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AWC Offers Plan for Job-Training Program

Unemployed D.C. residents may get a bit of help from the Anacostia Waterfront Corp., which presented plans Wednesday to jump-start a program that would train workers for jobs at development projects along the Anacostia River.

The quasi-government agency already requires developers to fill 51 percent of its work force on new projects with D.C. residents — 20 percent of whom must live in Ward 8. But it’s a hard condition to meet: Workers often are either unprepared or untrained for the position.

So the agency, which oversees development along the Anacostia River, is now screening applications for a “work force intermediary,” an organization that would help unemployed residents get — and keep — a job.

“We view this as our core mission,” said AWC board member Joslyn Williams. But he said the plans were “a work in progress.”

AWC officials say there will be plenty of job opportunities once development projects are up and running, with 10,000 jobs opening up in the next five years. Those mostly will be construction and environmental cleanup jobs, with retail and banking positions further in the future.

But often, job availability doesn’t mean more employed D.C. residents. And at a recent meeting of the D.C. Council’s Committee on Economic Development — a precursor to hearings about a bill that would eliminate the AWC — council members stressed that local job creation was a main goal for revitalization.

The intermediary would be the push behind the D.C. work force, helping smooth residents’ paths to a job. The goal is to connect employers with workers so they aren’t “ships that pass in the night,” said Karen Hardwick, AWC executive vice president and general counsel.

At the public meeting Wednesday, some residents questioned whether the agency was unnecessarily replicating the work of existing organizations, such as the Department of Employment Services.

“We don’t have time to reinvent the wheel. I would ask the AWC to look to existing resources,” said Mary Williams, a Southwest resident and former Advisory Neighborhood commissioner. She also questioned whether such feats were possible at all, saying, “We can give them a job, but we can’t make them work.”

But AWC Executive Vice President Skip McCoy countered that the program would offer something different: actual training.

“So many of the people they get in DOES are not job ready,” he said. “If we can do a stellar job … there will be plenty of opportunities not to duplicate.”

The program will work to keep participants in the “flow” of employment. Starting with recruitment, it will work through six steps, including skills assessment, job readiness, basic skills training, job placement and job retention. Each participant will have a coach, who will work with employers to ensure a smooth transition.

The idea is still being created. Developers will pick up the startup bill, but eventually the work force intermediary will have to be self-sufficient, McCoy said. How that will play out is yet to be determined.

Ten organizations applied to be the intermediary, and the AWC selected four to submit a full-blown proposal. In the running for the contract are Living Classrooms of the National Capital Region, Jobs Coalition, ARCH and Marshall Heights Community Development Organization. The AWC plans to make the selection by June.

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