THE D.C. COUNCIL, which opens hearings today on Mayor Anthony A. Williams's Way to Work Amendment Act of 2005, is well positioned to address the city's high unemployment rate and the lack of job readiness among large numbers of its residents. Troubling statistics on the estrangement of many residents from the job market demand that legislators carefully examine the causes of joblessness and then fashion policies to address them. Unfortunately, the mayor's Way to Work initiative, with its emphasis on mandates and special levies on businesses, and the imposition of a living wage requirement on organizations with city contracts, will not solve the underlying problems of so many D.C. residents who, for reasons ranging from lack of education to deficient job and interpersonal skills, are unqualified to fill existing jobs.
We hope that council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5), who as chairman of the Government Operations Committee will preside over today's hearing, will look beyond the mayor's proposals to transfer funds from D.C. businesses to bureaucrats at the Department of Employment Services. He should instead delve into whether D.C. public school programs are preparing students for the types of opportunities that are available or are likely to become available in the city's private and public sectors. On this issue, Mr. Orange may wish to call as a witness Donald L. Hense, chairman of the successful Friendship Public Charter School. Recognizing the city's failure to develop school programs that address the job market, Friendship is seeking to establish a Career Academy for seventh- through 12th-graders that will provide the skills needed for jobs in the Washington region.
Mr. Orange may also wish to hear from the JOBS Coalition, which is working with the Sigal and Miller & Long construction companies to create an Academy of Construction and Design at Cardozo Senior High School to help students build marketable skills. The program will offer classes in the basics of construction, leading to advanced classes in carpentry; electrical work; and heating, ventilation and air conditioning.
Legislators should explore the willingness of the business community to help develop a strategic workforce development plan focused on the creation of public-private partnerships among government, businesses, public schools and universities to produce employable students. The D.C. Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Washington Board of Trade have indicated a willingness to work with the city to find remedies to the unacceptably high jobless rates in certain neighborhoods. The council, before rubber-stamping the mayor's proposal, should take the business community up on its offer. Cooperation trumps coercion when it comes to preparing job opportunities for residents who are unprepared and unemployed.
As for the mayor's proposed mandate that 51 percent of business hires be District residents, we wonder if and when that requirement will apply to the recruitment of top-level appointees by the Williams administration? Just asking.