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Philly aims to fill jobs for bus drivers, food workers and others at job fairs

A group of job seekers surround a woman in a blue shirt and black pants at the back of an auditorium at South Philadelphia High School.

Melanie Hobbs, program manager for bus attendants with the School District of Philadelphia, addresses job applicants at South Philadelphia High School Wednesday.

Johann Calhoun / Chalkbeat

Chalkbeat Philadelphia is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and economic mobility in the city. Read all our reporting here.

About 300 job applicants flocked to South Philadelphia High School’s auditorium Wednesday seeking jobs with the school district as it aims to close gaps in staffing for the new school year. 

Last year, a shortage of bus drivers, food service workers, and others created chaos for Philadelphia schools as buses were late picking up students and trash overflowed in school dumpsters. The district struggled with a staffing shortage exacerbated by the pandemic.

This year, the district is trying to fill vacancies earlier before students are scheduled to return from summer break on Aug. 29. Tuesday’s event was the second of four in-person events scheduled at select schools across the city. Applicants met with hiring managers and some will proceed to an exam and interview. 

The district has made progress in hiring teachers, but still has to fill hundreds of jobs for nurses, building engineers, general cleaners, food service workers, and special education assistants. There’s also a need for workers who help to maintain a positive environment for students, jobs known as student climate staff and managers. School officials are adding enticements to their offers, said Larissa Shambaugh, chief talent officer for the school district. 

The district is offering a $500 signing bonus for bus drivers. 

If applicants do not have their commercial driver’s license or CDL, the district will pay their salary and also the cost of learning to become a bus driver and of taking the licensing test.

”You can come and apply for that position and become a bus driver as a trainee while you work on getting your commercial driver’s license,” Shambaugh said.

In nursing, Shambaugh said, the district is 87% staffed for the school year. Interested candidates may apply through the district’s job website, work@philly.com.

School nurses have reported that they have been overwhelmed and overworked. In a survey sent by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, 28% of nurses said they lacked COVID testing supplies, 27% said they didn’t have a room in which to isolate symptomatic students, and more than half said they were conducting contact tracing without the assistance of health officials.

The district announced a student loan relief program to attract school nurses. They would receive up to $2,500 for each year of work for up to three years.

People stand in a line in front of a multicolor mural near the entrance of South Philadelphia High School.

Job seekers stand in a long line leading to the entrance of South Philadelphia High School, for leading to a job fair the district hosted on Wednesday to hire support staff workers.

Johann Calhoun / Chalkbeat

Braving the heat for work

On Wednesday, a long line of applicants waited outside the school at Broad and Snyder in the heat before being seated in the auditorium. They broke into groups to hear details of each career. Then they had the option of taking a test on site or at home.  

Virginia Soza, a recruitment selection specialist, was recruiting for school climate staff, school climate liaison, and maintenance positions.

The district requires applicants to have at least a high school diploma and to score 75% or above on an entrance test. After the test, applicants typically know of their chances within a week, Soza said.

Adrienne Holmes, who was applying to become a lead food service worker, had worked as a district security officer but retired after 15 years. Now, she said, “I want to put my culinary arts degree from the Community College of Philadelphia to good use.”

Whitney Covington applied Wednesday for a general cleaning position. She was one of many applicants who said they would like to be closer to their children during school hours. “That played a factor into me applying. I want to be a difference with our youth.” 

Jane and Zane Bailey were interested in the special education assistant positions. Jane Bailey is retired and wants to supplement her income. Her husband Zane would like to work in a classroom to be closer to the couple’s grandson who takes special education classes. ”We feel good about our chances of getting hired,” the couple both said before leaving.

Bureau Chief Johann Calhoun covers K-12 schools and early childhood education in Philadelphia. He oversees Chalkbeat Philadelphia’s education coverage. Contact Johann at jcalhoun@chalkbeat.org.

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