District Strong with Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn

A Conversation about a Reimagined Workforce Development System

Get Involved! The DC government wants to partner with employers to train and employ DC residents

Paul Kihn, DC’s Deputy Mayor for Education, is a believer in new localism—where government is only as strong as it is able to partner with private, nonprofit and community partners to accomplish ambitious goals. He spoke with Trustees today about how they can partner with the District government to help train and then hire local residents. It’s all part of Mayor Bowser’s “Fair Shot DC: Workforce Recovery Strategy.”

His office oversees the entire public school system for all ages, from pre-K to DCPS and Charters, to UDC and the workforce development system. His team works closely with the Department of Employment Services (DOES) and the Workforce Investment Council (WIC) to fund, standup and assess programs.

The pandemic has refocused his office’s attention on recovery for those who fell the most behind. That means stabilizing and strengthening early childhood learning so that students begin with a solid foundation. There’s a plan in place to accelerate learning using intensive tutoring for K-12 students who need it.

Finally, there must be an inclusive jobs recovery for adults who were hit hardest by the pandemic—which mostly means women, minorities and those without a college degree. By the middle of last year, women’s labor force participation rate had fallen by 5 points compared to 1 point for men. The unemployment rate is now four times higher for Blacks than Whites.

The Mayor has developed a set of strategic priorities for this inclusive jobs recovery. The first is an emergency response, backed up by a $22M investment this fiscal year, to surge DC residents into credentialing programs that makes them competitive for high-demand, good-paying jobs. Some of that money has gone toward the “DC Futures” program that provides free associate’s and bachelor’s degrees to over 1,500 residents at either Trinity, Catholic or UDC. Another chunk has gone to UDC to set up new training programs in healthcare and IT. And DC residents can now meet with career coaches based out of the WIC where they can talk through where their skills are and how that can lead to a career pathway. Funding was also allocated to retrain the 80 or so case managers at DOES to provide the best advice possible.

Beyond the emergency response, the District is reimagining its workforce system in very specific ways, focusing on equity and employer demand. One of the best places to learn is on the job; more apprenticeships have been made available, along with subsidized employment opportunities where the government pays part of an employee’s wage while they learn on the job. The Infrastructure Academy, which partners with employers to deliver training they need, has been expanded to serve more than 200 residents. It has a 90 percent graduation rate, and its graduates always get first dibs on jobs offered by the employer partner.

The government is looking for more employer partners and is providing grants to create and help guide training programs to deliver the specific skillsets employers seek. The application deadline for the employer-led training grants is April 15th.

The city is also building out more opportunities for young people in middle school and high school to start early development of career credentials. The nonprofit CityWorks DC has connected these young people with employers where they can learn on the job for up to 12 hours per week paid. They then have a head start going into the working world or college.

An Advanced Technical Center is launching this year to provide training for high school students interested in careers in cybersecurity or healthcare. It used to be that a student was stuck selecting training options offered by their high school. With this Center, students from across the city can attend.

More hands-on, practical training is a good way to keep students on track to graduate. The DC graduation rate of 70 percent is improving but is still far from where we want it to be. Truancy is also a chronic problem. Many students drop-out or give up on school because they are bored or don’t see the point. These training programs are engaging and relevant, with a clear track to a real-life job. Students will hopefully see that and stay the course.

This endeavor has not been without challenges. New programs mean hiring up quality coaching or tutoring staff quickly, and that’s been tricky. The city has hosted hiring fairs to seek interested applicants. A substantial portion of funding has come from a three-year federal stimulus package that will eventually run out. Keeping all programs rowing together in the same direction requires careful and consistent management.

Deputy Mayor Kihn is asking Trustees to participate in the city’s workforce development system in any way they can. HERE is a two-page document listing all the ways to get involved, from applying to employer-led training grants to taking on an intern or apprentice. You can also reach out to Monica Dodge in his office at monica.dodge1@dc.gov to learn more.