Greater Greater Washington

Posts about DOES

Education


DC's mayor can't oversee himself

The recent investigation into cheating in DC schools highlights a little-understood fact in the District: Our mayor has too much power. Every state-level agency charged with overseeing the mayor's activities reports to the mayora level of control that exists nowhere else in the country.


Photo by stallio on Flickr.

The agency that investigates cheating, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), is charged with overseeing our schools. But OSSE also reports to the mayor, the same official who runs most of the schools they are supposed to oversee.

The same conflict exists with the state-level agency charged with overseeing job training in the District. This agency, the Workforce Investment Council (WIC), reports to the same mayor who runs job training and wants voters to see his efforts to train job seekers as successful.

Continue reading Ken's latest op-ed in the Washington Post.

Poverty


DC job assistance claims take credit for federal program

Last December, Mayor Vincent Gray announced that a centerpiece of his administration, One City One Hire, had helped over 5,100 unemployed DC residents find jobs. According to a former official at the Department of Employment Services, this figure includes every DC resident hired under the federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit program.


Photo by khalilshah on Flickr.

A One City One Hire briefing document that was presented to the mayor last December shows that 30% of the 5,100 hires were made through this federal program.

Officials from the Department of Employment Services (DOES) say that it is fair to take credit for these hires, because they are educating employers on the availability of the federal tax credit. However, a spokesperson for Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, whose Hire One Atlanta program was the model for Gray's initiative, said they do not include all hires made with federal tax credits in their metrics.

One City One Hire metrics are important

One City One Hire is a initiative of DOES that matches work ready DC residents with jobs.

DOES encourages unemployed DC residents to enter their resume into the One City One Hire web site. DOES staff then proactively engage "hiring partners" to consider qualified applicants from their system while informing them of available hiring credits.

The program makes sense, as I explained last year while praising Gray for One City One Hire. Often employers don't consider unemployed DC job applicants because of stereotypes about their work readiness. It makes sense for DOES to step in and vouch for truly work-ready DC residents.

Furthermore, Gray set a goal for DOES to place 10,000 jobless DC residents into jobs through One City One Hire. Achieving that goal would make a real dent in DC's jobless crisis, which exceeds 20% unemployment in parts of the city east of the Anacostia River.

Relying only on matching work-ready individuals with jobs would likely be insufficient to reach this goal. As a result, reaching this goal would require reform of DC's workforce development system that removes barriers to employment for those who are not work-ready.

A former DOES official, different from the former DOES official who provided the One City One Hire briefing document, provided documents previously to Greater Greater Washington that show that few job seekers are getting the intensive services they need from DOES to become work-ready.

DC claiming credit for federal program, Atlanta is not

By allowing One City One Hire to claim credit for hires by employers with whom DOES has no relationship, however, the Gray Administration is more likely to achieve it's goal of 10,000 hires without making a significant dent in unemployment or reforming DC's workforce development system.

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit is a credit that employers receive on their federal payroll taxes when they hire certain classes of individuals. Unemployed veterans, unemployed ex-convicts and long-term welfare recipients are included in the program.

The Washington City Paper first reported in January that a senior DOES official claimed many of the hires attributed to One City One Hire were simply hires that resulted in a WOTC tax credit. The official said at the time, "These programs are doing the same things and getting the same results."

Mayoral spokesperson Pedro Ribeiro defended claiming credit for these hires because WOTC "is a tool that states use." Through One City One Hire "we use tax credits, reimbursements, and all kinds of other tools to get folks employed."

According to interim DOES Chief of Staff Liz DeBarros, "When we came into office, there was a 2½ year backlog in processing WOTC requests through DOES" and there was insufficient "education of employers that it was available." DOES under the Gray administration is now educating employers on WOTC and processing requests more quickly.

She said that it's fair, as a result, to claim credit for all hires that resulted in a WOTC tax credit for the employer.

Atlanta Mayoral spokesperson Reese McCranie, however, said that the Hire One Atlanta program on which One City One Hire was modeled does not include all hires that resulted in a WOTC tax credit for the employer.

Employers who partner with the City of Atlanta self-report their hires of unemployed Atlanta residents to Hire One Atlanta, and the Society for Human Resource Professionals provides 3rd party validation of the hires.

Mayor Gray has been criticized for announcing more goals - around sustainability, economic development, education - than accomplishments. Greater Greater Washington contributors have defended the mayor's practice of setting goals, because goals matter. They allow for accountability that leads to reform.

But that assumes that the metrics used by the Gray Administration are fair and measure what everyone assumes they are measuring. But that's not always happening.

Gray set a goal of universal pre-k availability, for example, but then permitted a formula for calculating availability that will always show universal availability. One City One Hire is also using a metric that is biased in favor of showing progress towards the goal of the program.

Goals matter, but only if the metrics are fair. That's why the Gray Administration should be explicit about how it measures progress towards each of its goals.

Poverty


Few job seekers get the intensive training they need

Large numbers of DC's jobless residents are going to the city's One-Stop Centers for employment assistance, but very few actually receive the intensive services that they will need to compete for jobs, say internal workforce training documents obtained by Greater Greater Washington.


Image by Intersection Consulting on Flickr.

In order to get job training from the DC government, one has to request training at a One-Stop center run by the Department of Employment Services (DOES).

A former DOES manager sent along a training manual which highlights a problem in the job training system: job seekers have to pass through many administrative steps to get services, but high attrition rates at each stage mean that few ultimately get services like literacy training or skill development.

While unemployment in the Washington region is relatively low, in low-income parts of DC such as Ward 8 it exceeds 20%. Given that only 28% of jobs in DC are held by DC residents, high unemployment of DC residents is generally attributed to obstacles to employment like lack of literacy and job skills.

Allison Gerber, executive director of the Workforce Investment Council (WIC) which has oversight of services of One-Stops, reacted to the numbers. "Assuming these numbers are correct," she said, "they are very similar to the gaps that the WIC found in the last program year."

DOES Director Lisa Mallory disavows the numbers in the training manual, saying they were pulled by a previous Associate Director for Workforce Development, Dr James Moore, and are "incorrect." Mallory referred to "coding" issues, and said that the number of services provided like occupational and GED training were actually much higher.

Mallory agreed, however, that attrition is a central problem in the delivery of workforce development services, and said her investment in training to address this problem demonstrates that she is tackling the problem by transforming DOES.

What happens when jobless residents approach DC for help?

15,781 adults approached DOES One-Stops over the last Program Year (July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012) requesting help with employment. Assuming these were all DC residents, that would be about 30% of the roughly 50,000 unemployed DC residents.

The figures in the report suggest that most are receiving basic services, such as use of a computer to look for jobs or resume assistance. DOES refers to such basic services as "core services," and refers to services like literacy, adult education and occupational training as "intensive services."

Of the 6,352 enrolled in core services, 4,004 received "initial assessments," 3,919 received "resume assistance services" and 3,594 received "referrals to workshops." 2,284 get referred to intensive services, but of these, only 21% (477) actually enroll in intensive services.

Among the 477, 430 express interest in occupational training. The One-Stops approve 77% (322) of these requests, and forward their application packets to the Office of Program Performance Monitoring (OPPM) in DOES. But OPPM only approves 32% of these (104) for training, a $4,000 Individual Training Account (ITA) program funded by the federal government and DC government.

The consultant DOES commissioned to train their management, Greg Newton Associates, identifies this attrition problem in the training manual as low "conversion ratios" and then asks the question, "What needs to be improved?"

Few residents receive literacy training or evaluations

The manual also shows a low percentage of job seekers at the One Stops receive literacy or adult education services. More than 80,000 DC residents, making up 19% of adults, lack basic literacy. Approximately 55,000 lack a high school diploma.

The unemployment rate for residents without a high school diploma or GED is 19%. However, less than 1% (33) of the unemployed enrolled in the core services of DC One-Stops (6,352) receive literacy or adult education services.

In fact, only 6% (379) of the 6,352 unemployed enrolled in core services are even tested for lack of literacy and numeracy skills.

Mallory challenged these numbers as well, claiming that "we had about 200 individuals referred for GED training."

Why is the attrition rate so high?

There appears to be a high attrition rate in two places: first, in the One Stop, and second, where the Office of Program Performance Management evaluates job training requests after a One Stop approves a request.

Attrition within the One-Stops is sometimes blamed on the jobless residents. In an interview last year, former director of the DOES One-Stops Hugh Bailey said that "One-Stop staff are not case managers. Lots of people come into the One-Stop and expect to leave with a job."

"All we can do is give them the tools to find a job," said Bailey, "but we aren't case managers."

However, the Newton manual pointed to strict adherence to a wasteful process as the cause of low One-Stop "conversion rates." The manual called for DOES staff to transform into lean providers of services that meet all customers where they are at.

OPPM approves less than a third of job training requests

The workforce development community has worried for years about the low percentage of job training requests DOES approves, even after they go through a first stage of approval at the One-Stop centers. The training manual says that only 32% of requests get the go-ahead from OPPM.

An annual report of DC's workforce development efforts sent to the federal Department of Labor last year admits to "internal delays in transitioning participants into training services."

An October 2008 report by Callahan Consultants observed that "the process itselfwhich includes required return visits to the One-Stop for eligibility determination, for testing, and for submission of vendor acceptance letter, etc is being used as a screening mechanism to ensure clients are truly motivated to go into training."

Marina Strewnewski, executive director of the DC Jobs Coalition, a coalition of job training providers, says that her members report an average of 90 days waiting for DOES to approve training requests. According to Strewnewski, "this absolutely discourages unemployed job seekers, who eventually disengage from the DOES process out of frustration."

Director Mallory asserted, however, that "OPPM is not an impediment" to delivering training services. Mallory pointed to several "factors that may play a role in delaying the the approval of the training request."

These included:

  • "lack of certification documentation (proof of residency, Social Security Numbers, Citizenship, etc.),"
  • "Provider unable to start classes due to not enough customers approved for the program to schedule a class," and
  • "Customer undecided and/or loss of interest."
Officials are trying to streamline the process

Gerber, of the Workforce Investment Council, explained that the WIC has been pursuing a "one-stop certification process" that would establish policies and procedures focusing on delivering services that jobless residents need to be work ready instead of focusing on paperwork.

Gerber stressed that this is a collaborative effort with DOES, and the multiple working groups with DOES management have made good progress. Once the certification process is in place, the WIC could then de-certify One-Stops that fall short of the new standards.

Delivering more core services, focusing on matching work-ready customers with a job, is an achievement for which DOES deserves much credit. The improvement in these services reflects the investment in One City One Hire, which matches jobless DC residents with job openings.

However, our focus on job matching must also go hand in hand with a focus on work readiness, given the tremendous mismatch between jobs in the DC area and the skills of jobless DC residents.

Government


Amid scandal, don't lose sight of Gray's policy achievements

The charges filed yesterday against Vincent Gray's former assistant campaign treasurer will surely reinforce the image in many voters' minds of a scandal-plagued mayor who has accomplished nothing for the District. The scandals may be real, but his administration has also racked up some important achievements across the government.


Photo by DDOTDC on Flickr.

Instead of halting progress or even reversing course on bicycle infrastructure, streetcars, and education reform, the Gray administration is strengthening DC's commitment to these innovations. It has set clear priorities for traffic safety, performance parking, and sustainability, helped unem­ployed residents get jobs, and restored the rainy-day fund instead of spending it down.

None of this justifies any of the alleged illegal acts that happened in the campaign, but neither is this unimportant.

Ultimately, Gray's mayoralty will leave a lasting effect on the budget and city services, and residents, whether they voted for and endorsed Adrian Fenty (as I did) or Gray, should care a great deal about what the capable people in the administration, unconnected to the campaign or any campaign finance, are doing.

We've also yet to find out whether the mayor himself was part of any illegal activity or knew about it. Based on what we know thus far, it appears that Gray made some very poor choices about whom to trust early on. Since then, he's replaced most of these poor hires with better staff, who are better at sharing the administration's positive accomplishments, such as:

One City One Hire

The administration's program to help unemployed residents find jobs has now suc­cee­ded in getting employers to hire 3,000 unemployed District residents in the past year.

There are numerous obstacles to getting people into jobs, but employers' lack of trust in DC's jobless has been among the most intractable. One City One Hire officials work to restore this trust by personally vetting resumes of unemployed DC residents and asking employers to consider a couple of handpicked resumes for each opening.

Some feel that this is what the Department of Employment Services (DOES) was supposed to be doing all along. This is technically true. It's also true that DC Public Schools are supposed to be properly educating our children. We shouldn't withhold credit where credit is due when DCPS or DOES fulfills its mission.

Sector-specific economic development

Under previous administrations, the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development was concerned almost exclusively with real estate deals. Although targeted real estate deals are important, only Mayor Gray has really invested in developing other sectors that are strategically important to the city.

The Mayor's broader focus has produced new positions critical to the city's economy, even if the officers filling those positions often operate behind the scenes. For example, newly hired DMPED officials regularly meet with leaders of the technology, government contractor, and health care communities to align identify ways DC can support these strategically important sectors.

A newly reconstituted Workforce Investment Council, whose executive director Alison Gerber was recruited from the Aspen Institute, has made it clear that workforce development dollars must be targeted to high demand sectors. As a result, for the first time, workforce development in DC is no longer scattershot, with the Gray Administration targeting key sectors.

DOES has cut off funding to several training providers whose training wasn't aligned with these sectors. A new Workforce Intermediary will ensure that the needs of hospitality and construction employers are addressed by training providers.

Continued capital investments without raiding city's reserves

DC residents were aware of the many capital improvements made under former Mayor Fenty, but fewer were aware that Fenty drew down the "rainy day" fund of $700 million to pay for some of these improvements.

Mayor Gray has continued the pace of capital improvements, with renovations of Takoma Education Campus and Woodson, Cardozo and Anacostia High Schools. While maintaining the pace of the previous Administration, Mayor Gray has managed to replenish our reserve fund, bringing it up to $1.1 billion.

Sustainability plan

If you haven't seen the objectives Mayor Gray set for 2032 in his Sustainable DC plan, then you should take a look. These objectives should provide the basis for numerous DC government initiatives over the next two decades covering issues as diverse as our food supply and obesity, along with transportation, tree canopy, and waste.

For some these strategic plans and objectives may seem mere feel-good talk, but these objectives matter. Historically, DC government has looked to such comprehensive plans and small area plans in designing legislation and framing countless policy debates in subsequent years.

Cameras and parking

Study after study proves that traffic cameras save lives. Mayor Gray significantly expanded traffic cameras in this year's budget, a politically courageous move that will continue DC's trend of lower and lower traffic fatalities.

While the DC Council created visionary pilots in performance parking, the previous administration never made it much of a priority to adjust meter rates to manage curbside space effectively. The Gray administration has expanded performance parking and made it clear this is a priority.

Continued momentum in education reform, streetcars and bike lanes

Some predicted that education reform, the streetcar and bike lanes would stop under Mayor Gray. Let's be clear: that hasn't happened. Mayor Gray has increased the investment in streetcars, pledging $100 million in capital funds starting last year.

The pace of bike lane construction slowed a bit at first, but DDOT is now putting in bike lanes on many streets throughout the city, and is on track to build the L Street track this summer and M street soon after. He even vociferously defended Capital Bikeshare over Twitter to skeptical New York reporters.

Finally, Mayor Gray has continued the process of education reform, despite the fears of many DC residents. Teachers are still being evaluated and sometimes fired based on performance, not on seniority.

The Gray administration's education reforms have included important initiatives which haven't received the same attention and publicity accorded the teacher firings. The administration has already made strides toward improving our special education system and opened multiple Early Stages centers aimed at early identification of kids with special needs. These investments have reduced by 20% the number of children bused, at DC's expense, to non-public special education, saving significant money.

I'm not nominating Mayor Gray for sainthood, but residents need to reexamine the fairly widespread belief that the administration is not getting anything done. While Adrian Fenty was very good at getting press attention for his actions, this administration is acting more quietly.

We should condemn any illegal behavior from the campaign, but we must also give the mayor and his staff credit for the ways the administration is making DC greater for the long term.

Government


Privatize DC's One-Stop Career Centers

On Wednesday, residents testified before the DC Council about the performance of the Department of Employment Services. This is my testimony.

I am an editor at Greater Greater Washington and resident of Georgetown with my wife and son. I am a supporter, like all Greater Greater Washington contributors, of the tremendous investments being made in transit, parks and economic development that are creating a more liveable, walkable city.


Mayor Gray and DOES Director Mallory. Image from DOES.

I am, however, equally concerned that these invest­ments will end up on the ash heap of history as just another urban renewal that displaces the poor out of sight and out of mind, to be somebody else's problem, an injustice actively perpetrated by us all.

Privatizing the One-Stop Career Centers would improve our ability to move forward as one city. That's because One-Stop privatization would unleash the type of innovation to address joblessness that we have have seen with charter schools addressing childrens' education.

While there is an enormous investment in and attention being given to our first chance systemour public schoolsour second chance system has received far less attention until very recently.

Our second chance system is our workforce development system that helps people get back up when they've been knocked downknocked down by changes in labor markets both private and public, knocked down by addiction, knocked down by employers who can't look past one's employment status, criminal record and address or lack of one.

Until our second chance system receives the same investment and accountability as our first chance system, one knockdown will put you out in a city that is increasingly expensive to live in.

The main thing that is working in our second chance system is the Mayor's initiative to put qualified, prescreened applicants in front of employers known as One City One Hire. It's an apt name for the program, because it addresses the lack of trust that many employers have had in unemployed job applicants that hail from a certain part of the city.

Job training providers all work to build this trust on the part of employers in their own clients, and it's wonderful to see the Mayor and Director Lisa Mallory stepping into the gap to build this trust.

The risk, with One City One Hire, is that the next mayor will not give it the same investment and focus. For that reason, it is critical that Director Mallory operationalize One City One Hire into the daily functioning of DOES (Department of Employment Services), and that requires being more publicly transparent about the funding and operations of One City One Hire.

After all, One City One Hire is essentially doing what the Business Services Group of DOES was supposed to be doing all along. It would be helpful to know, for example, what employees work on One City One Hire, how are they organized, and what has been codified from a process and metrics perspective.

Director Mallory and Mayor Gray deserve a good amount of praise for what they have accomplished in One City One Hire, praise that pundits looking for scandal have been uninterested in giving.

So, if One City One Hire is the main thing that is going right, what is the main thing that is going wrong?

When DC residents are without a job, they are told to go to a One Stop Center, known as DC Works. They will help you get a job and, if you have barriers to employment, they will connect you with the resources available to overcome those barriers.

But what unemployed folks usually encounter when they muster the dignity to step into a One-Stop Center and ask for help is a 5-10 stop center that treats them with the indignity that we all suffered at DMVs in the 1990s.

This isn't my assessment. This is the unequivocal assessment of report after report. The Review of the District's One-Stop Service System prepared by Callahan Consultants in 2008, a report by Appleseed in 2008, a report by the D.C. Jobs Council in 2007, a report by Wider Opportunities for Women in 2004, and a report by the D.C. Jobs Council in 2001.

In the most recent report from Callahan Consultants in 2008, we learn that orientation classes are held the first two days of each week, and if customers walk in on any other day or after the orientation has started, they are turned away and told to come back for the next class. No one-on-one orientation was observed.

When customers do make it through the orientation class, they are sent to a computer to look up jobs or training options. If they have obstacles to employment, such as child care, they are sent to other offices like DHS to find available resources. That doesn't sound like one stop to me.

If customers do find a training course that suits them, they apply for ITA funding for the course. If they do not have an 8th grade educational level, they are rejected right away, and referred to an educational provider. The report says the one stop, "does not continue to track these clients, and given the lack of intensive basic and remedial education resources these clients are often lost".

If they do qualify for the class, they then wait for an average of 45 days for the funding to be approved. Keep in mind, that all training providers' courses have already been approved by DOES.

The report says that "the process itself, which includes required return visits for eligibility determination, for testing, and for submission of a vendor acceptance letter, etc, is being used as a screening mechanism" that "could be characterized as a 'creaming' process…to ensure achieving federal performance standards".

Now, Director Mallory is committed to reforming the One-Stops. I think that her reform efforts would only be buttressed by an initiative to charter private one-stop centers, run by private sector organizations, and held to new, strict performance requirements that would apply to all one-stop centers.

Many states outsource all of their one-stop centers to private sector organizations. Just like we have competition between service providers of our first chance system, our traditional and charter public schools, I believe we should have competition between service providers of our second chance system.

Both public and privately chartered one-stops must track the employment status over 6 months, 1 year and 2 years of everyone who walks in the door. As it is, when Callahan Consultants asked in 2008 for the sign-in logs for the past month, the One Stops were unable to provide them.

While private one-stop centers would be an initiative of the Workforce Investment Council which certifies One-Stop Centers, it's important that DOES and Chairman Michael Brown support the initiative. The public employees union will likely fight any such privatization.

Thank you for listening to my testimony, and for your efforts on behalf of the unemployed in our city.

Government


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.

Government


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 goalwhether 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.

Government


DC needs better data to fight unemployment

Mayor Gray has made employment for DC residents a top priority. But without good data, policies are little more than a stab in the dark.


Photo by wouter_kersbergen on Flickr.

It's quite surprising how little data DC collects on unemployment. What obstacles do the unemployed face in getting jobs? If the obstacle is a skills mismatch, are there training providers available that teach those skills?

Do those trainers have a track record of results? If it's lack of jobs, have past development incentives created jobs as promised for DC residents?

We don't know the answers to these questions because the District government isn't collecting or reporting the data to answer them. When the data exists in some database, it's often not organized or delivered to policymakers. At other times, the data doesn't exist at all, but agencies could collect it cheaply.

Who are the unemployed?

Tackling crisis-level unemployment is one of Mayor Gray's top priorities. Yet the DC government appears to have no profile of the unemployed in DC and their barriers to employment.

Even the number of unemployed by ward that DC provides each month is deeply flawed. Each month, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics samples DC residents and reports unemployment for DC. The DC Office of Labor Market Research then allocates that number to each ward based on out-of-date ratios from the last census. Ben Orr of Brookings has shown that the resulting numbers of jobless by ward are sometimes wildly inaccurate.

The government also has no data on the reasons why the jobless don't have a job. This lack of data creates a vacuum that is then filled with assumptions and stereotypes about the obstacles faced by jobless residents.

Advocates for cutting off Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefits after 5 years, as the corresponding federal program does, say that dependency on TANF is the cause of unemployment. Those who support tax incentives for developers say that lack of jobs is to blame. Smart growth advocates point to lack of affordable transit access to most jobs. Training providers say that the problem is a mismatch between workers' skills and available jobs.

Who is right? What policies should we invest in to address unemployment? We don't know because we lack basic data about the unemployed.

Investment in a survey of unemployed DC residents by a research company on an annual basis would cost a fraction of what these policies cost, and would help ensure we are actually targeting the true causes of unemployment.

Who are the training providers and are they effective?

The District has no data on the effectiveness of training providers across the city. In fact, the director of one training provider recently told me that the Department of Employment Services (DOES) actually has no comprehensive list of training providers at all.

The training providers, known as Workforce Development Organizations, provide a range of services from soft skills training and hard skills training to case management of jobless clients. What percentage of their clients get a job? More importantly, what percentage of their clients are still employed a year or two later? No one knows.

The DC Department of Employment Services (DOES) should require such reporting by recipients of government funding. This data could presumably be verified using payroll tax data.

Of course, no one knows the extent to which we should even invest in job training because we have no definitive profile of the obstacles to employment faced by jobless residents.

What development projects have received incentives, and have they been worth it?

The CFO's office does not track economic impact of development projects that receive incentives. In fact, there appears to be no comprehensive list in existence of companies that have received tax incentives for development projects over the past 5-10 years.

The District has provided billions of dollars in tax abatements and TIF financing to developers over the past decade. The rationale of proponents is that these investments bring a return to the District in the form of corporate property taxes, sales taxes and jobs for DC residents. If proponents of what some call corporate welfare are so sure that these returns are real, then why not track and report them to bolster their case?

All this data should exist in the Office of Tax and Revenue's (OTR) integrated tax system. OTR says that sales taxes cannot be tracked by address when retailers have multiple DC locations. However, recipients of incentives could simply be required to report such data by address as a condition of receiving incentives.

Hotels under construction currently in the District are receiving over $500 million of tax incentives in total. While some are questioning whether we will really see that money in higher tax revenues, the reality is we will never know.

It's difficult to solve problems when you don't know their causes or whether previous attempted solutions worked. When such information is lacking, then dogma and stereotyping supplants reasonable, data-driven policy discussions.

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