Today, a coalition of workforce development experts has released a policy brief outlining plans to improve workforce development in the District of Columbia. The brief was developed as a joint project by the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development, DC Appleseed, the DC Employment Justice Center, the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, the DC Jobs Council, Greater Washington Research at Brookings, the Greater Washington Workforce Development Collaborative of The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, and Local Initiatives Support Corporation.

Key points from the policy brief:

  • More than 60,000 DC residents are essentially locked out of the City’s economy because they lack a high school diploma or its equivalent, and need to significantly increase their education, skills, and credentials in order to progress to the goal of a family-supporting job. A successful economic development strategy must incorporate a strong workforce development plan for bringing these residents into the District’s economy as full and successful participants. Investing strategically in these residents will have multiple benefits: the residents will be able to become more productive and acquire more valuable skills; businesses will have access to a greater local talent pool, and the net effect on the District economy will be positive. Research shows that these investments not only yield significant improvements in employment, earnings and contribution to the tax base, but also pay dividends in reductions in homelessness and dependence on public assistance, and in improved health of workers and their families and children’s educational success
  • Over the past several years, the District has brought a once-neglected workforce development system back into compliance with key federal and local standards. The Mayor and Council now have an important opportunity to build on that momentum to help the system evolve from one that is focused on basic compliance with state and federal regulations to one that is strategically optimized and focused on achieving key outcomes that will help more District residents achieve economic security.
  • There are enough elements in place to move our workforce development system to the next level, but doing so will require strong leadership from Mayor and Council to both retain the gains we’ve made and to take us forward. Now is the time to capitalize on the opportunities before us and create a career-pathways-driven system that meets the needs of all District residents and allows them to achieve genuine economic security. Establishing a strong culture of performance and accountability, and ensuring continued strong leadership capacity at the WIC are essential ingredients for success.

For funders:

Workforce development and adult literacy are a huge issue in the District, and funders should do more to support programs working on these issues. 60,000 adults in the District without a high school diploma are struggling to compete in a local economy that is increasingly inaccessible to lower-skilled workers. With government funding not able to address these needs, funders can do more to support programs that are helping low-income residents to build their skills and credentials.

  • Funders need to consider the linkage points between “education” and “workforce development.” Some of the best education and workforce training programs are those that can support learners along a career pathway, starting as early as middle school. Siloing funding helps to reinforce funding barriers within programs, making it harder for them to effectively support learners to progress along their educational pathway to a family-sustaining career. Funders can help by supporting innovative programs that foster linkages between the K-12, post-secondary, and workforce development systems.
  • Funders should help support advocacy and policy research organizations. With several local foundations winding down in the Greater Washington region, support for advocacy and policy organizations is under threat. Funding advocacy is a great way to leverage your philanthropic support to magnify impact.

Click here to read the full brief.