New DC Blog Tells Story Of Unspent Adult Job Training Funds

Welcome to another new D.C. blog — this one launched by the DC Jobs Council. Some of you may already know the Council. For the rest who, like me, have only heard the name, it’s a broad-based coalition, sponsored by Wider Opportunities for Women, that advocates for an “efficient and effective city workforce system.”

The end goal the Council envisions is for “every District resident … [to] have the training and educational opportunities necessary to succeed in jobs that pay self-sufficiency wages and meet the skill needs of the region’s employers.”

Imagine what a change that would be. Today, we’re told, 72% of jobs in the District are held by non-residents. Various reasons for this, including the shortage of affordable housing and the dismal quality of most of our public schools.

But when we look at a fairly recent break-out of the D.C. employment rate, we see that perhaps the biggest reason is a long-standing mismatch between the demands of the local labor market and the qualifications of a large majority of low-income residents.

The District seems focused on two related aspects of the problem — the relative shortage of residents with postsecondary degrees and the quality of education future workers are getting in our public schools.

Education and training for youth who’ve dropped out of school and adults who don’t qualify for college, have the skills to do the work, can’t afford the costs or some combination of these has gotten short shrift.

One indicator is how the District allocates its own funds. The DC Fiscal Policy Institute’s report on the Fiscal Year 2011 budget for employment and training identifies spending for two adult job training programs, plus a line item for year-round youth employment training. These three together make up about 0.4% of the total local budget.

But I know the issue is more complicated than budget choices. I’m looking to the DC Jobs Council’s blog to help me understand.

Its first posting makes a strong start, with a “not very happy” story about $4.6 million in local funds for adult job training that have been sitting in a Department of Employment Services account for nearly two years.

These funds are supposed to support training to prepare adults with major barriers to gainful employment for career-ladder jobs in fields with high growth potential. Thus, aimed directly at alleviating chronic poverty by addressing the skills mismatch.

Joe Walsh, the Director of DOES, says the department’s been busy spending federal stimulus funds with an earlier expiration date. But he promised the Chairman of the Housing and Workforce Development Committee that he’d get the local funds spent by the end of this fiscal year.

Thus far, not even one request for proposal. And, of course, there’s a considerable time lag between issuing an RFP and getting funds out the door. Meanwhile, more than 50,000 underemployed and/or unemployed adults are denied opportunities to improve their situations. And the income taxes they’d pay are going to Maryland and Virginia.

The Jobs Council warns that the unspent funds are likely to disappear or be diverted to some other priority. That’s a fair bet, especially in these revenue-strapped times.

The Council asks what we think it should do next. Damned if I know. If you’ve got an idea, add a comment on its story. You’ll need to register to do this, but it’s quick and easy, even for non-techies like me.

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