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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.

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 itself — which 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.

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.