The PHS job-training program for returning citizens is having a growth spurt. The Roots to Re-Entry Bootcamp, which gets underway next week, imparts landscape management and other skills, and it is evolving in many ways that will increase employment and economic opportunities in Philadelphia neighborhoods.
The network of employer-partners has grown from 12 to 20 businesses and organizations, the curriculum is expanding, and the number of applicants is rising.
More than 80 men and women sought the 32 slots available this season. The Bootcamp is primarily focused on helping prepare prison inmates and recently released individuals transition back to their communities by providing new, practical skills and experience, says Nayo Shell, Program Manager of Philadelphia LandCare.
PHS is also receiving many requests for opportunities in workforce development from job applicants across the city. “Next season we will make a point to reach out more to people who are not coming from prison, and we’ll expand to a broader pool of those seeking jobs,” Nayo explains.
The first four weeks of the Bootcamp begin with safety training, followed by lessons in the efficient use of hand and power tools. This year, participants are also being trained in tree care, carpentry and masonry, skills requested by employer-partners.
“Decision-making and navigating workplace challenges are part of the training,” says William Lighter Jr., PHS Project Manager of Community LandCare. Because the program includes placement with employers, “getting a job is not hard for the trainees but dealing with the daily complexities of keeping a job is.”
Much of the training this season will be on LandCare sites in West and North Philadelphia that are overgrown or need fence repair and other work. Trainees will also learn wetlands restoration at Bartram’s Garden and invasive removal and site grading and seeding at Eden Cemetery in Darby. During the final two weeks, participants will be matched with employer-partners. “At the end of that period, it if works out, they move on to be hired with those crews,” Nayo says. “Over the past two years we’ve had a 98 percent hiring rate.”
As this PHS program reaches a broader base, more communities will understand and experience the benefits of horticulture. “Someone living in the city may not know this is a career path,” William says. “As in any career, there may be a ground floor, but there’s always movement upwards. The path can reflect the interest of the individual – maintenance, management, procurement, hardscaping – there are so many aspects to it. This is just a threshold.”