Students prep for UP jobs at UC High

How are Penn and other area institutions and businesses going to get the trained workers they need for the future?

Anthony Blalock and Nicole Dilday are working on that matter.

Blalock and Dilday are two of 23 young adults currently enrolled in the Skills Development Center at University City High School. The center, a Penn-funded and -staffed project headed by Ron Story, trains West Philadelphia residents in the skills they need to land retail, hospitality and office jobs.

The focus on these three categories is no accident. They account for the overwhelming majority of positions that open up at Penn each year, as well as the new permanent jobs being created by Sansom Common and other development projects.

The center's first class, which includes Blalock and Dilday, began its work in November and will finish next week. The students have various reasons for enrolling in the program: Blalock, for example, was recently laid off, and Dilday, as she put it, "was really bored sitting at home" collecting welfare payments.

But all of them have the same goal: getting a good job. And the SDC course covers all the basics needed to get one. Students receive training in common computer applications, business math and resume-writing from a team of four instructors. They also meet in small groups to discuss other important workplace issues: "We discussed everything from sexual harassment to getting the boss fired," Blalock said.

Dilday said that some of the most important material dealt with what the SDC staff call "workplace effectiveness." "It teaches you about the boundaries not to overstep, phone manners, being a team player, being on time, how to address people," she said.

Staffer Pat Robinson Burns (SW'68) helps students with family matters and other concerns that can impinge on their jobs.

And there's still more: "The fun part is that we've been exploring the Internet," Dilday said.

Blalock was amazed at what he could do on the World Wide Web. "I didn't know anything about on-line job hunting before I got here," he said. Now he has used the Internet to look for both jobs and housing, and will soon put his resume on line.

Those who would rather further their education after the program ends can do so as well. Participants earn 12 credits at Community College of Philadelphia upon completing the program, said Story, the center's director.

As both Blalock and Dilday have held jobs in the past, proving their skills will not be as important for them. Instead, the possibility of a fast track to employment at Penn is what drew them to the program. And both of them are optimistic about that prospect. "I have a lot of faith in this program," Dilday said.

She also felt that programs like the SDC reinforce an important message for her community. "I think all African-Americans should remember that working parents produce working children," she said.

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Originally published on January 14, 1999