residents get jobs or providing businesses with trained, skilled workers. The two biggest programs focus on welfare recipients and on job seekers not on welfare.

Of those not on welfare, just 59 percent of those receiving services - about 2,500 people - got jobs in the 12 months ending in September 2010. In other parts of the state, that number was 72 percent. And just 4,160 welfare recipients (25 percent) found jobs through the program designed just for public-assistance recipients. By our calculations, that represents a cost of more than $18,000 per year, per job.

The report calculates the costs by the number of people served, and points out inconsistencies in how officials monitor progress.

The report also cites problems with the cumbersome structure of the Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board and the Workforce Development Corp. that is further complicated by a patchwork of federal, state, city and private agencies.

The Nutter administration has taken steps to better organize this system, and that's a good thing. But no one should be sleeping better, yet. The most alarming omen for our future is the mismatch between the needs of employers and the skills of potential employees. In other words, the city's talent pool is shallow. Too many residents don't qualify for many of the jobs available. That's in part because only 23 percent of adults have bachelor degrees or higher. The bottom line of this report: We haven't spent a half-billion dollars to train workers.

We've spent a half-billion dollars because of the failure of our education system to graduate enough students - and to be fair, because of the failure of too many residents to graduate from high school and go on to college. And that's only part of the cost. We pay for it in ways too numerous to put a dollar figure on: in poverty, crime and violence. That's why the timing of this Pew report's release is notable - coming the day after the report from the SRC's Blue Ribbon Commission on Safe Schools.

Until we begin connecting the dots between school problems and the city's struggles to thrive, we're just throwing away money, until there's none left.