Case study: 
How Drexel addresses labor shortages

Taking care of staff-level positions beyond the skilled trades
By: | Issue: October, 2019
September 20, 2019
Drexel University partnered with West Philadelphia Skills Initiative to train local residents to be medical assistants.Drexel University partnered with West Philadelphia Skills Initiative to train local residents to be medical assistants.

Though skilled trade positions are some of the hardest to fill, finding the right staff and reducing turnover in a variety of staff-level jobs are difficult for certain communities. At Drexel University in Philadelphia, what started as a targeted initiative to be a better community partner by hiring more local staff also resulted in an opportunity to address staffing issues.

Data digging: “We started out by saying, ‘We want to do better at hiring west Philadelphia talent.’ Where do we start? We start with the data,” says Jen Britton, associate director for communications and special projects with the Drexel Office of University and Community Partnerships. Position-specific turnover data was viewed against where job applicants come from and what types of positions local residents apply for to identify where the local hiring initiative would have the greatest impact.

Positions of focus: The first match was for medical assistants. Drexel’s local workforce training and access partner, West Philadelphia Skills Initiative, recruited a cohort of local residents and then trained them as a group to work in the Drexel College of Medicine’s medical practices. Then, a partnership with the college’s food service vendor addressed a shortage of those on-campus employees. Drexel regularly returns to its data to find areas of high turnover and to determine whether a new cohort is needed or if doubling down on an existing cohort is the right strategy.

Results: The initiative has boosted the local hiring percentage from 8% to 12.5% and injected $30 million in fiscal year salaries into west Philadelphia. Improved retention in high-turnover positions has saved money. In addition, Drexel has earned 
a reputational benefit, Britton says. “As an institution of higher education that has a huge footprint that sometimes steps on toes unintentionally, Drexel always has to think about the case of how trusted we are as an institution,” Britton says. “Our local recruits end up being cheerleaders for the university.”