By: Tara Adam, Policy Fellow
On June 29, 2017, the DC Fiscal Policy Institute hosted a panel discussion entitled, “Big Solutions to DC’s Big Job Training Challenge.” The event was attended by roughly forty stakeholders of varying backgrounds including Ms. Ruth Wattenberg, SBOE Representative from Ward 3.
The panel, moderated by Mr. Andy Shallal of Busboy and Poets and Chair of the DC Workforce Investment Council, featured private-sector employers and labor union leaders including Mr. Raj Aggarwal (Think Local First), Mr. John Boardman (Unite HERE 25), Ms. Ilana Boivie (DC Fiscal Policy Institute), Mr. Thomas Penny (Donohoe Hospitality Services), and Ms. Stacy Smith (Hyatt Hotels Corporation).
The panel opened with Ms. Ilana Boivie, Senior Policy Analyst at DC Fiscal Policy Institute, providing an overview of the current economic state of DC in relation to the job market; overall, the District has seen robust growth. While unemployment is down, rates remains high in Wards 7 and 8 (10.9 and 13.3% respectively). Of those unemployed, roughly 60,000 lack a high school degree, and even those who have multiple certificates from training programs still have a difficulty securing a job.
As Mr. Penny remarked, “we all have a responsibility to do something.” The panelists discussed that it is up to private-sector employers, labor union leaders, and local stakeholders to create educational programs and pathways to help lower unemployment rates and target demographic groups which are most inflicted. In addition to developing skillsets, employers must build up wrap-around services for employees centered on childcare, housing and transportation.
While much of the conversation centered on educational job training programs, I believe that many of the key points are applicable when thinking about recent SBOE endeavors such as overhauling high school graduation requirements. By providing students with alternative graduation pathways, not only could the number of of DC residents without a high school degree decline, but also the probability of said students obtaining higher education degrees increase. This would allow these individuals to be better candidates for many of the jobs within the District that require advanced degrees, as noted by Ms. Boivie.
At one point during the discussion, Mr. Shallal mentioned the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Workforce Programs, the fifth habit being to treat education like a job. The SBOE has worked diligently to ensure that educational standards provide students with the best opportunities to achieve success. However, I believe that more can be done, especially by the ESSA Implementation Taskforce, in working with community organizations and educational institutions to ensure that students have access to vital resources so external stressors are minimized that they have the opportunity to treat their education like a job.
Overall, “Big Solutions to DC’s Big Job Training Challenge” was an interesting panel discussion. While much of the conversation was skewed toward education in a job-training program, many of the points highlighted were applicable to K-12 education. More information regarding future DC Fiscal Policy Institute events and the organization’s work can be found here.