TD recently launched the 5th annual TD Ready Challenge, the bank's annual North American initiative recognizing organizations helping to address a problem statement connected to one of the four drivers of the TD Ready Commitment. To celebrate this year's TD Ready Challenge, which focuses on the Vibrant Planet pillar of the TD Ready Commitment, we're highlighting the incredible work of a Vibrant Planet grant recipient, PowerCorpsPHL
Jaleel Williford was 22 years old and jobless in 2014. Like many people, he tried college, but felt the academic path wasn’t for him. Frustrated, he soon dropped out. That’s when things went downhill.
“After high school, I was in the streets and selling drugs. I didn’t know how to get a job. I knew I could work at McDonalds but didn’t feel there were real opportunities for me,” said Jaleel.
But an unexpected opportunity arrived when Jaleel’s father gave him a brochure for PowerCorpsPHL, a workforce development program operated by EducationWorks and launched in 2013 that teaches career and technical skills through environmental and community service. The two-phase program provides disconnected young adults and individuals who recently released from jail the opportunity to build foundational skills and explore career options before enrolling in one of the organization's six industry academies.
“PowerCorpsPHL is the missing piece between high school and the workforce. I learned about resumes, cover letters, public speaking, presentations - the list goes on. Soon, opportunities were pouring in. I had so many job offers! I’d never been in a position where I had to choose between jobs,” said Jaleel.
In 2020, PowerCorpsPHL received a $125,000 grant from TD Bank to specifically support the Bright Solar Futures Academy pilot which prepares corps members for careers in the rapidly expanding solar industry. The U.S. solar industry employed more than 230,000 works as of 2020 and is expected to reach 400,000 jobs by 2030, according to the 11th annual National Solar Jobs Census.
The Bright Solar Futures Academy offers 17 weeks of hands-on training in solar installation and sales and immersive work placement experiences employer partners like the Philadelphia Energy Authority, Solar States, and the Energy Coordinating Agency. The support from TD Bank helped expand paid training and work experiences, increase wages by 10 percent, and provide transportation to and from job sites for Bright Solar Futures Academy members.
The support from TD Bank aligns to the Vibrant Planet pillar of the TD Ready Commitment, TD's global corporate citizenship program, that targets community investments across four pillars that work together to help create a more inclusive and sustainable future. Programs aligned to the Vibrant Planet pillar help maintain and expand green spaces and/or support the transition to a low-carbon economy.
"PowerCorpsPHL isn't just improving the quality of our environment, but it's also helping some of our most vulnerable neighbors gain the skills they need to secure employment in a growth sector and feel confident about their own future. By working together, we're protecting our environment and helping people and economies thrive," said Shelley Sylva, U.S. Head of Corporate Citizenship.
Building a More Inclusive and Sustainable Future
The need to engage young adults from communities of color became particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic. Communities of color, which are disproportionately low-income and have lower levels of education, accounted for a disproportionate amount of Pennsylvania's unemployment claims. Many workers, particularly women of color, left the workforce due to childcare and mass layoffs in the service and retail sectors.
Those individuals who did manage to find employment were more likely to work jobs with a high risk of COVID-19 exposure that lacked remote work options and health benefits and are most vulnerable to automation. PowerCorpsPHL views their program as a critical part of overcoming these challenges to ensure an equitable COVID-19 recovery.
"By expanding opportunities for young Black and Latinx Philadelphians, we're putting money in the pockets of those still recovering from the pandemic while creating paid work that addresses industry talent needs, spurs low-carbon economic recovery, and connects young people to long-term, living-wage employment," said Julia Hillengas, PowerCorpsPHL Executive Director.
PowerCorpsPHL’s employment partners are primarily in the clean energy and green infrastructure sector where starting wages are higher, benefits are the norm, and the need for talent is expected to continue to increase for foreseeable future.
In addition to increasing pathways to employment, PowerCorpsPHL helps prevent recidivism and gun violence. The organization hopes that giving underserved youth a viable pathway to a good-paying career will help the entire region flourish.
A Promising Start
Early evidence shows the promise of the Industry Academy model overall. Over eight years, across all program tracks, PowerCorpsPHL’s workforce development model has yielded over 90% connection to employment for graduates with starting wages ranging from $12-$20/hour and an 8% recidivism rate for 1-year post-program, compared to Philadelphia’s average of over 50%.
While Bright Solar Futures is the newest academy, six out of seven graduates from the 2020 pilot entered employment averaging $15 per hour. PowerCorpsPHL predicts an employment placement rate over 90% for participants in the 2021 program. Across both cohorts, PowerCorpsPHL has engaged 35 young people in Bright Solar Futures, to date.
“I always heard about solar, but I never really knew what it actually was until I came here,” said Jay Fitzgerald, a 2021 Bright Solar Futures participant. “Then I found out, it’s the new thing. And it’s going to be real, real, real good in about 10 to 20 years.”
Although the 2020 Bright Solar Futures Academy pilot was heavily disrupted by COVID-19, it provided critical insight into the innovations needed to refine the program and increase access to and success with employers in a pandemic and post-pandemic economy.
”If there’s a positive lesson from the pandemic, it’s that we can create and accomplish truly amazing and impactful things when in community and partnership with one another. When I think of Bright Solar Futures, it was designed with partnerships at its core and has shown how resilient, adaptable, and valuable that kind of collaboration can be. I don’t see us going about our work any other way moving forward.”