D.C. Job Training Services Faulted
By Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 20, 2004; Page B04
Unemployed District residents who seek help from the city's "One-Stop" Career Centers find few opportunities for job training or placement in high-wage occupations, according to a report released yesterday by the advocacy group Wider Opportunities for Women.
Caseworkers frequently keep clients waiting for hours or repeatedly cancel appointments, the report says. And many people who ask about training opportunities for higher-skilled jobs are instead urged to find another job, researchers said, even if the pay would be too low for them to be economically self-sufficient.
The report was sharply disputed by the D.C. Department of Employment Services, which runs the one-stop centers, and the city's Workforce Investment Council, a federally mandated group that oversees Department of Labor spending on job training and placement.
The report, which was based on data from 2000 to 2003, contends that too few caseworkers and career center staff members speak Spanish and that the centers rarely refer clients needing subsidized transportation or child care to those services. It says that other city entities -- public schools, for example -- must take steps to strengthen the District's workforce.
As the federal government cuts workforce spending, the report says, city economic development officials should require developers who are building in the city to pay for job training programs -- especially in such fields as construction and hospital work, where it says well-paid jobs are plentiful.
"We're talking about a workforce system that's failing in many ways," said Joan Kuriansky, executive director of Wider Opportunities for Women. "The one-stop centers are the fulcrum of it, but not the only piece."
Keith Mitchell, executive director of the workforce investment council, said the report wrongly faults the D.C. government for not always reaching 100 percent of the targets it negotiated with the Department of Labor for how many unemployed workers it trains, how many find jobs and how many keep those jobs for at least six months. The federal government requires localities to reach at least 80 percent of those targets, Mitchell said. The District has exceeded that requirement and ranks near the top of the mid-Atlantic region.
"Yes, it could improve. It needs to improve," Mitchell said of service at the one-stop centers. But he added that the report makes "allegations that are kind of misleading." In an e-mail to Kuriansky, he accused her group of trying to "tear down" the system for the purpose of "building up its own personal agenda."
Gregory P. Irish, director of the Department of Employment Services, said Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) is considering legislation that would mandate contributions from developers to create a job-training fund.
Daryl Hardy, who oversees the city's three full-service and four satellite one-stop centers, said the agency has cleared up its appointment backlogs and has Spanish-speaking staff where the clientele requires it.
Hardy said that many who seek help do not qualify for programs that would train them for high-wage jobs because they lack basic literacy and life skills. Others, he said, do not want to enroll in job training because they want to quickly be back on the payroll.
But D.C. Council member David A. Catania (R-At Large), who has held hearings on the one-stop centers as chairman of the Public Services Committee, said people who have recently lost their jobs could enter training programs while receiving unemployment benefits if the centers processed their paperwork quicker.
The report says that one woman who asked about training programs was instead mailed a list of 100 potential employers -- many of which were out of business.
Contina D. Holmes, 31, told reporters at a news conference organized by the advocacy group that she had trouble reaching her caseworker, whose voice mailbox was frequently full, and that the caseworker often missed appointments.
The report also questions why three of the dozens of training providers seem to get a disproportionate share of those one-stop clients who end up in training. Hardy said that one-stop clients choose their own training programs and are not directed there by caseworkers.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company