This Philadelphia ballot question could help solve the workforce crisis in city government | Opinion

A councilmember and union president make the case for the new civil service credit.

City Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson

City Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson

Courtesy Gilmore Richardson's Office

Our city only works because civil servants do. A career in civil service can be life changing, providing wages and benefits, opportunities for advancement, and crucially, union representation.

But even so, the city is facing a workforce crisis — and it could get worse. Over 10,000 city workers are eligible for retirement in the next five years, nearly half of our workforce. We also continue to struggle with worker shortages created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The way to address this problem is by creating stronger pipelines into city jobs. Philadelphia voters now have a chance to help do that by voting yes on Ballot Question 2 on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

The Career and Technical Education Civil Service Preference bill — which Councilmember Gilmore Richardson  introduced in January 2020 and City Council passed this June — amends the city Home Rule Charter to create a five-point preference for qualified applicants who have completed a School District of Philadelphia Career and Technical Education (CTE) program within the last three years. In order for this change to take effect, Philadelphia voters must now approve.

The district offers CTE programs in over 40 areas, ranging from automotive technology to plumbing, and students graduate with 1,080 hours of instruction. After reviewing more than 900 city job descriptions, we found over 60 entry-level positions aligned with the skills and certifications offered in the CTE programs. These jobs have an average wage of $41,910, and almost all of them are represented by District Council 33.

The city already offers numerous preferences to qualified applicants: those who participated in a national service program, like AmeriCorps, can earn 1 to 5 points depending on their length of service; young people who complete the Police Explorers program get an additional 3 points when they apply to become Police Officers; and those with proficiency in a language other than English can receive additional points. A time-limited, 5-point preference for CTE graduates is fully in line with these preferences. Additionally, the city’s Office of Human Resources formally recognizes the value of CTE programs. A number of positions, including trades helper, engineering aide, and automotive apprentice, list District CTE programs as relevant or preferred experience, and students who complete the EMT/Fire program get a 3-point preference when they apply to be Firefighters.

The city also offers a 10-point preference to U.S. Military veterans and their spouses. Veterans and their spouses have honorably served our country, and they learn significant and in-demand skills during their service. By awarding a 10-point preference, we are rightly recognizing the value veterans bring to our city workforce. The career and technical education preference specifically states that it will not compete with the veterans preference. As a veteran himself, President Garrett inherently understands the value of military service, and he knows this legislation does not disrespect the sacrifice, experience, and expertise of those who served.

The CTE civil service preference has only one goal: to provide a targeted benefit to young people with high-demand skills to create a pipeline to public service.

We know Philadelphia is facing many challenges. We remain the poorest big city in America; we are struggling with a gun violence epidemic that is highly correlated to unemployment; our workforce is rapidly aging; and the pandemic has shifted the current employment landscape.

In order to address these challenges, we need smart policies that help Philadelphia’s young people find opportunities to earn family sustaining and supporting wages and bring new talent into the city’s workforce. Providing a targeted preference is just one important way to do this. That is why we are asking you to vote yes on Ballot Question 2 on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

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