A key reason many D.C. residents fail to get or keep jobs isn’t a lack of technical skills, but a lack of “life skills,” says restaurant owner Andy Shallal.
“We rarely fire someone for not knowing how to do something,” says Mr. Shallal, owner of Busboys and Poets. “We’re seeing a lot of people coming through the door that don’t have the skills to even be able to interview.”
As the new head of a D.C. advisory panel on improving the city’s workforce, Mr. Shallal has met with business owners who have told him what they seek in new employees — and how local workers often fail to meet their needs.
“A lot of the business owners will tell you the first thing they look for are life skills,” he says. “If you have someone who isn’t going to show up on time, isn’t going to be dressed professionally and isn’t going to act professionally, their chances of succeeding aren’t that great.”
In a city with a 6.6 percent unemployment rate (the national rate is 5.5 percent), a 15 percent functional illiteracy rate and a 61.4 percent high school graduation rate, effective job training is a crucial element in enhancing residents’ lives, neighborhoods and places of business, he says. But job training programs in the District don’t address the needs of business owners and don’t serve the needs of job seekers.
That’s the starting point for Mr. Shallal and the District’s Workforce Investment Council (WIC).
A panel led by private-sector members, WIC advises city officials on how to develop and implement job training programs, among other things. The board’s members include local business leaders, government officials, organized labor and youth community groups.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser appointed Mr. Shallal as WIC’s director this month, following a Labor Department report saying the city isn’t effectively using federal funds for job training.
Unsuccessful training programs negatively affect not only businesses and communities but also the individuals who participate in them, Mr. Shallal says.
“When you’re putting someone through training and they finish training successfully but still can’t find a job, it’s quite demoralizing,” he says. “We have to ask ourselves how to find a way to align training with what businesses want. We have to figure out how we got to this point and how to actually get people hired.”
Under the federal Workforce Investment Act of 1998, the District and the states are required to submit to the Labor Department a five-year plan for dedicating resources for improving their workforce. WIC is responsible for crafting the District’s plan, which currently aims to create a network of services for businesses and job seekers, and provide support for job seekers.
As WIC’s new leader, Mr. Shallal is focusing on the plan’s goals for developing workforce skills and credentials for job seekers and ensuring that city businesses has well-trained workers who can succeed now and in the future. He has met with Labor Department officials to devise ideas and programs that address the specific needs of the District and its residents.
“There are lots of training programs that don’t have an understanding of the needs of businesses here,” he says.
Cutting the illiteracy rate could be a good first step, he adds.
Another problem is that a lot of residents don’t know that WIC job training programs are available, so he wants to do a better job of promoting them.
“A few years ago even I didn’t know these programs existed,” Mr. Shallal says.