Jaffe: New council member wants to put the District to work

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Photo - Phil Mendelson, who now chairs the D.C. City Council. In Washington, DC on Monday February 28, 2011. (Andrew Harnik/Examiner)
Phil Mendelson, who now chairs the D.C. City Council. In Washington, DC on Monday February 28, 2011. (Andrew Harnik/Examiner)
Local,DC,Harry Jaffe

D.C. Councilman Kenyan McDuffie's father was an electrician. His mother was a library technician. He grew up in the Stronghold neighborhood in Northeast, near the McMillan Reservoir. McDuffie still lives there with his wife and children. So he knows about stability and family and work.

Starting out his first full session, McDuffie wants to work on work -- in particular, getting D.C. residents off the unemployment lines and back on the job. He questions whether the city has been doing a decent job of preparing residents for work.

"We know we spend millions of dollars a year on workforce development training," he says. "What we don't know is what the city gets for its investment. How many people actually get jobs based on the training? What kind of jobs do they get? How much money do they make? How long do they stay on the job?"

McDuffie, 36, will get his chance starting this month when he takes over the Committee on Jobs and Workforce Development. For my money, the two most important aspects of D.C. that will keep moving the city forward are education and job training. It can be said they are one and the same. Train a kid to read, write, add and prepare for gainful employment, and you can solve problems of poverty, health, homelessness and such.

We have plenty of jobs.

"Especially in construction and hospitality," McDuffie says. He was taking a break Tuesday from working with his Ward 5 constituents, whose homes flood every time it rains hard.

"It wasn't too bad this time," he says.

But it's bad for folks in his ward who can't find jobs.

"I can look out the window and see so many cranes," he says. "We have to make sure D.C. residents are trained to compete for those construction jobs."

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there were 13,800 construction jobs in D.C. in July. That's up 1,500 over July 2011. That number is sure to increase. D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton keeps track of every federal project in her efforts to employ D.C. residents. Her count on those projects is about 4,000, and it will grow.

New hotels are going up by the convention center, along the Southeast waterfront, in the West End. They will need thousands of workers. But will D.C. residents be ready?

In his first oversight hearings scheduled for later this month, McDuffie plans to examine the summer youth program. Did kids show up for jobs, get paid, come away with worthwhile experience? Then he hopes to turn his attention to public schools.

"How many public school students who go through training programs at Phelps, Cardozo and McKinley get jobs in the fields where they trained? What does the data say?"

Good questions, and it's about time someone with roots and experience in the streets of D.C. is doing the asking. We need answers, because they will lead to jobs.

Harry Jaffe's column appears on Wednesday. He can be contacted at hjaffe@washingtonexaminer.com.

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