D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser announced the appointment of Odie Donald II as executive director of the D.C. Workforce Investment Council on Jan. 20, where he will oversee the District’s effort to comply with federal regulations under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.
The WIOA, which was signed by President Barack Obama in July 2014 and enjoyed bipartisan Congressional support, is designed to aid employment seekers through increased access to education, training and support services.
The move comes as part of a larger push from the Bowser administration to improve economic opportunity for the District’s residents. Deputy Mayor for Greater Economic Opportunity Courtney R. Snowden acknowledged the District’s poor track record in this regard.
“For too long our government has failed to effectively serve residents in overlooked and underserved communities,” Snowden wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Donald is Bowser’s second major addition in recent months to the WIC, following the appointment of local restaurant chain Busboys and Poets owner Andy Shallal to chair of the Council in December.
Snowden spoke positively of Donald’s past work experience in Atlanta, Ga., which most recently includes a position as the WIOA services director in the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
“In Atlanta, he was responsible for creating positive change quickly in the city’s workforce system, and I fully expect he will do the same for the District of Columbia,” Snowden wrote.
Donald stressed that the WIC’s purpose is to centralize all workforce development resources available in the District to ensure its compliance with WIOA and other laws.
“What I hope to accomplish is ensuring that there is a workforce system in place that allows businesses and job-seekers to connect with each other as easily as possible, help to improve the growing economy here in the District and ensure that there are more jobs available for more of the District residents and that it’s easy for them to obtain those jobs,” Donald said.
Donald added that he saw potential challenges as opportunities for an expansion of services and programs in the workforce.
“The contribution of WIOA, it kind of requires added accountability and oversight for local systems and state boards like the WIC,” Donald said. “But at the same time, it kind of allows for a lot more flexibility in the delivery of services, and gives us some real opportunities to create some impactful state-level programs and increase accessibility to the workforce system.”
However, Director of the Center on Education and the Workforce at the McCourt School of Public Policy Anthony Carnevale said he is not optimistic about the future of workforce development in the District.
“What you have here is a very rich community and a rich metro area and so politicians are more about chasing businesses,” Carnevale said. “The development opportunities are what get talked about among D.C. leaders, not jobs for the kids who were raised here.”
Snowden disputed this characterization, arguing the Bowser administration has not forgotten about D.C. residents, as was evidenced in the creation of the office of the deputy mayor for greater economic opportunity.
“In creating the DMGEO office, Mayor Bowser made it clear that supporting the needs of our workforce is a top priority of her administration,” Snowden wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I disagree with Dr. Carnevale’s premise. Major business or development projects and workforce improvements are not mutually exclusive.”
Carnevale also criticized the lack of information about job opportunities available to those entering the workforce in D.C., noting that in Virginia and Maryland it is possible to look up any job-training or education program and see where it led its graduates, but is not possible in D.C.
“The trouble with D.C. is they have the information necessary to help people looking for work and to guide people through school and college who want to understand the career pathways that are implicit in their college majors and the like, but D.C. has never made that information available,” Carnevale said. “And essentially, what you have in D.C. is, there are a set of data warlords who are halfway down the hierarchy in the D.C. government, who won’t let go of the data, and you have no leadership at the top that is interested in modernizing the information system itself.”
Carnevale said he is not confident Donald will be able to change this because of the political factors influencing the availability of job information to District residents.
“I think there are political reasons why people don’t want to know what happens to kids who grow up in D.C., because, at the present, not much good does happen to a lot of them,” Carnevale said. “That would put additional pressure on elected officials to be more effective, and elected officials never want that.”
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