The third, and biggest challenge for the program, was acquiring the internships for the students. “A lot of companies are told to say, ‘Oh sure, we’ll take an intern,’ but with the economy being the way it was, it’s not as easy to go to some of those larger companies.” Davis continues, “We had to go to smaller, more private sector employers and getting them. Saying, look, I have very well-rounded students and they’re not any student off the street, which is part of our point in having a 20-week training period,” she says.
Dungee Glenn stresses it is important to get the employers to buy into the notion, the importance of creating a pipeline. “These young people in our city and in our neighborhood schools have great capacity and value and we don’t have to be looking at importing the employees of the future; we really need to be developing the wealth of talent we have right here at hand.”
There’s a match recruitment done through various public high schools in Philadelphia. The program is voluntary and there are no guarantees of internships or paid experiences at the beginning of the program. The students volunteer to sign up and they go through an orientation process. After the reviewing of their application, they are accepted or denied. From there, they volunteer 20 of their Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. where they learn all of the necessary skills that will be needed to enter this workforce.
“I had one student, very, extremely, painfully shy,” says Davis. “Now he is very vocal in all of his activities. His work-site supervisors tell me that he is really delighted.
“I meet with the students every Friday and review what’s been going on in their internships.” And the response is consistent, she says. The students say they feel like they know they have new opportunities and know how to enter into those fields.
One of the things ACF watches is the students’ grades and attendance, looking for improvements and changes. Dungee Glenn says, “In addition to exposing them to the next step in their lives, it’s really making sure that they are completing high school.
“In our city we still have a four-year, on-time graduation rate that is, in many of our neighborhood high schools, less than 60 percent; high school graduation is a huge issue.”
She continues, “We’re trying to add a component, and this is what we see as our next step, we’re beginning to track our young people on to their post-high school experience. One of our desires is to strengthen our partnership with Chaney University, who wants to, I believe they’ve set up the preliminary steps, to set up a minor in transportation.”
Another component of Project Transit is the ACF’s entrepreneurship program. Dungee Glenn says, “We talk about Project Transit as about being both youth and adult workforce development, as well as business development, because it’s all about building capacity in urban areas and that’s both the social and economic capacity in those communities.”
“About two years ago we realized we needed to add the entrepreneur and small business development to this initiative,” says Bernadine Hawes, director of Project Transit: Engrepreneurship. “The workforce talent, they need jobs and jobs are developed through businesses.”
ACF has built a website that allows companies to look at opportunities in the transit industry. They have general information on the industry and the types of jobs and types of skills that this industry requires. The site is for small entrepreneurs that are looking to match their business to the transit industry.
“On one hand we do workforce development and career awareness for youth and on the other hand, we’re growing businesses so that once they have developed programs like Constance’s, there are jobs at the other end because we have creative businesses that will create those jobs,” stresses Hawes.
Equipping Our Workforce
Brian Turner, director for the Transportation Learning Center, says the center was created 10 years ago by national transit leaders of APTA and unions, recognizing that there is a serious concern with retirements, dramatic changes in technology, growth in transit ridership and a policy mandate to expand transit’s modal share. As they were going from location to location building partnerships, they saw each agency having to reinvent the wheel.