North Philly business owners say young Philadelphians are not ready for the workforce

Reforming public education

“Let’s make these kids more independent, more responsible and ready,” Smith said.

As the mother of two black children, Smith said she fears how her children will be perceived as they move through the world alone and in groups — especially by the police.

She’s been pulled over twice in recent years during her travels, once after a long day at the store in Philly after forgetting to turn on the headlights of her husband’s car, and once on the highway while driving her new luxury vehicle from her suburban home. She said the police seemed suspicious of her wealth.

Lakesha King Smith, of Tru Site & Eric Holt Optical on North 22nd Street in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Painter/Why)

“I’m answering the questions and my son is very uncomfortable in the passenger seat,” she said. “They asked me more questions about my car than my legal documents and it’s very uncomfortable to see my son leaning against the passenger window during this process. I was like wow, that was really unprofessional. ”

But that doesn’t mean Smith has a negative view of police writing. In fact, she has a good working relationship with the beat officer who frequents the store.

Unfortunately, Smith had her first break-and-go theft in 30 years of business, which she said is unusual for the area in her experience. She said that what is more common is that the community keeps a close eye on her shops even at night.

Decades before Ken Curry became president of the North 22nd Street Chamber of Commerce in North Philadelphia, he was a peer counselor at a local high school.

Seriously, he went into the early childhood education business for almost two decades.

Curry said he doesn’t think the education system in Philadelphia is preparing young people for success.

“It’s broken, and I don’t see anyone anywhere in sight trying to fix it. We have been doing it again and again expecting different results,” he said. “I think we need a city and state funded education program where everyone is treated equally and has equal access to resources and educational materials to succeed.”

Curry said he is not sure about the concept of a year-round school – which is floated by some candidates running for mayor – and said he would prefer to see a stronger vocational training network with internships in local businesses.

“If you keep doing the same thing, it doesn’t make much sense. You will only do it for two more months,” he said. “It’s too hot to go to school in the summer when most of our schools don’t have air conditioning.”

He said he would like to teach more construction trades at the school.

“Now we have a shortage of those things,” he said. “It’s easy to jump on the bandwagon of technology and the service economy, but there are still things you don’t understand. We always buy houses. So who is wiring those houses? When there is an electrical problem, who is going to fix it? Who takes care of your plumbing?

Eric Holt radiation signal
Tru Sight and Eric Holt Optical on North 22nd Street in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Painter/Why)

Training future entrepreneurs

A graduate of Dobbin High School – known in the community as a historic vocational public school – he is an entrepreneur in the local community.

Tameka Montgomery is in her 30s, grew up in the suburbs, and attended Murrell Dobbins Career and Technical Education High School.

After graduation, she enrolled in community college. She then got a job working with people with physical and mental disabilities. She worked in this business for ten years.

“The money was great, so I kind of dropped out in college and went back,” Montgomery said of not graduating from her associate’s program in technology and business.

But everything has changed during the coronavirus pandemic. She worked in the emergency room and contracted COVID-19. She has not been able to work for a month and has no income. However, she was told that she did not qualify for government food assistance programs because she was making too much money in her previous salary.

“I couldn’t sleep in the middle of the night. I was watching stuff on YouTube and I came across candles,” she said, sitting in her shop making candles. “I bought three candle making kits and it was really easy for me. It was like cooking. It’s therapy for me. Making candles is fragrant and very calming. I put on jazz music, it’s just soothing to me.

Boxer in training Montgomery wears a baseball cap, jeans and fresh, colorful sneakers.

Still wanting to finish her degree, she joined the US Air Force as a reserve member.

“I never wanted to take out a lot of loans for school,” she said, “my [community college] The student loan was only $6,000, but with interest and everything, it was $13,000. So I gave up hope of going back; But later I joined the Air Force.

There’s a disconnect, she said, when everything is online or when there are pop-up opportunities like the West Philly-based Enterprise Center’s Biz on Wheels program, where a mobile bus is parked on the sidewalk as a resource for small businesses.

“We need a physical resource center. Like someone walking in there saying, ‘Hey, my kid is being bullied at school, I need help. Oh, my daughter is not doing well at home, she is getting out of control. I need you all to help me get her some help,’ she said.

Montgomery said she would like to see more paid internship opportunities for high school students.

“They need more cooperative work programs [in high school] So they start getting experience,” she says. “I wouldn’t mind hiring two or three kids – they’re down here making candles. Put tags on things, helping me do admin work.

But now she doesn’t have the money to pay out of pocket for the entire workforce.

“That would be a good thing. But you know, you have to pay. Or the school can. If the city says hey, if you come to school and don’t miss a day, keep your GPA, we’ll pay you to work on the same track. That’s the incentive that kids want to work for,” she says.

Barber Fred Cerrome Hill remembers when career trades were more common in schools.

“They had a plumbing, electrical program school. There was not a lot of money to go into these rooms,” he said. “Then you take a career and start a job somewhere and you have these skill sets, but then they don’t have them anymore. To me, this is destroying society.”

Fred Hill appeared in front of the store with the barbers.
Barber Fred Serome Hill outside his shop Hair Connection on North 22nd Street in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Painter/Why)

He said the lack of options for young residents is a problem.

“So you have a lot of people in their 20s who aren’t trying to do anything with their lives,” he said. “They don’t do anything in their 30s and by the time they’re 40 they won’t have anything successful. So they cannot provide for their families. [Education] It is what separates entrepreneurs from individuals.

Instead of waiting for the city or school system to operate, Hill offers internships at the shop.

“We have people who come in to cut, they don’t even know how to cut, but they’ve been there for a long time and trained,” he said. “They are being trained to become full-fledged barbers, and they can serve their whole lives and provide for their families. Yes, especially for individuals [formerly] He’s arrested.”

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