Only a handful of the drivers trained through D.C.'s commercial driver's license job training program last year actually got hired by WMATA.
As D.C. tries to tackle unemployment, the D.C. Department of Employment Services is making major changes to the city's job training program. There have been serious questions about the outside groups tapped to help unemployed residents find work, and as it turns out, the city has also struggled to make sure it is training people for the right jobs.
Until recently, the District's job training program seemed to offer a little bit of everything: hairstyling to holistic medicine, loan processing to paralegal work. But the U.S. Department of Labor, which funds the District's individual job training program, requires that D.C. and other states train people in high-growth, high-demand industries.
Lisa Mallory, D.C.'s Director of Employment Services, says the District will now be following those guidelines closely. "You can't just take anything that you have an interest in," says Mallory. "There has to be a job at the end of the process."
In terms of job training contracts and dollars, no one may have benefitted more over the years than the outside companies that offer training for commercial drivers licenses (CDLs), city records show. During the last program year, nearly 50 firms competed for contracts worth $3.8 million for individual training accounts (ITAs); three firms offering CDL training were awarded nearly $800,000 of that.
But D.C. will no longer be paying for these services, Mallory says, because they haven't shown a good track record of getting people hired. The numbers from Metro or WMATA tell the story.
"The big employer with CDL in the District of Columbia is WMATA," says Mallory. "We were sending 4,000 people in a year last year to WMATA. 90 got hired." That means just 2 percent of D.C. residents made the cut.
"There is a problem with offering CDL to anybody," she says. "If you don't have a clean driver's record, or even a record, or you’re not clean, in terms of being able to pass the drug test, you're not gonna be able to be successful in that area."
Some job training participants have unfairly gamed D.C.'s system as well, Mallory adds. She discovered some people with bachelor's and master's degrees using the program to stack up advanced management certificates, all on the city's dime.
“If you have those kinds of degrees, and you're just trying to augment your portfolio, your resume, I mean that would be great for all of us, but what about the people that need GED training?" she says. "Shouldn't that be the focus, the individuals that have absolutely nothing?"
As part of D.C.'s strict, new guidelines, the list of approved job training vendors has been cut in half, and the city says it will do a better job of pre-screening candidates. In addition, for the first time ever, the District will ask for a refund when a person drops out.