Left to right at the Skills Development Center are MCI Sytstemhouse's Rick Dale and Lawrence Consalvos; UCHS Prinicpal Florence Johnson; Skills Center Development Director Ronald Story; Penn's Executive Vice President John Fry and Tom Seamon, Vice President for Public Safety.
Launching the Skills Development Center, with MCI's Help

Last week officials gathered at University City High School to mark a major step in the establishment of the University of Pennsylvania Skills Development Center, developed as "an innovative program of basic skills training, vocational guidance and support services designed to provide West Philadelphia residents with the skills necessary to compete in today's job market." In an innovative trade-off, Penn's new contractor for Public Safety Communications, made a $350,000 grant to the Center to aid in its launching (see photo, above, and story, below).

The Center, located at UCHS and directed by Penn's former Human Resources Specialist Ronald Story, serves West Philadelphia community members, welfare-to-work recipients, and school-to-career students. It offers a comprehensive program of skills and career assessment; basic skills training; "workplace effectiveness" training; job referral and placement opportunities; and case management and support services.

"The Skills Development Center is a key component of the University's commitment to the economic development of the West Philadelphia community," said John Fry, Penn's executive vice president. " Providing West Philadelphians with the skills necessary to compete in an increasingly technology-dependent workplace will increase career opportunities at Penn and with local employers for many job applicants."

The program is a collaborative effort between Penn, the West Philadelphia Partnership, Community College of Philadelphia, community groups and individuals.

"The Skills Development Center is an example of a unique partnership between Penn, area institutions and community groups that will offer people the opportunity to develop meaningful and substantive job skills," Fry noted. "Providing our community members with the tools they need to reach their potential offers immeasurable benefits."

The program has five components. The first is a complete skills and career assessment to determine the individual's strengths, interests and training needs. The second component, basic skills training, will focus on two areas known to be in demand by Penn and local employers--skilled office support, and hospitality and retail.

Third, participants will receive "workplace effectiveness" training, that is, providing skills necessary for success in the workplace that cut across specific jobs. Examples are interpersonal relations, problem solving, team building, job readiness and job preparation, and life skills.

The fourth component is job referral and placement opportunities, utilizing opportunities available at Penn , the University of Pennsylvania Health System, the University's new hotel and retail development projects and area employers.

The final component is case management and support services, which will provide participants with career coaching and feedback from employers, and support with family demands, such as child care.

"It has been well established that a successful job training and placement program must address the family demands of participants," said Ron Story "This is why we have built a strong case management and support services component into our program."

Each training session will have about 20 participants, and last for 16 weeks. While students are training, Center staff begin the process of seeking job interview opportunities for them. "Once the basic coursework is completed, participants receive interviewing skills coaching, then begin to interview for jobs," Mr. Story said. "We continue to offer counseling and support after the individual is placed."

The Center's first course, in retail training, began November 2 and will run through January 1999. Twenty-four people are enrolled, with instructors from Community College of Philadelphia.

Outsourcing Police Communications

The University has contracted with MCI Sys-temhouse, MCI WorldCom's global information technology services company, to operate the campus version of "911" services ("511" here) and related functions including training.

According to a November 24 MCI news release, MCI Systemhouse will provide "a comprehensive range of systems integration, consulting, and operational services that will modernize the public safety communications system," and the $19 million, 10-year contract is the first functional out-sourcing agreement of its type in the U.S.

Penn's system was nearly obsolete, a spokesman for EVP John Fry later. Rather than upgrade through contractors but then try to operate by rebuilding and retraining an in-house staff that had dwindled to three, Penn chose the MCI route, he said. MCI is to take charge February 11. At their option, the three affected University staff members in Public Safety Communications can be relocated in the University, or be retrained by MCI and then either join MCI or remain on the University payroll and be managed by MCI.

Almanac, Vol. 45, No. 14, December 8, 1998