Workforce Goes to the White House!!!!
The UDCCC Workforce Development Division, Representative Ms. Rosmatine M. Pondexter from the Backus Campus visited the White House. She found the experience very informative and the Secretary of Labor told her she would be hearing from his office in the near future.
My trip to the White House to meet with Secretary of Labor, Mr. Perez, was a very humbling and eye-opening one. When I was selected by the Backus Campus to be a representative, I didn't really know what to expect. I knew we were going to go speak about unemployment and services that we were using like Workforce Development Courses to try and secure gainful employment, but that was about it. I was interested in knowing what type of security check we would have to go through seeing that we would be meeting in one of the rooms in the White House.
I arrived early at the checkpoint because I was raised by a military man and I am also a veteran so it is instilled in me that if you arrive on-time, you are already late. It was a good thing too, because not only did I get to meet some of the other representatives from around the DMV area, but the security checkpoint line was getting long. As we were waiting for our escort and one last participant to arrive, I was able to get a feel for our group. There were going to be a total of 17 people participating in the focus group, including President Obama's Economic Advisor Jeff Zients, Mr. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Employment and Training Administration Eric Seleznow. I learned that there were more than 14 participants names that were submitted by the District's surrounding Community Workforce Development programs, but we were the selected few. I was definitely excited that I had made the cut and was now extra curious on what the deciding factors were. I soon found out one of the factors when our escort arrived and walked up to one of the participants and called her by name and said, "I recognize you from your LinkedIn profile." I couldn't help but chuckle as I inquired, "So you all looked up all of the participants social media pages?" He turned to me and said with a searching look, "Yes, all of those that we could find." I laughed again because I knew his searching look was his trying to put a name to a face and that he had drawn a blank because he could not find any of my social media pages. He continued, "Which workforce program are you with?" "Backus," I replied. "Oh, then you must be Ms. Pondexter because they submitted several names and we only selected one from the group, and no, I didn't locate you on any social network." I laughed again and replied, "Yes, that is by design. I keep my private life private and my public life very professional."
We had to go through three security checkpoints before we were able to step foot into the White House. Once we made it past security, we were taken to our meeting room where we were immediately greeted by Secretary Perez, Economic Advisor Jeff Zients, and Deputy Assistant Secretary Eric Seleznow. They were very down-to-earth, shaking our hands and hugging us as they greeted us. Our meeting started on time and got very emotionally intense as each of the participants told their story of how and why they were currently unemployed or underemployed. There were times where it was visible that not only were the 14 participants fighting to hold back tears but so were the White House officials. One thing was clear, everybody was being affected by this non-talked about recession. Black, white, old, young, veterans, those with advanced schooling as well as those with very little schooling, unemployment and underemployment was touching us all. It was evident that Workforce Development programs were definitely beneficial to those in the room who were able to enhance or gain a new skill by taking advantage of the free courses/classes offered in their area.
However, there were still many barriers that we would have to overcome, many that President Obama and his staff were aware of and some that they weren't. Many are being denied gainful employment because of their credit history, because of their age, because they have been unemployed for more than one year, because they cannot get sponsored for the required security clearance without already having a job that needs a security clearance, because they don't have a permanent address due to losing their homes to foreclosure and because they are either over-qualified for the positions they are applying for or because the employers don't want to pay them for their specialized skill set. It seemed as if everyone at the table had bought into the American ideal that if you worked hard, went to school, got good grades, that the ultimate reward would be that you would be able to secure gainful employment, work until retirement and then enjoy the rest of your life; however, that wasn't any of our present realities.
After conversing for hours about what changes were needed to help get America, not just the DMV, back to work, our meeting ended, just as it had started, on time. We were assured that our suggestions would be discussed with President Obama as soon as he returned from the flyest city in the world, Chicago. They also stated they would be relaying to him that I said that I was Chitown's favorite daughter being born and raised there but I would allow him to claim it as his home even though he moved there when he was grown.
Pamela Jenkins- Fields
Student Success Specialist
University of the District of Columbia Community College Workforce Development and Lifelong Learning Division Patricia Harris Educational Center
4600 Livingston Rd, SE
Washington DC 20032