The Next Step in Reforming Workforce Development in the District of Columbia

By Brooke DeRenzis, DC Appleseed, and Ed Lazere, DC Fiscal Policy Institute


There is little doubt that the District’s leaders, especially Mayor Gray, are serious about helping residents get jobs, with an array of new initiatives that include a workforce intermediary and an independent community college. Yet the District’s largest workforce service—its network of “one-stop career centers”—is not living up to its potential. In a  policy brief issued today, we call on the District to strengthen these one-stop centers as the next step in reforming workforce development.

With over 84,000 visitors annually, D.C.’s one-stop centers should be a primary tool for solving the District’s unemployment crisis.  Yet job placement and retention rates at the city’s one-stops are low, services are inconsistent, and both jobseekers and employers say that they don’t feel particularly well served by D.C.’s one-stops. In fact, the District has no real standards to guide the activities of the one-stops or to measure their success.


The most effective one-stop centers across the nation help residents find the right job or training program and connect them to other services like child care that can help them get ready for work. They also help employers recruit skilled workers. These one-stops meet the needs of jobseekers and employers by analyzing information on the labor market and customers’ needs, using modern data and technology systems, and maintaining a focus on strong customer service.


We believe that the District can use a process known as “certification” to transform its one-stop centers into places where residents and businesses can count on getting the assistance they need. Federal law requires local workforce boards—in D.C.’s case, the Workforce Investment Council—to provide oversight of one-stop centers by certifying and monitoring them. The District has not done this, however, and the WIC is now leading an effort to certify D.C.’s one-stops under a requirement set by the U.S. Department of Labor.


The District should use certification to go beyond meeting minimal federal requirements to set clear standards for D.C.’s one stop centers, identify a path for improvement, and hold them accountable when they fail to meet basic standards or improvements.  This includes:

  • Articulating a clear mission and goals for what effective one-stop centers should do;


  • Adopting ambitious performance standards that drive D.C.’s one-stops to move to effective practices;


  • Evaluating D.C.’s existing one-stop centers using the new certification standards and provide technical assistance to help them meet new standards.


Just as importantly, the Mayor should make sure the Workforce Investment Council has the authority it needs to hold centers accountable if they do not make progress toward meeting certification standards. The Mayor can do this by giving the WIC authority over federal grant funds that support one-stop centers and ensuring it has capacity to monitor one-stops. If the WIC had a say over federal workforce funds, it could use them to drive improvement at D.C.’s one-stops. Some other cities tie one-stop funding to certification, performance outcomes, or improvement actions. The same could be true here.


You can find the DC Appleseed/DC Fiscal Policy Institute brief here.


Cross-posted at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute’s blog, The District’s Dime.

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