Event Summary: Building the Local and Multi-Racial Talent Pipeline

A Conversation on Building the Local and Multi-Racial Talent Pipeline

The business case for going local

Through hiring systems and decisions, employers have uniquely powerful levers to close the racial equity gap. The Federal City Council’s Employer for Equity initiative aims to create a pipeline of diverse local talent to fill the good jobs that are already available in the District. As part of this initiative, yesterday the FC2 hosted an event to highlight the business case for hiring local talent and also inspiring stories of emerging professionals from DC who are charting a career in IT. If you attended the event and have yet to fill out the survey, please do so HERE.

Yesterday, the FC2 and the DC Chamber of Commerce also announced the creation of a new coalition called Hire Local DC. It will be made up of employers and employer organizations that are committed to ensuring more DC residents secure DC’s good jobs. We encourage you to join the Coalition, which you can do HERE.

Angela Franco, President of the DC Chamber of Commerce, explained that the DC business community should not just hire more DC residents, but also give them training and an opportunity for growth. Hire Local DC, which will be staffed by the FC2 and Chamber, will be a champion for hiring local by helping to better coordinate existing programs and connect employers with local talent.

Antwayne Ford started the discussion explaining what role employers can play in hiring emerging talent. Antwayne is Board Chair of the DC Workforce Investment Council and also President & CEO of Enlightened. Local industries must be directly involved in workforce training, clearly laying out the skills they need. There is a labor shortage in key industries, and there is plenty of local talent that can fill those gaps if they are given the right skills.

Hiring local and investing in a local talent pipeline is a wining business proposition, argued Yesim Taylor of the DC Policy Center. A local workforce with stronger ties to local employers means lower job turnover and lower training and reorientation costs. The workplace will have higher morale and higher reputational returns from a more devoted customer base. Darryl Wiggins from DigiDoc says his company benefits from local hires because they have a clearer understanding of local consumer demand.

“We live in a great city,” Antwayne said, “but we cannot be defined by what zip code we live in.”

But unfortunately, that is the case. Yesim ran the numbers and found that you can systematically predict which groups will be excluded from the region’s labor market. They are more likely to be born in DC, more likely to be high school dropouts and more likely to be African American. The vast majority of good jobs that open in the region require some postsecondary certification. Yet three-quarters of nonworking adults are African American residents without a postsecondary degree. Current trends don’t suggest much progress. If current trends continue, only 14 percent of DC’s 9th graders will complete a postsecondary degree. There must be more done to get these residents through postsecondary certification and also connecting them to employers directly.

One possible solution is partnering early with local schools and universities to provide young people with the skills they need to land specific good jobs. Employers can start high school internship or apprenticeship programs to give young people critical early connections and a sense of what an office environment feels and looks like. Employers should go into communities and let young people know they exist. Host talent competitions and understand that there’s a lot of talent that may not be reflected in who has the highest GPA. Carla Grant Pickens from IBM offered IBM’s P-Tech, or “Pathways to Technology” program as an example. Students can start the program in high school and obtain a certification highly valued in the job market.

Ahnna Smith, who runs the DC WIC, emphasized that the government, employers and training providers all need to coordinate to identify what skills are needed, how to train for them—and making sure residents know how to access training and the jobs themselves. The DC government already has over 58 programs across 18 local agencies, with $100 M invested in training (e.g., case management, occupational skills, resume workshops). The WIC is making those programs more coherent and aligned so it’s easier for employers and DC residents to access them.

Our future economy depends on diversity, adds Connie Russell, CEO of the C. L. Russell Group and the Co-Chair of the DC Chamber Workforce Development Committee. By 2039, half of our workforce will be people of color. Although most companies are aware of the diversity imperative, many don’t know how to achieve it. They need help building the platform so that they can get there.

Paul Choquette from construction firm Gilbane says his industry could do better pooling training programs. Companies like his start programs for specific projects that are massively successful, but then fade over time. Those programs should be brought back to life and sustained.

Industries could commit together to revising degree requirements into specific skill requirements. Carla Grant Pickens says IBM removed a degree requirement from more than half of the jobs at IMB, instead focusing on demonstrated skills. Darryl Wiggins says his firm uses one software language and all he cares about is that a prospective employee knows how to code in that language. The degree is unnecessary. This means training certifications programs could be created where students learn coding languages before jumping right into the labor market.

Marullus Williams, President of Limbic Systems, introduced a group of emerging professionals to explain their journey that landed them in a career in tech. Marullus is also the Chair of the DC Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs that serve as career academies in DC schools that prepare students for a host of careers, including health sciences, hospitality and IT.

A common thread for all three stories: mentors and training programs played essential roles early on and kept them on track for success.

Kenya Herring realized she had a passion for technology in high school. She went to robotics camps and got involved in the Black Data Programming Association (BDPA) that hosted Saturday workshops to learn computer programming languages. She would eventually go to Bowie State University and get a BA in computer technology. She met Antwayne Ford at an IT summit hosted by BPA. He offered her an internship and later a position as an IT specialist at his company. She’s now on the way to becoming a fully certified AWS specialist. “Every young person needs a mentor,” she said, “someone to talk to on a personal level.” She took a few years off during college and her mentor encouraged her to go back.

Forrest Givens teaches at Calvin Coolidge at its Mass Media and Communications CTE program. He went to VCU and studied creative advertising and landed his first job through DC’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) teaching youth about financial literacy. He eventually ended up at Coolidge where he helps students with multimedia storytelling. He says his students are brilliant and are so eager to learn. They work on real-world projects that simulate the experience of industry professionals. He is their mentor as well as teacher and flexibly caters to each student’s needs.

Tiara Brawner was born and raised in the DC area, enrolling at McKinley Tech before graduating from Ballou. She spent some time in receptionist-type positions before deciding she wanted more. Her mom’s friend introduced her to the Year Up program, which helps talented young adults in the DC area get into the IT field. She says she had an amazing mentor there who coached her. She got an internship at Freddie Mac and she loved it. She graduated from Year Up in 2013 and snagged a full-time position there as a network engineer. Now she mentors other young people through Year Up. She wants to help make sure they stay on the path forward. She says getting a scholarship from New Futures also was instrumental in her success. It allowed her to graduate from community college without worrying about money.

John Falcicchio, head of DMPED, closed out the discussion by linking everything to the city’s economic recovery. The Mayor and DC Council will be wrestling with how to spend the $2.2 B one-time federal support so that we can build back better and more equitably. It’s a once-in-a-generation investment opportunity. Getting DC’s workforce ready is part of that equation.

A few years ago, former Mayor Adrian Fenty imparted on John some good advice about how to approach job interviews: “Don’t tell them what you’ve done. Tell them what you can do for them.” But first, DC employers must more proactively meet DC residents where they are in the community, invest in them and build the future local talent pipeline.