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March 07, 2016

WorkReady initiative eyes 16,000 youth job opportunities by 2020

Mayor Kenney touts effort to create summer employment for city's teens and young adults

Youth Employment
Kenny Summer Jobs 2016 Hayden Mitman /for PhillyVoice

Mayor Jim Kenney joins Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Youth Network, on Monday to promote the WorkReady Philadelphia initiative.

In Philadelphia, only 15.6 percent of teens, aged 16 to 19, were employed in 2013. 

That's well below the state average of 30.3 percent employment for teens in that same age group, which is above the national average of about 27.6 percent for that same year, according to figures from the American Community Survey and cited in a Drexel University study last year on teen employment.

But the people behind WorkReady Philadelphia hope to increase that figure by creating paying opportunities for 16,000 Philadelphia teenagers by 2020. The initiative is "dedicated to improving the economic outcomes" of youth throughout the city. 

On Monday, Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Youth Network, the organization serving as managing partner of WorkReady Philadelphia, said the initiative aims to create opportunities for summer – and year-round – work for area youth by teaming with other groups in the city. 

"We cannot be a catalyst, or a change agent, in this journey unless we partner together," she said. 

Fulmore-Townsend said that last year, WorkReady Philadelphia created more than 10,000 opportunities for summer and year-round work, mostly paid internships, by partnering with more than 60 groups in the community – the Free Library of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department, for example – as well as working with others in the business community. 

But, she said, WorkReady Philadelphia has just over 4,200 opportunities lined up for this coming summer.

"Every year we start with zero opportunities," she said. "I'm standing here asking you all to partner with me." 

Siobhan Reardon, president and director of the Free Library of Philadelphia, said that the library has employed teens to present literacy programs to young readers and said it will support WorkReady Philadelphia to further its goal of "empowering students and young people." 

Summer jobs are a big part of a teen's introduction into the working world, organizers said. During Monday's event at the central branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, Mayor Jim Kenney said he first became a city employee by working a summer job at the city's Parks and Recreation Department. 

"Summer jobs are important because it does put money in a child's pocket in the summer, but it's also about making connections," said Kenney. 

The mayor said that through summer jobs students can find adults and mentors to work with and learn from, instead of sitting around "rudderless" over the summer months. 

"And, they will run into people with positive outlooks," the mayor said. 

Building on Kenney's personal story of having a summer job, Fulmore-Townsend said that any Philadelphia teen could be the next mayor.

"And we want to support that," she said. "We want to ensure that success is our only option for young people." 

Michael DiBerardinis, deputy mayor for environmental and community resources, touted the WorkReady Philadelphia initiative, saying that the program helps Philadelphia's teens "work to learn how to work." 

"This has a lot to do with daily life in the city," he said, describing the "top-flight program." 

Opportunities will be available to accommodate city youth and young adults from ages 12 to 24.

Though this year's opportunity count is currently less than 5,000, Fulmore-Townsend believes the goal of 16,000 jobs within five years is attainable. 

"We have work to do, but this city has never let me down," she said. 

Fulmore-Townsend said she will continue seeking new partnerships and opportunities through the end of April.

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For more information on WorkReady Philadelphia, or to find out how your business can partner with the initiative or to learn more about the summer opportunities, visit