The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) Board of Directors is working to bolster the economic competitiveness of the region, and developing the area’s workforce is a key part of that growth.
Although the region produces and attracts highly skilled residents, there are more than 60,000 adults in the District of Columbia alone that lack a high school diploma and basic literacy and numerical skills. There are also displaced workers that need retraining to prepare for their next career. The good news is that several industries now need to train new workers. The water sector is projected to lose up to 50 percent of their workforce by 2020 as Baby Boomers retire, and the transportation and energy sectors are experiencing similar challenges.
That is where the region’s public workforce system comes in. It includes six community colleges, seven Workforce Investment Boards/Councils (WIBs/WICs), 22 American Job Centers, community-based organizations, and federal, state, and local agencies, all of which play a role in training and connecting residents to the region’s in-demand jobs.
To explore the theme of workforce development, the COG Human Services and Public Safety Policy Committee convened top executives from four WICs and WIBs-the Montgomery County Workforce Investment Board, Alexandria/Arlington Workforce Investment Board, D.C. Workforce Investment Council, and The SkillSource Group, Inc.-to paint a picture of the resources they provide to the area’s jobseekers and outline opportunities for greater collaboration among their agencies. WICs and WIBs funnel local, state, and federal funding to workforce development efforts. David Hunn of SkillSource provided an overview of the one-on-one case management provided for job seekers, including skills assessment, computer search access, and job training.
The agencies reported that despite a stronger economy in the last few years, demand for their services has remained high since the recession. According to Barbara Kaufmann of Montgomery County, there is a tension between planning for future occupational growth while helping meet the immediate needs of the unemployed. Andrew Rogers of D.C. WIC shared the example of D.C. LEAP Academy, which uses an earn while you learn model and serves many TANF recipients.
David Remick of Alexandria/Arlington provided several recommendations for how COG could facilitate regional collaboration in this area:
- Convening all of the region’s public workforce system organizations to work cooperatively to achieve a common goal.
- Hosting industry-specific job summits with major employers and workforce system organizations (e.g. a transportation job summit could include WMATA, UPS, FedEX, and other companies having trouble finding skilled drivers).
- Serving as a lead agency for grant funding on behalf of public workforce agencies-this is a way to avoid many of the hurdles to cross-border cooperation.
- Launching a D.C. Metro Middle-Skills Jobs campaign to cultivate those jobs that require a high school diploma and perhaps an industry-recognized certification but not a college degree.
Middle-skills jobs were the focus of a presentation by Karen Pallansch, CEO Alexandria Renew Enterprises (AlexRenew). As a wastewater reclamation facility, AlexRenew is working hard to attract middle skill workers.
Since the D.C. area ranks fourth in the country for middle skill job growth, Pallansch emphasized the importance of creating awareness about these job opportunities early-on, even among middle school students. She also proposed developing a more regional process for training for these vacancies.
These are not minimum wage jobs, explained Pallansch. These jobs are the backbone of our communities. They are jobs that don’t go away.”