Photo by DC Central Kitchen on Flickr.

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.

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.