Testimony of Elissa Silverman, Communications Director, At the DC Council Joint Roundtable on the Progress of the Workforce Investment Council DC Council Committee on Workforce Development and DC Council Committee on Housing Economic Development

Chairman Brown and Chairman McDuffie, thank you both 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.

That is why I am happy to be here to speak about the progress of the Workforce Investment Council. First’and I think this is no small accomplishment’the District now has a fully constituted Workforce Investment Council (WIC) as is mandated by the federal Workforce Investment Act. The WIC is staffed, has been meeting regularly, and is developing a strategic vision for how we put our residents to work and keep them employed, how we help our businesses thrive by providing them with well-trained workers and resources, and how we all work together to make this sustainable and make our local economy the envy of cities across the country. Given that this was not the case for several years, I think this is a major accomplishment that should be recognized and I want to thank Mayor Gray for his leadership on this, key members of the Mayor’s cabinet including Deputy Mayor Victor Hoskins and Department of Employment Services Director Lisa Mallory, as well as you, Chairman Brown, and your staff, for reviving this public-private entity that I think is vital to the health and welfare of our city.Over the last year’in concert with the executive and legislative branches of DC government’WIC Executive Director Allison Gerber has laid a good foundation for the work ahead. My observation from attending WIC meetings and speaking with a few members is that she has given WIC members a clear mission and focus, she has hired qualified staff to provide the research and education needed to fulfill that mission, and she has worked collaboratively with the U.S. Department of Labor to move us toward compliance with federal laws. Again, this is no small feat. 

So where do we go from here? Again, I am happy to say that another major accomplishment of the WIC in the past year was to put together a five-year strategic plan that gives all of us a framework to think about how to maximize our city’s sizable competitive advantages as well as how to bolster areas where we have not been so strong. DCFPI is eager to be a partner with the WIC on these goals. I’d like to speak about our aspirations for the WIC and DC’s efforts in workforce development within this framework:

First, improving and integrating programs and systems to create a more streamlined and seamless network of services for job seekers and businesses. At the beginning of this year, DCFPI’as a result of a grant from the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region’released what we called a resource map of workforce development programs in DC. The map comprised more than a dozen city agencies which do some type of workforce development. When I presented the map to WIC members, several expressed surprise at how many agencies provide services and asked how these agencies can work better together and maximize our resources to move our city forward. I think these are good questions, and though I know the WIC is charged with oversight over federal funds, I think we need to look at how we use federal funds to maximize our local funds.

One stat in the map was participants, and by far the biggest workforce development program is our one-stop centers. DCFPI is happy to see that one of the strategic goals is to improve the services at our one-stops, and we are lending our research expertise to this. Once again, with funding from the Community Foundation, DCFPI has partnered with DC Appleseed to write a policy brief on how DC can put a certification process in place for our one-stop centers. A certification process is part of federal WIA law, but the District has not had one yet. A certification process can help standardize operations at one-stops to guarantee that residents and businesses get a consistent level of service no matter if they go to the Reeves Center or Minnesota Avenue or Bertie Backus, three of our one-stop locations.DCFPI believes another key part of integrating systems is taking innovative approaches to job matching, and we are excited that the WIC is working toward putting a workforce intermediary into place in DC. DCFPI was the co-author of a policy brief in 2011, along with DC Appleseed and the DC Employment Justice Center, on examples of how a workforce intermediary can work and has worked in other cities. The WIC convened a task force that issued recommendations on implementation, funding is set for fiscal year 2013, and my understanding is the WIC is hiring an intermediary director. We hope that will happen soon. Innovation has been a key driver for DC in other areas of economic development, such as planning and transportation, and DCFPI believes the workforce intermediary could have a similar return on investment.

Another goal for the upcoming year is ensuring District businesses can access a skilled workforce to meet current and future needs. In doing our research on one-stop best practices, I’ve found that other cities and states have struggled with how to provide business services at one-stop centers. My observation is that this has been a weakness for us too, in that one-stops have focused on job-seekers but of course you can’t get a job without a business or non-profit to hire you. Again, I think that the workforce intermediary can also be helpful in fulfilling this goal, by matching employers with trainers who can provide the skills necessary for the workforce that is needed.A third goal is promoting the development of workforce skills and credentials to train DC residents for jobs that are available now and will be into the future. As I mentioned earlier, our one-stop centers are the major entry point for our job seekers. Working on providing better assessments of skills and connecting job seekers with training either through intensive services at one-stop centers, individual training accounts focused on training for specific skills and using our growing community college and its workforce development programs will be key.

 Finally, the WIC has a goal of providing supports for job seekers to help them be able to stay focused on getting a job and keeping it. Again, from our map, the largest expenditure of adult local money in workforce development is on TEP, the Transitional Employment Program, formerly and sometimes still referred to as Project Employment. Once again, DCFPI is a willing partner with the WIC to help figure out what might be the best practices on subsidized employment. We are embarking on research to look at subsidized employment and we will have a policy brief completed next year.