The Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) awarded a $445,000 grant to the Finishing Trades Institute (FTI) to expand the Vocational Internship Program (VIP), which provides high-school students a pathway into FTI’s apprentice programs. VIP provides professional and technical instruction, and prepares students for academic, construction and life skills challenges.

“Partnering with training organizations like the Finishing Trades Institute gives us an active role in shaping the future of Philadelphia’s workforce,” says Mark Gleason, executive director, PSP. “In order to provide a more holistic approach to improving educational outcomes, our investment strategy has shifted to incorporate more support for career and technical education opportunities. These kinds of partnerships equip students from all backgrounds with the knowledge and skills they need to fill Philadelphia’s job market.”

VIP is a once-a-week, career-education program that provides high school juniors and seniors with professional and technical instruction in preparation for apprenticeships as industrial workers. The grant will allow FTI to doubling the size of the program to serve 120 students annually, and to extend enrollment to a variety of district, charter and private schools. The VIP will also transition from a once-a-week event to an immersive experience for high school seniors four days a week.

Expanding the VIP reflects the city’s stated goal of increasing diversity in trade occupations.

The VIP serves a diverse student body; over the past four years 86 percent of participants have been black or Hispanic.

“Through the Vocational Internship Program, we have been able to introduce students from across the city to lucrative careers in building trades,” says Dennis McDonough, recruitment coordinator for the Finishing Trades Institute. “Our program not only prepares students for real jobs, but also gives them an academic foundation that prepares them to be successful in life. We are so grateful to the Philadelphia School Partnership, the School District of Philadelphia, and all of the other partners who made this program a reality.”

The grant from PSP will be administered over three years, covering salaries, benefits, and the costs of supplies. The school district’s contribution toward the costs of VIP will gradually increase over those three years toward the ultimate aim of the district being able to sustain the bulk of the cost by the year 2019-2020. FTI has also committed to absorb a portion of the program’s operating costs annually.

“Unique partnerships like this are necessary to address the growing need for

high-quality career education in Philadelphia,” adds Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney. “Career and technical education programs like the Vocational Internship Program are now more important than ever as we find alternatives to the traditional four-year college and the inherent debt that comes with it. CTE programs provide students with both valuable trade and life skills, as well as transferable college credits and industry certifications, all at little or no cost to the student.”

The VIP apprenticeship program was more than ten years in the making, and was nearly forgotten.

The grant funds were originally awarded in 2006 to the Charter School Institute (CSI), a nonprofit, for the formation of a vocational-technical charter high school in Philadelphia. The district identified its existing partnership with FTI as an ideal opportunity for leveraging the grant funds to expand access for high school juniors and seniors to high-quality vocational education.