Six months after signing an agreement to formally launch the DC Infrastructure Academy, Mayor Muriel Bowser officiated its grand opening and inaugural career fair — the result of a partnership between the city government, the University of the District of Columbia and several private sector partners.
Enrollees screened and recruited by the Department of Employment Services-operated Academy, located in the city’s Anacostia community, will get hands-on training and experience, as well as a bird’s-eye view of what makes D.C. tick.
The program aims to provide high-quality, specialized trainings and workforce development programs in fields including auto mechanics, energy, utilities, safety and solar panel installation, as well as opportunities to obtain commercial driver’s licenses.
The program length varies, but usually runs between four to 12 weeks.
“The DC Infrastructure Academy is a pathway to the middle class,” said Bowser, who was joined at the March 12 opening by City Administrator Rashad Young; Bill Von Hoene Jr., Exelon senior executive vice president and chief strategy officer; David Velazquez, Pepco president and CEO; and Adrian Chapman, Washington Gas president and chief operating officer.
“As the infrastructure industry continues to grow, we want D.C. residents to be first in line for these high-paying jobs,” said Bowser, who proposed plans for the academy in her 2017 State of the District address. “Through [the academy], we will ensure that more Washingtonians have the skills and knowledge they need to secure a career in a wide range of growing fields, from utility and transportation to operations and green technologies.”
Envisioned by some as a “post-high school training program” for D.C. residents 18 and older, the academy’s goal aligns with Bowser’s efforts to reduce unemployment to less than 10 percent in all eight wards, particularly Wards 7 and 8, where rates are highest.
Construction currently taking place on the $441 million Frederick Douglas Memorial Bridge, which connects Wards 6 and 8, is one of the projects for which academy enrollees can begin posturing for employment.
According to the Alliance for American Manufacturing, infrastructure training projects such as the academy not only serve as gateways to economic stability, but also foster racial equality by improving the financial viability of many of the country’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable citizens.
While funding remains uncertain for President Donald Trump’s $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan, many cities such as D.C. with a dearth of skilled construction labor have opted to create their own such initiatives, rather than waiting on traditional efforts to produce much-needed workers.
With infrastructure distinguished as one of the fastest-growing industries in the nation, the academy — modeled after similar, successful initiatives in Chicago, Philadelphia and Georgia — is being funded by Bowser’s $16.75 million commitment in the District’s capital budget, and a $5.2 million contribution to workforce development programs provided by the 2016 Exelon-Pepco merger.
In addition, Pepco and Washington Gas have agreed over the next five years of the academy’s operation to provide $500,000 each in cash contributions, donated human resources, equipment and other in-kind materials and services.
“The Infrastructure Academy represents a strong public-private partnership, and we thank Mayor Bowser for her leadership in this program that will open doors of opportunity for so many people,” Von Hoene said. “Workforce development is a key priority for Exelon and Pepco, which is why we have committed [millions of dollars] to job creation and training in Washington, D.C., which will strengthen the entire community.”
In 2017 — a year after half of D.C.’s open infrastructure jobs went unfilled — Bowser launched Solar Works DC, a job-training program that installs cost-saving solar energy systems on the homes of low income residents, and the DC Quick Path to Energy program, which connects residents to employment in the utilities industry.
Of the 2,231 job openings D.C.’s infrastructure sector last year, only 1,246 hires were made, despite the industry’s average wage being $48.75 an hour. To that end, projections now call for the District’s infrastructure sector to increase by 11 percent by 2012, and by nearly 20 percent some 15 years later.
Unique Morris-Hughes, interim director of the Department of Employment Services, said that with Bowser’s historic investment and support, the academy will mark the first infrastructure training and workforce development hub in D.C.
“We have combined a series of unique trainings under one roof to prepare District residents for jobs in the rapidly growing infrastructure industry, which has been deemed a high-demand industry by the DC Workforce Investment Council,” said Morris-Hughes, noting that on opening day, Metro conducted more than 40 onsite interviews at the academy.
Morris-Hughes added that UDC, as strategic partner, has also played a key role in the development of the academy and implementation of programs such as Quick Path to Energy.
“UDC will continue to serve as a partner by providing training and education services to our participants at the Infrastructure Academy,” she said.
Calls for comment to Ward 8 Council member Trayon White were not returned.