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Workforce czar must bring accountability, not bureaucracy

A newly created workforce czar in DC could bring measurable reductions in unemployment if the czar and supporting workforce development agencies are held accountable to specific goals. Otherwise, the new position will become just another layer of bureaucracy, likely to be cut by a future mayor.

Photo by DC Central Kitchen on Flickr.

While parts of DC suffer from crippling unemployment levels of over 20%, only 28% of DC jobs go to DC residents. That's why the DC Council authorized the creation of a czar known as a Workforce Intermediary to better prepare the DC workforce for in-demand jobs.

The Workforce Intermediary will be tasked with coordinating dozens of training providers and city agencies to ensure the workforce needs of DC employers are met by well-trained DC residents. However, unless the Workforce Intermediary and supporting organizations are held accountable to measurable metrics of job placement, the intermediary will become just another layer of bureaucracy.

It doesn't take long to figure out that a key reason why parts of DC face high unemployment is due to lack of preparedness for DC-area jobs, not a lack of jobs. Dozens of job training providers have cropped up to address this need, and dozens of programs across 13 city agencies have been formed to help finance those training providers.

With so many chefs in the kitchen of workforce development, there is little coordination, oversight, or accountability. The DC Fiscal Policy Institute this week released a groundbreaking "resource map" that identifies all of these sources of workforce development funding across the city government, and the various non-profit training providers that receive this financing.

Councilmember Michael Brown, chair of the Workforce Development Committee of the DC Council, says that his committee staff only knew where 30% of DC job training dollars went when he took over the committee. After the past year, they know where 60% of the money goes.

The Workforce Intermediary position is intended to coordinate these training providers and funding streams with the needs of local businesses to optimize our workforce development investments. However, it's not hard to imagine this position becoming yet another layer of bureaucracy.

That's why the DC Council first charged a Workforce Intermediary Task Force to design the position. The report of the task force is due on January 15th.

If the Workforce Intermediary is to be a true change agent, reversing decades of deepening poverty in parts of our nation's capital, it is essential that measurable performance metrics be tied to the program, and to the agencies that support the Intermediary.

Three elements are critical to the creation of a successful Workforce Intermediary that is able to turn the corner on joblessness in DC.

1. Workforce Intermediary performance metrics

The Workforce Intermediary should be held accountable for the percentage of DC jobs that go to DC residents and for DC's unemployment rate. When employers are cutting jobs, more focus would be placed on the former metric, When employers are adding jobs, more focus would be placed on the latter metric.

The Workforce Intermediary will become a waste of money if it is simply a resource to job training providers and city agencies financing training providers to advise them on hiring needs of local employers.

If the Workforce Intermediary is held accountable for these metrics, then we would expect that he or she will contact local employers with prescreened resumes of DC residents for open positions. Currently, dozens of job training providers across DC have to form redundant relationships with employers, and this "hiring manager" role of the Workforce Intermediary would free training providers to train.

Not surprisingly, the Mayor, who is also held accountable for these metrics by voters at election time, is currently playing this "hiring manager" role in his One City One Hire campaign. If the Mayor is held accountable for these metrics, it makes sense that he would delegate to someone to improve them.

2. Job training provider performance metrics

Job training providers currently get access to DC government funding by getting on one of several lists of authorized training providers. No data on training outcomes is required to get on these lists or receive DC taxpayer money. This has to change, and Councilmember Michael Brown has said that it will change.

If job training providers had to demonstrate a placement rate for their clients, within 6 months and 2 years after training, they would be incentivized to work closely with the Workforce Intermediary who provides qualified resumes to local employers. After all, the Intermediary, as hiring manager for DC's unemployed trying to reduce the jobless rate, would be their lifeline to continued financing from the city.

If the Intermediary doesn't provide many resumes from their clients to employers, a natural conversation will ensue about the needs of local employers that the Intermediary doesn't believe are being met by the training provider.

3. One-Stop Center performance metrics

When DC residents want a job, they are supposed to go to a One-Stop Center. These centers, called DC Works! in the District, are federally mandated for states that receive federal workforce development dollars.

Sadly, the One-Stop Centers in DC are more like First Stop Centers, as they historically send jobless applicants to other offices depending on their needs. Or they send applicants to a computer to look at training providers on the Internet.

The current director of the DC One-Stop Centers, Hugh Bailey, acknowledges the reputation they have received and has pledged to turn them around in coming months. However, when asked what metrics the One-Stop Centers should be held accountable for, Bailey was hesitant to suggest any.

Each One-Stop Center should be held accountable to the same performance metrics as job training providers - placement rate of clients within both 6 months and 2 years of entering the One-Stop Center.

One-Stop Centers would aggressively case manage clients to improve their placement rates, and only send them to training providers with high placement rates. One-Stop Centers would naturally collaborate with the Intermediary to learn how to get more resumes of their clients placed in front of local employers.

These metrics will create a virtuous circle of coordination between the Intermediary, training providers and One-Stop Centers that will actually reduce unemployment and ensure the Intermediary places a useful, and not bureaucratic, role in workforce development.

Every mayor in DC history is known primarily for some singular goal—whether it was helping blacks enter the middle-class, improving our fiscal management, or reforming education. Mayor Gray clearly wants reducing unemployment to be his singular achievement. He can leave his mark on the city with a bold stroke of accountability as described above. Let's hope that he finds the political will to pull it off.

Ken Archer is CTO of a software firm in Tysons Corner. He commutes to Tysons by bus from his home in Georgetown, where he lives with his wife and son. Ken completed a Masters degree in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America. 


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Please don't call this job a czar. Czars don't "coordinate" - they give orders.

John Kenneth Galbraith said many years ago that American conservatives are so prejudiced against planning that when they appoint a planner, they have call it something else, and czar has such a reactionary sound to it that it conceals the real nature of the job.

by Ben Ross on Jan 13, 2012 11:34 am • linkreport

Please don't call this job a czar. Czars don't "coordinate" - they give orders.

I used the word to emphasize the importance of real accountability for measurable results. Coordination will follow naturally if the Intermediary, training providers and one-stops are incentivized correctly.

However, if the Intermediary is just supposed to foster coordinated approaches to workforce development with no accountability for results (e.g. getting DC residents into jobs), I'm concerned that it becomes just another layer of workforce bureaucracy.

by Ken Archer on Jan 13, 2012 12:12 pm • linkreport

Count me skeptical any of this would "bring measurable reductions in unemployment."

I don't see any evidence all this shuffling would measurably effect the unemployment rate. Perhaps it would improve program effectiveness and maybe even help some people. But effect the employment rate?

by WRD on Jan 13, 2012 12:20 pm • linkreport

whatever they do, they should coordinate it with the TANF employment program vendors (who serve about 11,000 households) and UDC.

by sb on Jan 13, 2012 12:45 pm • linkreport

The fact that only 28% of DC jobs goes to DC residents is not about a jobs Czar, but about chronic problems in DC schools which leave too many residents unprepared for the highly skilled work available in the city.

by SJE on Jan 13, 2012 4:13 pm • linkreport

The real story is the total ineffectiveness and incompetence of DOES. Do you realize that DC has, literally, millions of dollars of unspent federal workforce funding? In fact, of 51 "states," DC ranks 50th in spending its dollars. Why? Because DOES is mismanaged. The leadership there, if you can call it that, is more concerned with covering their own... than actually doing what is right for DC residents. The workforce intermediary needs to take significant powers away from DOES for there to be any success in the future.

by Employment on Jan 13, 2012 4:32 pm • linkreport

DC is 50th at spending its dollars

Do you have a source for this figure? DCFPI did find that certain federal training dollars weren't being applied for by DC.

by Ken Archer on Jan 13, 2012 4:52 pm • linkreport

Probably best not to equate the Workforce Intermediary to a "czar" given the different legislation that Vincent Orange put forward recently to create a Jobs Czar:

by B on Jan 13, 2012 4:56 pm • linkreport

Probably best not to equate the Workforce Intermediary to a "czar" given the different legislation that Vincent Orange put forward recently to create a Jobs Czar

CM Orange envisioned the Jobs Czar as the Workforce Intermediary, but as playing several other roles (like gathering data to create a profile of the unemployed). I called it a Workforce Czar because, as Lydia DePillis rightly notes in the WCP article you cite, those other roles should be played by DOES.

Like CM Orange, though, I do think the Workforce Intermediary should not just be just a coordinator who exists to foster orchestrated approaches to unemployment. Anyone who is fed up and angry about unemployment in DC should find that unacceptable.

We need a Workforce Intermediary who is charged to solve the problem, and held accountable for results just like the mayor is at election time.

by Ken Archer on Jan 14, 2012 8:05 am • linkreport

Ken, you’re right on about a lot of the issues but I’m afraid that you’re replicating a conceptual misunderstanding underlying CM Orange’s legislation. A job czar does not and should not equal a workforce intermediary. The workforce intermediary is not intended to have the kind of broad programmatic and funding oversight that a czar would have. The task of a workforce intermediary is much more narrowly targeted. It would work with a small set of industries and employers with current or projected openings, broker relationships with training providers to provide qualified , work-ready job candidates, screen and refer those candidates to employers, and make sure that all parties are benefiting: employers, training providers, and residents. Its oversight duties are limited to the specific job openings that it is training people for – that may include public dollars from one or more agencies, but it is not a global oversight role.

Secondly, I’m not convinced that the creation of a czar position would get us where we need to be, which is better job training and employment outcomes for DC residents. This is where you seem to come down as well. I think the most likely outcome is bureaucratic in-fighting. I do not think we need that kind of bureaucratic re-organizational strategy. The District’s last experience with a czar wasn’t very successful – Leslie Steen was briefly the housing czar under Fenty and had a relatively short tenure.

The re-invigorated Workforce Investment Council, including the reconstituted membership, new chair and new executive director, is a promising sign and points to increased Mayoral attention to workforce development, cross-agency coordination, employer engagement, and strategic thinking. Of course, hope springs eternal, but I think the WIC, as it matures, will do a much stronger job of overseeing the District’s use of federal Workforce Investment Act Title 1 funds (which support job training through DOES). It should also begin to set a vision for how the District can use its disparate funds and programs related to education and training (adult ed, the community college, career and technical education in the public schools, welfare, and so on) so that all of these programs and agencies are consciously working together in the service of a clearly articulated goal that has the weight of the Mayor behind it.

Happy to continue the discussion – it’s an important one and I appreciate the light you’re shining on the issue of getting more DC residents into jobs.

by Martha Ross on Jan 18, 2012 10:45 am • linkreport

The workforce intermediary is not intended to have the kind of broad programmatic and funding oversight that a czar would have. The task of a workforce intermediary is much more narrowly targeted. It would work with a small set of industries and employers with current or projected openings, broker relationships with training providers to provide qualified , work-ready job candidates, screen and refer those candidates to employers, and make sure that all parties are benefiting: employers, training providers, and residents.

Thanks so much Martha! Cheryl Cort has been urging me for months to contact you and it is to my detriment that I have not yet done so. Let's talk soon.

I can see that use of the term "czar" as opposed to "intermediary" has more policy implications than I was aware of. I completely agree that the scope of the Workforce Intermediary should not be broad programmatic and funding oversight, but coordination of city and trainer programs to prepare our workforce for openings in particular sectors and deliver pre-screened resumes for those openings.

My central point, which clearly was muddied by my conceptual confusion about czars vs intermediaries, was that the coordinated, labor-market driven workforce development that the Intermediary is expected to deliver is much more likely to actually happen if the different parties are incentivized accordingly.

There is alot of history and inertia with the one-stops and several training providers in this city. I'm concerned that we are investing too much hope that the creation of the Intermediary will get them all marching in the same, coordinated direction.

by Ken Archer on Jan 18, 2012 8:34 pm • linkreport

I concur with Martha's comments. Ken, I think you're absolutely correct that we shouldn't view the proposed intermediary as a panacea. Rather, it should be viewed as an exciting opportunity to demonstrate how a demand-driven, coordinated approach to workforce development can benefit the District's employers and workers. The lessons learned from this initiative will provide some valuable insights (i.e., how to maximize limited resources through greater coordination, how to build meaningful relationships with businesses, how to gather and analyze industry employment data,etc.) that we should be able to apply more broadly as the WIC takes steps to reform our local workforce system.

For those unfamiliar with exactly what is meant by the jargony term "workforce intermediary," Jobs for the Future has a number of resources that may be helpful:

In addition, Bob Giloth at the Annie E. Casey Foundation compiled an excellent (albeit wonky!) book on this topic:

by Sarah Oldmixon on Jan 19, 2012 9:05 am • linkreport

There's also a great paper that was released recently by a coalition of local groups including the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, DC Appleseed and DC Employment Justice Center focused on reforming the District's First Source program that includes a lot of great background on successful Workforce Intermediaries nationally, with some excellent local contextualization:

by Benton Murphy on Jan 19, 2012 9:14 am • linkreport

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