WASHINGTON – The District of Columbia and local utility companies aim to eliminate a shortage of qualified and trained professionals in the city’s infrastructure industry with a new training academy.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser and the District government have established the DC Infrastructure Academy to exclusively provide district residents the opportunity to participate in specialized training and other development programs that would assist them in securing jobs in the infrastructure industry.
Academy partners include private companies, local unions, universities, as well as Washington Gas, Pepco, DC Water and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA).
While the infrastructure academy is modeled after similar programs in Georgia, Chicago and Philadelphia, there are some differences in how it will specifically function in the District, according to Tiffany Browne, a fellow with the D.C. Department of Employment Services’ Office of Public Affairs.
“What sets DCIA apart is how the academy serves as a hub for participants to receive a combined series of unique training in utility and transportation, solar and energy efficiency and logistics,” Browne told Capital News Service.
She said that the infrastructure industry is experiencing a high demand for qualified professionals, but that there was a shortage of trained and job-ready individuals specific to infrastructure fields. In 2017, the district’s infrastructure sector included 6,753 jobs, with 2,231 job openings and only 1,246 hires.
In addition to training, the academy will also offer residents access to support services including resume development, workforce readiness, hiring events and job referral services. Browne said that industry partners will provide general support to the academy.
This support may include money, human resources, access to specialized equipment and development of the training or program curriculum, as well as aiding in recruitment and staffing, she said.
Mayor Bowser committed $16.75 million to the academy and as a part of the merger agreement with Exelon, Pepco contributed $5.2 million towards workforce development programs as well, Browne said.
The academy is in the process of finalizing its first cohort of residents, who will participate in a 12-to-14-week training program, according to Pepco President Donna Cooper. The facility for the academy is located in southeast D.C.’s Ward 8.
“The reality is that we want individuals to be placed successfully in career opportunities and for them to matriculate very positively when they are provided those opportunities,” Cooper told Capital News Service.
In addition to creating jobs, officials with local utility companies like Pepco and Washington Gas said they hope the infrastructure academy will help them foster closer relationships with the local community.
Cooper said Pepco wants to hire qualified local residents as a way of supporting the communities they have served for years. By doing so, she said, Pepco believes it will contribute to the local economy and also foster diversity within its operations.
Dori Ramsey, the chief talent officer with WGL Holdings, Inc./Washington Gas, reiterated this sentiment and said that her company prioritizes hiring individuals that live in its jurisdiction. Even if the utility doesn’t hire these residents directly, she said that some of her company’s contractors possibly would.
“We want to make sure that we are partnering with the communities that we serve to provide opportunities for employment,” Ramsey said. “It really creates a good pipeline for hiring for us.”
With the infrastructure industry continuing to grow in the United States, the District estimates 12 percent growth by 2022 and more than 19 percent growth by 2027 in that sector. That means an accompanying greater demand for infrastructure workers.
According to Browne, these jobs are important because the industry is part of the foundation that keeps any city operating efficiently. The infrastructure academy would help create a clear path for residents toward long-term employment in the industry.
“As the industry grows, especially with the innovation of green technology, it is important to have employees that are trained, skilled and ready to work to ensure the lights stay on, clean energy is flowing and structures are durable and sustainable for long periods of time,” Browne said.