Note: This article is a paid placement and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Billy Penn at WHYY.

The Philadelphia Skills Forward initiative hit a milestone this June: over 2,500 learners have engaged with the program since it launched in late 2020.

Started as a partnership between the Chamber of Commerce, Philadelphia Works, Accenture, and Graduate Philadelphia at the height of the pandemic, the goal of the initiative is to provide training, mentoring, and job connections for displaced workers. There’s a specific focus on Black and brown workers disproportionately impacted by pandemic-related job losses.

It’s a program that provides opportunities for both learners and employers — and creates meaningful connections between the two.

Through an online learning portal, participants access education and training connected to three distinct learning tracks: Entrepreneurship, Health Tech and Administration, and IT Customer Support. There are also courses that focus on digital literacy, career management, and professional skills.

Employers that engage with the Philadelphia Skills Forward Initiative have the opportunity to connect to talent in several ways:

  • Serve as a guest instructor as part of the training program
  • Consider participants for employment at your organization
  • Mentor a participant

The mentorship component of the program has been particularly popular, with learners and employers alike. Through a matching process led by Philadelphia Works, program participants are paired with mentors from area businesses. To date, nearly 200 program participants have expressed an interest in being matched with a mentor.

Karla Hill, who works in HR for local government, said she joined the program to build skills that will serve her now and post-retirement.  “Part of HR is equipping yourself; you always have to be in learning mode,” she said.

Karla connected with Angela Vacante, COO at Bittenbender Construction, a firm known for its commitment to supporting women entrepreneurs and communities of color.

With their complementary areas of expertise, the pair found the relationship mutually beneficial, with Angela talking through key talent issues with Karla, and Karla getting the chance to learn more about entrepreneurship from Angela.

What started as a mentorship program experience has evolved into a relationship that supports the professional development of both women.

“I don’t know if we can even call this a mentor/mentee relationship, ” Angela said. “We’ve been freely and organically exchanging on an ongoing basis. We’ve been flipping ideas, learning from each other.”

This is just one example of many successful mentorships that have resulted from the initiative.

As Karla said, “You might go into a program not sure what to expect, but you always come out learning something from each other, whether that’s self-discovery or business discovery.”

Philadelphia Skills Forward continues to cultivate meaningful connections for displaced workers and those looking to expand their skills. As the program grows, so do the opportunities for engagement for both learners and employers.

How can the program support your professional development and job connections through online learning and networking? Visit this page to find out more.

If you’re interested in serving as mentor, instructor, or offering employment opportunities at your organization to Philadelphia Skills Forward participants, fill out this survey.