First Source: A Vital First Step to Linking Public Investment to More Jobs For DC Residents
Getting DC residents back to work is at the top of Mayor Vince Gray’s agenda. One of the first actions he has promised to take is to beef up compliance with the city’s First Source law, which is intended to help DC residents get jobs created by publicly funded projects.
That’s good news, because First Source has a lot of potential, but it has not been used effectively in the District. DCFPI, along with DC Appleseed and the DC Employment Justice Center, laid out a number of recommendations for strengthening First Source in a recent paper. In particular, we call for creating a new system to assess the employment needs of businesses and then to steer training and placement services to match those needs. This, we believe, will be good for both employers and residents, and will make the most of our economic investments.
First, a little First Source background: Adopted in 1984, DC’s First Source law requires contractors doing work for the city and those receiving financial assistance from the District to make a “good faith effort” to hire DC residents for at least 51 percent of new jobs created. Unfortunately, the law has not been emphasized or enforced, and both employers and residents complain that First Source does not meet their needs. A recent DC Auditor’s report found that not some government-assisted projects and contracts did not even have First Source hiring agreements in place, and that the main system of identifying workers for First Source jobs — a registry of unemployed and underemployed residents maintained by the city — is not an effective tool in matching workers to jobs.
Other cities with more successful first source programs have found that connecting employers with those looking for work takes a number of steps. These cities, which include San Francisco, Boston and Minneapolis, have taken a more proactive approach in recruiting, training, and placing residents for jobs in order to meet the needs of both residents and employers.
As detailed in our paper, we suggest Mayor Gray create a First Source broker, which would provide a stronger linkage between future jobs and the skill set of the city’s workforce. Known in some cities as a “workforce intermediary,” the First Source broker would work with employers to anticipate future hiring needs, and then coordinate with nonprofit trainers and community colleges to train residents for the jobs that will be available. A broker focused specifically on aligning the needs of First Source employers with training programs would complement, not replace, the work of the District’s existing workforce organizations, including the Workforce Investment Council.
Without a more proactive approach to matching the needs of First Source employers with job training programs, the District will continue to fall short of meeting its hiring goals.