Reclaiming Work―A D.C. Strategy for Talent, Jobs and College Completion

The “D.C. Paradox”
If we measure our education-to-employment system by how successfully our young people can move from K-12 to postsecondary to family-sustaining jobs in our local labor market, then DC’s system doesn’t stack up very well.

Most young people in Washington, D.C., especially those growing up in low-income households, cannot access the tens of thousands of high-wage, high-demand jobs that are appearing in our booming regional economy. On the employer side, without a local talent pipeline, businesses are turning to import talent by leveraging D.C. as an attractive place to live. We call this incongruity―where local residents are not the ones benefiting from the economic growth in the region in part because employers can afford to import talent―the “D.C. paradox.”

We know, for example, that 76 percent of jobs in D.C. will require a postsecondary credential by next year. Fewer than 20 percent of DC public high school graduates, however, currently attain any kind of postsecondary degree. This status quo is costly for everyone involved: for our young people, first and foremost, but also for employers, training providers, government and taxpayers, and society writ large.

In order to address the “D.C. paradox” and build a more robust education-to-employment system, employers must step into the role of co-producing, rather than just receiving, young human capital.

Learning from Switzerland
Swiss employers play such a role in their system. Given its results and reputation, the Swiss invite colleagues from across the world to come see their system up close during an intensive 10-day seminar. In June, CityBridge Senior Fellow Jennie Niles brought 10 leaders to Switzerland for the seminar to learn about the Swiss system and begin the critical translation work necessary to identify what we need to build for the D.C. context.

The Federal City Council hosted Jennie for a lunch on Monday, July 22nd to discuss what the group gleaned on their trip, hear about her vision for the District, and learn about concrete next steps for piloting a new initiative.

In the employer-led Swiss system, there are clear roles and responsibilities for each actor: industry associations define competencies and build curricula, firms pay wages and provide high-quality training, and the government ensures transparency and comparability across locales.

Four tenets of the Swiss system stand out:

  1. Anchored to work: For Swiss youth, the anchor of learning is work—because in-demand skills are best acquired while in the workplace.
  2. Employer-led and market-driven: The bulk of what Swiss youth learn during this period is determined by employers, not educators.
  3. Mainstream and high-status: 70 percent of Swiss youth choose apprenticeships, which is typically 3-4 years of formal education, work experience, and technical training.
  4. Permeable: Swiss apprentices acquire a Federal diploma with two equally valuable tickets to continue in 1) higher education and 2) employment.

The long-term outcomes of the Swiss system are remarkable. For youth, 97 percent complete a secondary program, which leads to less than a 4 percent youth unemployment rate. Swiss companies earn a 10 percent average return on investment when training apprentices. Strong empirical evidence demonstrates a powerful link between the Swiss apprenticeship system and the increased innovation that comes from such a highly-trained workforce.

Part of the benefit of the trip was also learning from the other U.S. teams, including groups from Colorado and New York, that are scaling youth apprenticeship programs across the country. In fact, Jamie Dimon of J.P. Morgan Chase joined the trip for three days in Zürich along with anchor pilot employers J.P. Morgan Chase, Accenture, and Bank of America. New York will launch CareerWise NYC, a program adapted from CareerWise Colorado, this Fall 2019.

Translation to D.C.
In Fall 2020, CityBridge, in collaboration with the Federal City Council, will launch a new citywide youth apprenticeship program for D.C. high schoolers before they go to college:

  • Young people will be trained—and paid—to do meaningful work for a company, earning both industry-based certifications and postsecondary credit, as well as acquiring social capital.
  • Employers will build a local, diverse talent pipeline, while increasing retention, lowering recruiting costs, increasing their productivity, and spurring innovation.

This effort will build on the substantial career readiness infrastructure and expertise already in place in D.C.—from the D.C. Career Academy Network to high-quality internship providers (e.g., Urban Alliance and Genesys Works) to Talent Ready, a recent JPMC-sponsored effort that is building IT pathways from K-12 through postsecondary.

To get the pilot off the ground, Jennie Niles will establish a Steering Committee to set goals, determine key partners, and establish the scale and scope of the pilot. She will also set up a Working Group to design the program, develop training materials, and create school implementation plans.

Addressing intractable problems requires decision-makers to work together in new ways. For this effort to be successful, we know we will need FC2 Trustees to lead the way. Here are three concrete ways you can do that:

  1. Be a champion by serving on the Steering Committee and/or recruiting other employer partners.
  2. Hire apprentices by designating a point of contact at your firm to begin the conversation about which entry-level roles at your firm are “apprenticeable.”
  3. Provide additional work-based learning experiences for young people in D.C. through guest speaking, job shadowing, or internships, etc.