Skip to content

Employment, Collaborations and Elections … Oh My!

By Rev. Stephen E. Tucker

Much of the country is poised to see who will nab the Democratic and Republican nominations for president. The JOBS Coalition, too, is keeping close watch. And while the candidates volley on everything from foreign policy and health care to immigration and gun control, we are focused on an issue that has significant impact across the labor force.

Employment. It’s the single issue that has widespread impact on individuals and families, regardless of class, race or age. But it’s the chronically unemployed, underemployed, underserved and returning ex-offenders who face some of the most difficult challenges when it comes to finding and maintaining employment. Therefore, it’s vital for local governments across D.C., Maryland and Virginia to collaborate so there is synergy between jurisdictions when it comes to workforce development. The JOBS Coalition is anxiously waiting for the finger-pointing among the presidential contenders to stop so the spotlight can be trained on issues that matter, and we hope employment gains traction and rises to the top.

While looking forward, we must also reflect on our past year’s accomplishments. In 2015, the JOBS Coalition continued to keep the future of our youth a priority. We supported the re-launch of the Academy of Construction & Design at IDEA Public Charter School, located in the Deanwood neighborhood of Northeast Washington, D.C. The move provides even more op- portunities for students to participate in hands-on projects, and we’re excited about working with a supportive staff that’s equally enthusiastic about this fresh approach to learning. As part of the D.C. Students Construction Trades Foundation, the JOBS Coalition worked hard to expand the ACAD program so more students would have access to alternatives to traditional education. At IDEA, students are already exposed to learning architecture – and we welcome that addition to the Academy. Putting greater resources towards the futures of our children will result in increased workforce opportunities for our youth long term.

Also, we remained – and will continue to be in 2016 – tireless advocates for successful re-entry of the formerly incarcerated. We will be reviving the ex-offender forums to be more inclusive, with representatives from across the District and surrounding areas.

Last year’s release of more than 6,000 federal prisoners (the biggest one-time mass release of U.S. inmates on record), brings increased attention to the lives of formerly incarcerated men and women. The Justice Department’s decision to cut harsh drug sentences over the past three decades to reduce overcrowding has helped fuel the conversation on criminal justice, arguably putting pressure on government, businesses and communities to provide both job training and jobs for returning citizens. We need to strengthen re-entry strategies for those returning home to their communities and families so they too have a chance to live productive lives while contributing to the local economy.

As part of our mission, we bring together faith-based partners, construction industry leaders and community-based organizations to address core issues like workforce development. Ultimately, our goal is to move towards solutions. The JOBS Coalition sees the MGM National Harbor resort casino project as such an opportunity. I’ve spoken with Logan Gaskill, vice president of Human Resources for MGM National Harbor, and he’s open to coming into our communities to talk about filling the 3,600 positions created by the project. Also, we’ve talked with the People for Change Coalition – a group representing nonprofits and minority businesses across the Washington, D.C.-area, Baltimore, and Prince George’s, Montgomery, Anne Arundel and Charles counties – and they have expressed strong interest in bringing the Academy to Prince George’s County.

The JOBS Coalition is in a unique position to broker such conversations, and we are anxious to be a catalyst for change.

We intend to meet with as many D.C. Council members this year as possible, including David Grosso (I-At Large), chair of the Committee on Education, to articulate our goals. And, we look forward to building a relationship with the D.C. Workforce Investment Council.

We must continue in 2016 to keep our government officials sensitive to these issues to keep the momentum going on the work we have done, and work that we will do in the coming year.