“I would have never thought I was going to be a carpenter,” said 19-year-old Saulih Khalifah. “I played basketball in high school. I went to college for basketball.”
But Khalifah, a 2022 graduate of Academy At Palumbo, had to work with the tools he was given.
“When I first started working in high school, I started working fast food,” he said. “My brother told me there was a job down here as a pre-apprentice. I didn’t really know what it was.”
The North Philadelphia native signed up for labor-intensive work at the Wells Fargo Center, such as changeover and trash duty. But he always kept a keen eye on the construction workers and decided he wanted to get even more hands-on.
They informed him about the Carpenters’ Apprentice Ready Program, or CARP, which is presented by The Carpenters Joint Apprentice Committee of Philadelphia & Vicinity, the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters, and the General Building Contractors Association.
After getting his start in the weekly courses, Khalifah next needed to find a place to acquire work experience. Luckily for him, the Wells Fargo Center recognized his hard work and decided to sponsor him along with two others.
Now, Khalifah is helping to build the final leg of a 7-year-long $400 million transformation project at the Wells Fargo Center.
They are currently working on finishing the event-level transformation, which will contain new locker rooms and amenities for the Philadelphia Flyers and 76ers as well as their families and visiting teams.
“The pre-apprentice and the apprentice program with the Carpenters’ Union has been a big part of our success not only with transformation, but just the daily operation in the arena,” said Phil Laws, President of the Wells Fargo Center.
Laws says the Wells Fargo Center has had a commitment to labor unions in Philadelphia that dates back decades. And their similar values often provide a mutual benefit to one another.
“Regional carpenters have really committed to a diverse plan to really bring folks that found barriers in the past to getting these union jobs into the Union,” said Laws.
With help from Khalifah and other talented carpenters, the Wells Fargo Center’s transformation project is expected to finally be completed at the start of the fall sports season. Its exterior work is projected to wrap up in the winter.
“Beyond that, we’re focused on South Philadelphia. A lot is changing down here,” said Laws. “But we really see the future as being very bright and we’re looking forward to making some announcements in the next six months about what our development plans are outside of the walls of the arena.”