- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Mayor Vincent C. Gray touted his signature job program on Wednesday by meeting with D.C. residents vying for Metro bus driver positions, an event that highlighted the “extremely low” number of city residents working at the transit agency.

Metro officials revealed that only 14 percent of the system’s employees are D.C. residents. However, the agency recently signed on to the mayor’s One City-One Hire program that connects employers with job-seekers’ skill sets.

The effort, announced in early September, is based on a pilot program in Atlanta and asks employers in the capital region to hire at least one D.C. resident. The goal is to put 10,000 D.C. residents to work in one year.

So far, officials said the program has enlisted 172 employers and helped 335 residents find jobs.

Jack Requa, assistant manager for Metro bus services, initially reported that D.C. residents accounted for “4 to 5 percent” of the transit system’s workforce - a figure that seemed to catch off-guard those gathered for the mayor’s weekly press briefing, held at the Department of Employment Services on Minnesota Avenue in Northeast.

Metro officials later amended the figure, but a mayor’s spokesman said the percentage still falls short of goals.

“It is very, very low,” Mr. Gray said at the briefing. “So we’re going to try to work to improve that outcome.”

Metro tested 26 pre-screened applicants at DOES for the bus driver positions, which offers minimum pay of $20-per-hour with benefits, the mayor said.

Mr. Gray called One City-One Hire a “cornerstone in our effort to put people back to work,” as officials try to stem unemployment rates that reach well into the double-digits in eastern wards of the District.

Shortly after the program’s launch, business leaders said they are unable to create jobs to promote the program. Mr. Gray clarified that he does not expect businesses to create positions - a departure from the Atlanta program’s goal - but he would like public and private employers to fill their vacancies with D.C. residents.

The mayor, whose program includes providing tax incentives to employers to hire city residents, also won praise for using the bully pulpit to tout an array of incentives DOES offers to businesses for hiring city residents.

DOES Director Lisa Mallory said the program is key because it calls certain employers’ attention to the agency’s database of unemployed residents and their particular skills.

Officials said the program highlights a “new DOES” that handpicks applicants for particular jobs. In the past, the agency tended to send a large list of names to an employer, regardless of their relevancy to the positions, officials said.

For employers, the program offers a more direct route to D.C. residents than help-wanted signs or other advertising, according to Ms. Mallory.

“They’re oblivious to that, but we’re not,” she said.

Mr. Gray has used recent public events to promote One City-One Hire, including a press briefing at Ross Dress for Less on Benning Road, which hired more than 60 city residents, and a hiring event at 7-Eleven, which took on 26 employees for its stores.

Mr. Gray said the additions show “growing confidence in the government to be a real partner in this.”

“While it’s very difficult for the government to create jobs, and obviously to hire people in this economy, what we can be is an effective bridge to the other side,” he said.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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