By Melissa O'Brien
This summer, 39 students graduated from PHS’s Workforce Development Bootcamp – a six-week intensive training in green industry jobs. “The main goal of the Bootcamp is job readiness and getting folks trained to get a job as an entry-level crew member on a landscaping contractor's crew,” says Tim Majoros, PHS Director of Workforce Development.
In partnership with the City of Philadelphia’s Division of Housing and Community Development (DHCH), PHS’s Workforce Development Bootcamp supports underemployed and unemployed people with paid training in landscape maintenance, conflict resolution, and more during the program. But the program doesn’t end at graduation -- 38 of the 39 recent graduates were placed with employers, and PHS’s Workforce Development team will continue to work with graduates on case management and job placement support.
Read on to learn more about PHS’s Workforce Development Bootcamp and how it is helping participants gain hands-on career skills to make their neighborhoods greener, healthier, and more livable.
“This program has inspired me to try to help others who have been in my situation get their feet on the ground.” -Howard Robinson, 2022 Bootcamp Graduate
Since 2006, PHS has led job training programs for people who were incarcerated in partnership with the Philadelphia Department of Prisons. Begun in the spring of 2016, the Workforce Development Bootcamp was launched to allow PHS to reach more people who had direct experience with the criminal justice system or had other barriers to employment.
Today, the Bootcamp trains and graduates 40 - 50 students each year. Students must be 18 or older to apply to the program, but beyond that, the barriers to entry remain low. A high school diploma, driver’s license, and previous work experience are not required, however, there is a brief interview process to ensure the program is a good fit.
Once accepted into the program, students get a weekly stipend while participating in the training program. They’re also given a variety of work gear they’ll need once hired to a crew, including work pants, shirts, a sweatshirt, work boots, gloves, and safety gear.
The six-week Bootcamp program is broken up into three phases and is a mix of hands-on and classroom-based training. Starting on their first day, students get experience using the tools they’ll need on the job. “We look at a job description of a crew member and really focus on the day-to-day skills they’ll need,” says Tim. “We don’t get too deep into plant science when it's really about how fast you can re-string a weed whacker.”
Phase One is the first four weeks of the program. Also known as core training, this phase happens partly onsite at FDR Park in South Philadelphia as well as other neighborhoods across the City with PHS staff. Students work with instructors to learn how to use the landscaping equipment. There is also a classroom component, which gives students background information on ecosystems and plant science inforation tailored to provide a broad foundation for future jobs.
In Phase Two, students spend two weeks completing a paid internship with an employer in the landscaping industry. This phase is seen as a working interview with a potential employer. “A lot of the training has to do with building habits and building structure in folks' lives,” says Tim. “A lot of students are either underemployed, unemployed, or in between jobs, so a big goal is covering all the skills that a lot of people take for granted in the workforce such as showing up on time, figuring out transportation, and good communication.”
After successfully completing this onsite job training phase, students enter Phase Three of the program -- job placement. PHS staff help place graduates in an entry-level seasonal landscaping job. They are also assigned a case manager to ensure participants have long-term success in their new roles.
To date, 194 people have graduated from the Bootcamp program and 95% of graduates have been successfully placed in landscaping jobs. Working together with PHS’s Philadelphia LandCare program, students are placed in landscaping jobs within their own communities. “My favorite part of the job is working with the trainees and seeing them bring back all this new knowledge and a strong work ethic to improve the health and well-being of their neighborhoods,” Tim says. He stresses, “The biggest impact of the Bootcamp is building confidence through education in neighborhoods of the City that have been drained of that."
When students enter the program, they’re often intimidated by the equipment and the job at hand, but by the end of the six weeks, it’s like second nature to them. Beyond graduation, the program has a positive ripple effect. “This program has inspired me to try to help others who have been in my situation get their feet on the ground,” says Howard Robinson, a 2022 Bootcamp graduate.