Testimony of Elissa Silverman Communications Director, At the DC Council Committee on Housing and Workforce Development Roundtable on the Workforce Intermediary Task Force Recommendations

Chairman Brown, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Elissa Silverman, and I work for the DC Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI). DCFPI engages in research and public education on the fiscal and economic health of the District of Columbia, with a particular emphasis on policies that impact low- and moderate-income residents.In December 2010, DCFPI’along with DC Appleseed and the DC Employment Justice Center’published a policy brief on workforce intermediaries and how such an entity could strengthen the link between economic development and jobs in the District. Last week, Mayor Gray announced that DC’s unemployment rate is continuing a downward trend, dropping to 9.5 percent in April. That’s good news. Still, that means that despite having a local and regional economy that is the envy of many other U.S. cities right now’with construction cranes dotting much of the city’s skyline’nearly one out of 10 District workers who are actively searching for full-time employment cannot get a job.

The addition of an intermediary to our city’s workforce development tool kit will not be a replacement or substitution for what we are already doing. It is an enhancement that I believe will make our other efforts stronger and more effective, particularly in the industry sectors the intermediary will focus on. I want to thank you, Chairman Brown, and your staff, as well as Mayor Gray and his administration, particularly Workforce Investment Council Executive Director Allison Gerber and DC Council Chairman Kwame Brown, for taking actions to eventually put a workforce intermediary into place in the District.

I like to think of the workforce intermediary much like a mortgage or stock broker: Successful job placement’and retention’is a complex transaction that requires positive coordination and understanding between many variables, including employers, prospective employees, and job training providers. As the task force report noted, the District has more than a dozen initiatives and programs focused on workforce development but almost all focus exclusively one part of the jobs transaction. The workforce intermediary, which has been a successful model in other cities, focuses on the entire equation, including how the variables interact.

As far as the specific recommendations of the task force, DCFPI agrees with the recommendation that at this stage the intermediary should be housed within the Workforce Investment Council, allowing our main workforce policy-making board to help set the direction. DCFPI also agrees with the strong focus on performance metrics and outcomes.

DCFPI agrees with the core activities of the intermediary. Both construction and hospitality offer opportunities for entry-level work, and as the intermediary moves forward, it would be good for the intermediary to focus on strategies to help our low-skill and long-term unemployed get jobs in these sectors. The intermediary has dual customers, both employers and prospective employees. For too long, employers were not an integrated part of the District’s workforce development efforts. The task force recommendations make clear that will no longer be the case. I do think there is room to strengthen the mission on the job-seeker side, focusing on how the District can successfully place residents with low skills and little experience into these sectors, as well as helping to remove barriers that might keep them from acquiring and retaining these jobs.

 This week, DCFPI released our quarterly analysis of unemployment figures. As Mayor Gray noted, unemployment overall is falling. Yet it is still on the rise in DC for young workers aged 16- to-24 and low-wage workers. I attach a copy of the report to my testimony. Once again, as the intermediary moves forward, I hope specific strategies will be put in place to address these groups of workers. For young workers, this might involve greater mentoring and apprenticeship efforts both in the construction and hospitality industries. For low-skill workers, this might involve coordination between employers, trainers and prospective employees on what skills are needed for what jobs, better assessment of prospective employee skills and charting a realistic and attainable path to job placement and building of a career ladder.