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Local Employment Center Wants to Get Hip With the Kids

An Alexandria agency that helps locals adapt to a changing job market is itself trying to figure out how to adjust its services to meet the city’s changing marketplace.

Facing the impacts of Amazon’s looming arrival, the Workforce Development Center (WDC) is working to modernize and realign its services to fit with younger demographics.

WDC staff told City Council at a meeting last Tuesday that the incoming Amazon HQ2 and the Virginia Tech campus present both challenges and opportunities for how the organization connects young locals to jobs.

“We’ve got to offer more to engage youth,” staff told the City Council. “We need to expand our virtual service platform and be working proactively to mitigate the impact of automation.”

Staff said engaging with younger workers means offering more useful digital options than its current, fairly sparse website, and shifting beyond the current focus on catering mostly to low-skilled workers.

Many of the employment options on the WDC website currently are entry-level, lower-income jobs. But staff told the City Council that the arrival of Amazon’s HQ2 and the new Virginia Tech campus offers opportunities to expand to other levels of employment. Staff said workforce training will have to adjust to offer more technology and cybersecurity-related job placement efforts.

These improvements, however, could require greater levels of investment from the city, as decreasing levels of unemployment also correspond with less federal funding for services that help with employment.

“We will continue to lose federal funds because of our unemployment level,” staff said. “It’s a good thing, we want our unemployment to be low, but [it means] we’re not eligible for some unemployment [programs].”

Staff said the next immediate steps for the organization are to study underemployment — the number of people working in jobs that do not pay enough to sustain a livable income — in Alexandria and put together a report.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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