Alphonso Richardson first tried to get a job with Temple University in 1980, the year he graduated high school. It was 27 years later that he finally secured employment, taking a job with maintenance and housekeeping. Richardson’s story underscores why Temple can never be an economic lifeline for North Philadelphia. At the same time, it tells us what can be done, given that unpleasant reality.
“It almost seemed like you had to know someone to get in,” Richardson said. That changed, for him at least, late last year. Community Outreach and Hiring, an office within Human Resources headed by Bill Hart and Janel Bowles, made it possible for Richardson to get himself noticed in the sea of applicants.
“It was an idea from [former University President David] Adamany,” Bowles explained. “It was an initiative he saw as important, to be a better neighbor.”
This office is an example of what Temple can do to give back to the community it owes most of Main Campus to. Besides running computer training and interview skills workshops for the public, it also keeps a list of resumes of North Philadelphians who have applied for work at Temple.
“Our role is to help bridge some of the gaps as relates to applicants understanding the employment process and to be in-house advocates for qualified candidates,” Hart said. “Our total numbers [hired] are about 600 employees from the targeted neighborhoods.”
Specifically, the targeted area covers Spring Garden, Kensington, Fairmount, North Philadelphia and Nicetown, with a focus on the blocks adjacent to Main Campus and the Health Sciences Center. When a resident of those areas applies to Temple, Hart and Bowles try to get them noticed.
There is a problem in the North Philadelphia economic sphere, one that Human Resources cannot solve. According to Hart, there can be 500 open positions in a year at Temple. Yet, as in Richardson’s previous experience, there are simply too many applicants and not enough jobs.
This issue of size is at the heart of town-gown relations here at Temple. It is an understatement to say that Temple is a large presence in North Philadelphia, and that presence includes job opportunities. However, Temple will never be able to employ even a fraction of the community.
Temple could also take on an advocate role if it wants to help revitalize this community, engaging issues that affect the larger North Philadelphia economy. First, though, part of its mandate is to simply prosper. A middle class institution like Temple, if it has its priorities straight and does not forget its community, can be the impetus that brings in other jobs and changes the economic landscape, as well as possibilities for local residents.
As such, Human Resources’ initiative to help local applicants stand out from the crowd when applying for any job is commendable, and should be sustained and expanded. What this can do is foster new businesses here, which will boost the economic outlook beyond anything Temple could ever achieve by itself.
When I interviewed Richardson, he asked if I could mention that he thanks Hart and his boss, a Mr. Rodney, for his job. After 27 years, he had earned a job with dental and health insurance, disability, vacation and sick days, even tuition remission for himself and his dependents, and he was not about to risk it.
Many others in North Philadelphia are still trying to find someone to whom they might be indebted, and Temple should continue to take the initiative in finding those people and companies, because it cannot fulfill the need itself.
Stephen Zook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.