Greater Greater Washington

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Gray deserves more credit for One City One Hire

The rap on Vincent Gray as a mayor too distracted by scandal to accomplish much overlooks one major accomplishment. Gray has made more progress addressing chronic unemployment in his first year than have any of his predecessors in their entire terms.


Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Mayor Gray's One City One Hire campaign is directly responsible for the hiring of 1,400 previously jobless District residents. While this accomplishment has received little notice, for these 1,400 families Mayor Gray has moved mountains in his first year in office.

Perhaps the criticism of Gray as unaccomplished reveals more about the lack of interest in policies to address crisis-level unemployment on the part of DC's political class than it does about Mayor Gray.

Politicians often release estimates of jobs they created, and perhaps cynicism around such estimates explains the lack of credit given to One City One Hire for the hiring of 1,400 jobless residents.

The difference here is that the leader of One City One Hire, Director of Employment Services Lisa Mallory, actually knows who these 1,400 people are. She knows who they are because her staff personally introduced them to their current employers.

Understanding One City One Hire requires understanding that one of the biggest barriers to employment in DC has nothing to do with skills, criminal records or addiction issues. A major barrier to employment is the lack of trust by local employers in jobless residents, particularly those east of the Anacostia River.

While this barrier is not often mentioned by the local media, any job training provider can attest to its reality, and the discouraging effect it has on District residents who are otherwise job-ready.

Chris Hart-Wright, Executive Director of Strive DC which works with chronically unemployed District residents, says she spends much of her time seeking to build trust on the part of local employers in her clients. She says that all training providers are doing the same thing, and that they need the city to use its influence to play this role so they can focus on training and case management.

That's what One City One Hire is all about. Run by the Business Services Group within the Department of Employment Services (DOES), One City One Hire asks local employers if they will consider a small number of resumes pre-screened by DOES for their open positions.

Director Mallory has transferred DOES employees into the operation of working with employers to understand the requirements of particular positions and evaluating thousands of resumes of jobless DC residents to fill those positions.

Now, overcoming the trust gap between local employers and jobless DC residents is only one of several difficult steps that need to be taken to address chronic unemployment. But the success of Gray and Mallory in conquering this first barrier raises hopes that they will live up to their promises on other barriers to employment.

First, Mallory has committed to transforming the One-Stop Centers that are responsible for empowering jobless residents with access to training, transportation and child care benefits, and other resources needed to get a job. This is no small task, as these centers have historically been more like DMV centers in the 1990s.

It will require strong leadership in each One-Stop, implementation of a uniform assessment process so that employees are trained in uncovering and addressing barriers to employment, and tight coordination with agencies like DHS that can address barriers like transportation and child care.

If this transformation doesn't occur, then the body that oversees One-Stop funding, the Workforce Investment Council, could conceivably pull all funding from DOES and contract with a private agency to run One-Stops.

Second, Mallory has committed to providing data on jobless residents who enter One-Stop Centers that would provide the first ever profile of DC's jobless and their barriers to employment. Finally, Mallory has committed to holding training providers accountable to metrics of job placement.

These are significant challenges, but the success of Mallory and Gray in addressing the challenge of trust in jobless DC residents should give us cautious optimism they can be met.

Tackling chronic unemployment is not optional. It is essential to improving education outcomes of the 30% of District children living in poverty. It is essential to limiting gentrification and ensuring all residents benefit from the District's resurgence in recent years.

Gray deserves credit for his accomplishments thus far and greater interest in his vision for finishing the job on unemployment.

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. 

Comments

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Ken...dude...you just made me smile in part because this sort of reporting found its way to the site.

With the incessant focus on all things negative, it's kinda refreshing to read about some good DC gov't has done, especially here. Like Obama, I would imagine there are a hosts of actual accomplishments Gray has but it's much less sensational and divisive to talk about it.

by HogWash on Jan 27, 2012 11:27 am • linkreport

Definitely good news. But, the piece is missing a critical point. Data may simply not be available on this. The big question is: has this resulted in an overall increase in people EOTR being hired by DC employers? Or are the employers still hiring the same small number, but simply letting the city do their screening for them? We would need to see that the percentage of applicants EOTR landing jobs is going up to really deem this a success. Perhaps the data Mallory promises will address this, but until I see such numbers I have trouble getting too excited about this.

by MJ on Jan 27, 2012 11:58 am • linkreport

Good to see this. Emphasis on making training providers accountable for performance is long overdue.

by danmac on Jan 27, 2012 12:25 pm • linkreport

big question is: has this resulted in an overall increase in people EOTR being hired by DC employers?

That's a really good question. I would guess that most of them aren't from EOTR but I could be wrong. There are some serious issues we have EOTR that this program can't address but if it has resulted in this number of new hires, I'm happy nonetheless.

I'm also happy that they are beginning to focus on those HORRIBLE training centers that have long been ineffective. Yes, holding providers accountable is mos def the way to go. A sane person would have thought this was already happening.

by HogWash on Jan 27, 2012 12:44 pm • linkreport

Ken raises some excellent points in this piece. I particularly like the focus on good news -- all too often we focus only on the problem and not on solutions. Even with our current unemployment challenges in DC, the fact that 1,400 people have new jobs is great. Taking a moment to acknowledge the success of One City One Hire does not mean we take our eyes off the prize - the prize being a District where everyone is able to prepare for, find and keep a good job.

The commenters who raise the data issue are spot on as well. Here in the District, we're not so good at making decisions - especially funding decisions - based on data. The DC Jobs Council and several other groups are addressing this as a priority for 2012. We believe that a focus on data will highlight the most effective training and supportive services organizations - those who get the best bang for DC's buck.

We'll keep you posted.

by DC Jobs Council on Jan 27, 2012 12:57 pm • linkreport

Gray underdelivers time and time again.

In September, Gray pledge to hire 10,000 unemployed residents within a year (source: mayor.dc.gov). At a pace of 1,400 jobs in about 4 months, Gray will be far short of the stated goal. Despite a goal of 10,000, there will be 4,200 people employed - that's 5,800 short of the goal!

My comment is not suggesting that employing 4,200 people is a bad thing or to disparage the hard work of DOES employees. But c'mon, are expectations for the Gray administration really that low? Is it okay for Gray to set a target merely for politial optics?

by James on Jan 27, 2012 1:14 pm • linkreport

"It is essential to limiting gentrification"

That's kind of a sneaky-big throw-in for your penultimate sentence, eh?

As others have said, on face this looks pretty auspicious. One thing I'll be interested to see in a year or two's time is if some of these employers have started hiring DC's unemployed without the assistance of OCOH; i.e., OCOH "teaching them to fish." Hopefully the education OCOH is providing will help some employers eventually move past the need for any sort of external filter as they consider resident applications.

by worthing on Jan 27, 2012 1:16 pm • linkreport

Is "lack of trust" code for "you're all racist"?

by Matt on Jan 27, 2012 1:17 pm • linkreport

it would be worth considering how this fits in with the District's plans for redesigning how TANF recipients are assessed and trained to work.

by sb on Jan 27, 2012 1:32 pm • linkreport

The big question is: has this resulted in an overall increase in people EOTR being hired by DC employers? Or are the employers still hiring the same small number, but simply letting the city do their screening for them? We would need to see that the percentage of applicants EOTR landing jobs is going up to really deem this a success.

Word.

by oboe on Jan 27, 2012 1:44 pm • linkreport

WAMU's Patrick Madden did a couple of stories on some of the issues DOES was having with effectiveness. What was underplayed was how much these stories owed to Lisa Mallory confronting these issues. I think she might be the best hire the Gray administration has made.

by Steven Yates on Jan 27, 2012 1:49 pm • linkreport

Lisa Mallory = best hire? Seriously??? She is the same stuff, different day. All of these reforms, data, etc., were promised by Joe Walsh and many before him. Ms. Mallory was a high ranking staff member when all the reforms failed. She continues to oversee a corrupt agency, as evidenced by Patrick Madden's stories. If you've followed workforce in DC for more than a few months, you know that DOES is a low-performing agency making the same failed promises over and over again.
Look at first-source, one stop centers, youth contracting, unemployment processing... start there and then see if you still believe DOES is improving under Ms. Mallory.

by Employment on Jan 27, 2012 2:50 pm • linkreport

"It is essential to limiting gentrification"
That's kind of a sneaky-big throw-in for your penultimate sentence, eh?

I'm extremely skeptical that getting 1400 people entry-level jobs is going to "limit gentrification". If anything, it will allow them to save up some cash, and move out the the suburbs as the vast majority of lower middle-class folks do as soon as the chance presents itself.

by oboe on Jan 27, 2012 3:00 pm • linkreport

"it is essential to limit gentrification..."

For some homeowners that are close to cashing out, gentrification means that their property is appreciating and is a good thing. For others it is a very bad thing because it refers to the overt real estate market manipulations that occurred in '50s and '60s, in which "real estate agents stoked the fears among white families that their neighborhoods were being taken over by black families." For still others it is a neutral thing because it means turnover, i.e., a gradual loss of older neighbors (and their historical memory) that are replaced by younger neighbors that bring in sorely needed new money and energy. Etc.

So I am not sure what "gentrification" actually means here.

by goldfish on Jan 27, 2012 3:34 pm • linkreport

I'm really not inclined to entertain lectures on "limiting gentrification" from someone who lives in Georgetown.

by dcd on Jan 27, 2012 3:48 pm • linkreport

@dcd-I'm not sure that's fair. Do you mean that, in your view someone living in GT is not affected by gentrification and therefore can't comment on it "authentically"? What I think is unfair is the implication that a person living in one part of the city can not sincerely care about the quality of life of someone living another part of the city. What I interpret Ken as saying is that he values creating opportunities that enable people of all income levels to live in the city.

Oboe may be right about the historic trend but maybe that trend will change given how there is a trend toward repopulating cities. Even if it doesn't there are always people who stay.

by Tina on Jan 27, 2012 4:51 pm • linkreport

Great piece. I love giving credit where credit is due and if he is creating jobs...let it be known!

by StringsAttached on Jan 30, 2012 12:48 pm • linkreport


Under Williams and Fenty public policy was basically not to create jobs and in particular for those who were unemployed and under-employed. Their policy goal was to reduce the unemployment numbers by building housing to attract those who already have jobs and displacing those whose employment status or futures are less stable. The policy goal was through benign neglect to reduce the size of the so-called permanent underclass through displacement not employment opertunity, better schools and housing. Replace younger families with seniors, basically creating reservations for seniors.

Yes, under DC's version of gentrification public policy improving broad based job opportunities conflicts with gentrification. Otherwise, there would need to be increased housing for moderate income families and less fodder for gentrification.

by W Jordan on Jan 30, 2012 3:35 pm • linkreport

Under Williams and Fenty public policy was basically not to create jobs and in particular for those who were unemployed and under-employed.

I think many people are incredibly skeptical that the DC government can actually "create jobs" in any kind of meaningful numbers. Particularly for those who have very low skill-sets or education. It's mostly a way of laundering money to politically connected folks while taking credit for jobs that already existed, and that the candidates could likely have ended up with anyway.

by oboe on Jan 30, 2012 4:09 pm • linkreport

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