With the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, billions of dollars have begun flowing into cities across the country to expand and improve their infrastructure. This historic investment will create an influx of new high-quality infrastructure jobs. However, NLC research shows that across the country infrastructure jobs are harder to fill, with postings for infrastructure jobs on average staying open 4 days longer than those for other industries. Encouragingly, 60% of infrastructure jobs require 6 months of training or less, meaning that these jobs can provide a fast on-ramp to well-paying and stable careers for millions of workers. With the DC Infrastructure Academy (DCIA), the District of Columbia (DC) has provided such new opportunities to 2,700 residents in just four years.
Created in March of 2018 by Mayor Muriel Bowser, DCIA is training residents from marginalized backgrounds in the skills needed to obtain high-quality infrastructure jobs. DCIA works with local employers to co-develop and provide rapid training programs which allow district residents to gain the skills and certifications required for infrastructure jobs in just 6 months. Partnerships with employers like Pepco, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), and Washington Gas, ensure that the training is relevant to the unique needs of each employer, and that residents can make a smooth transition to employment upon graduation. By bringing in employers to co-design and deliver the training, DCIA allows students to develop relationships with employers throughout their program, further increasing their likelihood of receiving a job offer upon graduation. In addition to co-designing the training, DCIA requires that participating employers hire a percentage of graduating students and hosts a hiring fair before graduation to facilitate job placement. Aaron Sisko, Senior Program & Operations Manager at DCIA, described DCIA’s partnership with employers as mutually beneficial – allowing employers to have a consistent pool of workers who can hit the ground running, while breaking the cycle for students of “having to know someone” at a company to “get a good job.”
DCIA has had a significant impact in the community in a short time – growing more than 100% in 4 years and receiving special recognition from DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and the White House. DCIA has a 96% graduation rate, with students of the program attributing its success to DCIA’s holistic approach to workforce development. To reduce financial barriers to participation, the program is free for district residents, and students receive cash stipends to help pay for basic expenses. DCIA even has a dedicated staff member focused on student outreach, retention, and wraparound support services. While some more specialized programs require students to pass a test before acceptance, those students who do not pass are tutored in order to boost their test scores and gain acceptance into the program. “It is not just about getting people into programs” states Sisko, “it is about the commitment of partners to the students’ success.”
During a recent discussion with municipal leaders engaged in NLC’s Youth Excel initiative, which is focused on strengthening STEM career pathways for marginalized young people, many students at DCIA shared that they had not considered a career in infrastructure before learning about the program. To reach these types of students, DCIA uses a range of innovative outreach strategies. “It’s better to meet people where they are,” stated Sisko, who often approaches the family members of students at graduation, asking them if they know anyone who might want to join the program. One student shared that she learned about DCIA through a bumper sticker, while another said her friend told her about the program after DCIA students installed solar panels on her house. This word-of-mouth referral system and other alternative methods have allowed DCIA to reach populations who might not otherwise go looking for the program, but who benefit greatly from it.
DCIA represents a powerful example of how employers and municipalities can work together to grow the local workforce. By providing holistic support services and accessible, fast-paced programs, DCIA is able to provide marginalized populations with on-ramps to high-quality jobs in in-demand sectors. The strong partnership between DCIA and employers ensures that programs are tailored to the needs of local industries while giving employers access to a workforce already trained in the skills needed to fill their growing job openings. As cities continue to invest in major infrastructure projects using new federal funds, they can look to programs like DCIA to understand the power of employer-city partnerships in developing a workforce ready to take advantage of these new opportunities.