Jan 29

Building workforce skills with students of all ages at Sunrise of Philadelphia

In 1999, Sunrise of Philadelphia (Sunrise) was founded as part of a local technical high school to provide career and technical education programming to high school students and adults in the Philadelphia community. Keeping their focus on developing workforce skills, Sunrise now works primarily with school-age youth and provides a scaffolded approach to programming with their K-12 students.

While developing skills and competencies that help students succeed in the workforce is typically associated with programming for older students, foundational skills (such as teamwork, problem solving, and effective communicatio) are transferable to many professional contexts and can start to be developed with younger students. At Sunrise, students are never too young to start developing valuable skills that will help them reach future success.

Programming for younger students at Sunrise focuses on identifying students’ strengths and opening their minds to the future.

“We focus more on broadening the horizons with younger students so they can see all that is out there and get a full picture of what is available,” says Laura Johnson, director of Programs and Evaluation. To explore future career possibilities, each student at Sunrise completes a strength inventory that helps identify clusters of careers that utilize the skills that students possess, their interests, and areas they may need to grow. As students continue through the program, this strengths inventory can help direct students to opportunities and experiences to explore specific careers identified in their clusters, and provide insights to staff and students on areas for growth.

All students at Sunrise are encouraged to explore an array of careers and start thinking about pathways for their futures. As part of this exploration, students create their own college and career fair where each student holds their own booth for a college or profession that they have researched. At their booths students dress as college recruiters or professionals at the jobs they have researched and explain to fair-goers why they should consider attending their college or pursuing their career. This activity not only gives students the ability to learn about colleges or new careers, but it teaches skills like how to dress for the job you want, public speaking, and communication.

Across skillsets and career aspirations, the ability to lead is an important skill for all students. The oldest students in their age group, 4th and 5th graders are given opportunities to develop their leadership skills amongst their peers. Each day at Sunrise starts with “morning meetings” where the students and staff gather to discuss the day and participate in a group activity. In the first month of the program, staff lead students in these activities, but as the year progresses students take on this responsibility and lead their peers. Gaining this type of experience, especially at a young age, can build students’ confidence, develop public speaking and communications skills, and give students valuable practice with leadership.

High schoolers who participate in Sunrise use their foundational skills at summer internships at organizations across Philadelphia. The program utilizes numerous community partners, and facilitates the placement of students in paid internships based on students’ interests. This year, Sunrise is piloting an expansion to their internship program so students have the opportunity to gain work experience throughout the school year. 

Sunrise of Philadelphia addresses the needs of all of their students with age-appropriate programming that builds foundational, transferable, and practical skills that will help students in the workforce and life. For more information on Sunrise of Philadelphia and other programs helping their students build workforce skills, join us for a webinar on January 31, and check out our new issue brief Building Workforce Skills in Afterschool!