D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser on Wednesday appointed a new executive director to the city’s Workforce Investment Council, filling a position left without a permanent head for about a year and meeting a key condition set by the U.S. Labor Department to get the District’s troubled workforce development effort back on track.
Odie Donald II will head the staff of the council, which is tasked with ensuring the effective spending of federal grant money through employment and job-training programs.
Job training advocates say the timing is critical. The District has failed in recent years to spend tens of millions of dollars on job-training programs, and the city is the only jurisdiction in the country that the Labor Department labels a “high-risk” partner for employment and job-training programs.
Donald also takes the helm of a body that has until March 3 to come up with a comprehensive plan to redesign the District’s workforce development system in compliance with a new federal workforce law, called the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).
Donald, who served previously as the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Services director at the Georgia Department of Economic Development, said that his foremost task will be to ensure the District’s compliance with the new federal law but that he might also support the expansion of on-the-job training programs that he said had been successful in Georgia.
“Probably more than anything there are some opportunities for some compliance oversight,” he said.
Amy Dudas, a policy analyst at the D.C. Alliance of Youth Advocates, said Donald’s experience seemed “promising.”
Dudas was among several advocates for the city’s unemployed and underemployed who testified at a D.C. Council hearing last week, stressing the need to develop a better structure for job training in the city.
“The biggest issue in D.C. is that we have 8,300 youths who are disconnected youths — they are not in school or in programs,” Dudas said Wednesday. “WIOA programs under this new structure are supposed to specifically serve and target these young people.”
Workforce advocates also hope new leadership could improve the city’s poor spending practices, which have caused some programs to falter. Of $12 million allocated for job training in the city last year, the District spent $3.8 million, according to the D.C. Department of Employment Services, despite what advocates say is a growing need for job training.
At Georgia’s Department of Economic Development, Donald oversaw the administration of more than $90 million in federal grant money, Bowser’s office said Wednesday.
Bowser said Donald is well suited “to help reform the District of Columbia’s workforce training program.”
“Odie is a proven leader with more than 10 years of experience planning and implementing effective programs to put residents to work,” she said in a news release.
Last month, Bowser named Andy Shallal, the owner of the local Busboys and Poets restaurant chain and a former political rival, to chair the Workforce Investment Council’s board.