Powerful Partnership: ECS MindSet & The West Philadelphia Skills Initiative

Partnerships with other organizations are one way ECS works to maximize the impact of the work we do to challenge intergenerational poverty in Philadelphia. While the scope of our educational programs, coaching opportunities, advocacy initiatives, and community events is wide-ranging, it’s true that we, as a donor-supported mission, can’t address every challenge we see directly.

By teaming up with partners who excel in particular areas that complement our programs, we can expand the impact and reach of our work. 

Established 13 years ago, the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative (WPSI) is one such partner. WPSI serves as an intermediary, bridging the gap between underemployed or unemployed individuals and high-value job opportunities. 

“Unlike traditional workforce programs that solely focus on job placement, WPSI places a strong emphasis on job quality and retention, ensuring long-term success for its participants,” said Executive Director Cait Garozzo.

Operated by the University City District, WPSI offers intensive skills training programs lasting 3-6 months, seamlessly transitioning participants into job interviews upon completion. The program boasts an impressive 93% placement rate, a testament to its effectiveness in connecting individuals with meaningful employment opportunities. One of the key distinguishing factors of WPSI is its deep-rooted relationships with employers and its focus on providing highly practical skills training.

By collaborating closely with employers, WPSI tailors its training programs to meet the specific needs of the job market, ensuring participants are equipped with the skills most in demand by employers.

While WPSI focuses on skills training and job placement, ECS’s MindSet program provides complementary support through long-term, one-on-one coaching that addresses broader socio-economic factors that may impact participants' ability to succeed in the workforce. 

Soneyet Muhammad, ECS Chief Programs Officer, observed that program participants in this co-enrollment model also “have access to their personal ECS coach, incentives to complete the training, and ECS emergency funds for basic needs…. As ECS participants, the WPSI trainees also have access to all of the other ECS programs at St. Barnabas Community Resource Center, including our open-choice pantry, mental health counseling, legal aid services, and tax preparation services.” 

Muhammad recalled when WPSI founding Executive Director Sheila Ireland convened the State of Black Philadelphia in February 2020.

“Ms. Ireland shared data from young Black high school sophomores and asked them about their career ambitions,” said Muhammad. 

“The two highest, most popular choices were cook and cashier. I want to see different choices for our young people. One key way to do that is to ensure that their parents have 21st century careers that command higher salaries. Youth ambitions can be limited by what they see each day so let’s ensure that their first mentors - their parents - have resilient careers. I knew that if ECS wanted to find a mission-aligned organization to drive economic mobility across the city, WPSI was the natural fit.Our outcomes are aligned to many of the social determinants of health, because we know that it takes economic security and access to robust and diverse resources to thrive,” Muhammad stated.

By working together, Muhammad believes ECS and WPSI are creating an opportunity for people to transform their lives. Participants start the MindSet program with an average income of $22,080, or $10.62 per hour for full-time employment. For participants in their 4th year in the program, they have seen their annual incomes grow to $54,775, or by an average of 148%.

WPSI graduates already start their career journey earning an average of $18.20 per hour in the life sciences, healthcare, and the skilled trades. “Our partnership with WPSI allows us to hyperdrive the earnings potential for our common participant so they and their families can grow their household income more quickly to afford the lives they see for themselves and their communities.” 

Together, ECS and WPSI shine brighter as a braided, strategic approach that offers a beacon of hope for individuals seeking to improve their employment prospects and achieve financial stability.