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As Director of DC Department of Employment Services (DOES), the District's labor and workforce development agency, Odie Donald II is responsible for employment readiness and job training services for city residents. These programs include the Mayor Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program, LEAP, DC Career Connections, and more. Donald is also the Secretary of the National Association of Workforce Agencies (NASWA) Executive Committee and a member of the US Conference of Mayors Workforce Development Committee Board of Trustees.

He introduces himself and his priorities below, and will answer 5-10 questions from our readers. What would you like to ask Donald? Let us know in the comments.

Members of the US Conference of Mayors recently convened in our nation’s capital to discuss the critical challenges that cities must address, both now and in years to come. As expected, the future of work featured prominently in these conversations. A record number of unfilled jobs, a fluctuating economy, and an increased demand for skilled workers mean that workforce development is vital to ensuring the ongoing prosperity of our cities and country.

Here in Washington, DC our economy is one of the strongest in America. The District welcomes nearly 1,000 new residents each month and is home to a rapidly growing small business sector that is the envy of the country. DC also has the nation’s most educated workforce. Despite our strong economy and vibrant workforce, the region faces a significant skills gap. Roughly 60,000 DC residents have not graduated high school or earned a GED. More than 25,000 residents are unemployed—even as 30,000 new jobs have been added to the economy. Maintaining, and even increasing, the level of collaboration between the public and private sector is essential to ensuring that the future of work in this country is bright, both for DC residents and all Americans.

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The District has launched new programs that allows residents to earn wages while they learn new skills. The success of these programs is dependent on involvement of the business community. Nationally recognized initiatives like DC Infrastructure Academy (DCIA) and Apprenticeship DC partner with local businesses to offset the costs of training, connect to a highly skilled workforce, and equip job seekers with the skills necessary to attain quality work.

Under the leadership of Mayor Bowser, and in concert with key business and community partners, these workforce initiatives have fueled incredible progress. Unemployment in all eight wards is down. Of the nearly 100,000 residents who have used DOES services during Mayor Bowser’s tenure, more than 35,000 are employed today, demonstrating a more than 85 percent retention rate for job seekers who complete District-sponsored workforce training programs. Strengthening partnerships with the business community can bring these numbers even higher.

Additionally, early work experiences play a significant role in long-term career development and overall success. Applications for the Mayor Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program will open later this month. We need local businesses to join us to provide District youth ages 14 to 24 with enriching and constructive summer work experiences.

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Effective municipal workforce development programs and systems that respond to the needs of residents—and employers—are fundamental to promoting equitable access to economic opportunity. These efforts connect public resources to the private sector and to families. Job seekers have more opportunities for meaningful work, companies hire from a highly motivated, better trained labor pool, and local economies grow.

At the Department of Employment Services (DOES), we’re committed to ensuring that all Washingtonians get the fair shot they deserve and that our workforce and economic development strategies work well for our residents and businesses. Publicly soliciting feedback about how DOES programs and services can be improved has enabled us to make substantive changes to how we approach service delivery. By valuing what District stakeholders have to say about their local programs and service offerings, we have been able to double down on a commitment to create clear pathways to individual economic opportunities and deliver a more dynamic workforce. Like our federal partners, DC is “open for business.”

What do you want to know more about? Put your questions in the comments. We'll pick the best ones and he will answer them in a followup post next week.

Odie Donald II is a nationally renowned leader in economic and workforce development. He is the Director of the DC Department of Employment Services and the Secretary of the National Association of Workforce Agencies (NASWA) Executive Committee. Donald’s innovative efforts and leadership have helped nearly half a million people find jobs through government programs.