Speaking at the grand opening of the newly redesigned American Job Center Headquarters (AJC HQ) at 4058 Minnesota Ave. NE, Director of Department of Employment Services (DOES) Odie Donald II said, “What this symbolizes, that our focus is in the right place and we’re making sure that everybody has the same access to services.”
On Wednesday, Oct. 18, Mayor Muriel Bowser joined DOES Director Donald and Deputy Mayor for Greater Economic Opportunity (DMGEO) Courtney Snowden to unveil the newly redesigned center together with the agency’s new seven-point Customer Bill of Rights.
The AJC HQ includes state-of-the-art equipment such as an automated ticketing reservation system, new assistive technology for residents with special needs, and expanded services for older youth. It also houses representatives from the Office of Youth Programs, the Office of Unemployment Insurance, and the Office of Wage-Hour Compliance.
Donald noted that although all District job centers are to be modernized, DOES wanted to start where the majority of their customers were, adding that 60 percent of the customers served by DOES live east of the river.
“I’ll tell you, our focus has always been on the hardest to serve,” said Donald. “The pathway to the middle class, it’s not just a slogan. It’s really what our focus is.”
The restructured job center and the bill of rights are the result of extensive community outreach in an effort to create a streamlined, user-friendly experience for those seeking employment and training services.
Deputy Mayor Snowden said that the effort on meeting the needs of customers came directly from clients, noting that more than two dozen public meetings had taken place to get feedback about what customers needed and expected from the agency. “One young woman sat with us and talked with us very clearly about what the failures of our customer service delivery had been,” Snowden said. “She came to us looking for help in not yet dire straits, and left us in far worse shape than she came. We talked with her, we sat with her even more – the director, in fact, hired her – and she helped us to think through how to improve the quality of customer service for every single person who walked through the DOES AJC doors.”
Donald said that the agency is working harder to meet the needs of residents, emphasizing the seven-point Customer Bill of Rights. In an interview after the ceremony, he said the bill of rights came from a variety of interviews, surveys, meetings, and conversations with both DOES customers and internal staff. “So those seven pillars really express what the district residents want in their services. As the agency leader, it’s my responsibility to carry out the mayor’s vision and that we do our part,” he said.
At the event, Bowser said that her vision was for all of the DOES job centers to be first-stop resources rather than last resorts. “These are centers where people, all of our residents, should think of as a place to get back into the job market, to change their trajectory, to retrain and to take advantage of all of the opportunities that is Washington DC,” she said.
Listing the programs in place to help people meet employment goals, including the Quick Path to Interview Program; the DC Infrastructure Academy; Learn, Earn, Advance, Prosper (LEAP); Career Connections and Aspire, Bowser said DOES programs would help ensure that residents can take part in the quality of life available in the District.
After the ceremony, where she was presented with a DOES blazer, Bowser went through a tour of the center. She moved through the space like a client seeking employment or education assistance.
DC DOES has worked to improve its service and image over the past five years. In 2012, the US Department of Labor designated the District a “high risk” partner after judging employment programs inadequate and finding that the District did not meet annual enrollment targets in placing youth in jobs or in employment readiness education. The designation was lifted in September of this year.
Dysfunction at the workforce agencies was a factor cited by officials for the city’s failure to spend the tens of millions of dollars in District and federal funds available for employment programs.
Donald said that when the Bowser administration took over there were only eight people in the Out-of-School Youth Program. “There were a variety of different reasons for that,” he said, “but I think there was not a concerted focus on ensuring that youth and youth employment and youth job training be really the center of our economic development activities.”
Currently more than a thousand youth are enrolled in the program, he added.
Donald emphasized that the agency has been solid for a long time, but added, “While I think the culture was really good, we’ve launched some initiatives to activate our staff to be able to make some recommendations to improve services.” He explained, “The mayor gave us a directive on how to improve services and we just leveraged staff to get it done.”
The remodeled American Jobs Center HQ at 4058 Minnesota Ave. NE opened to the public on Monday, Oct 23. Services are available to every resident and many businesses in the District of Columbia.