Committee on Labor and Workforce Development
Department of Employment Services and Workforce Investment Council
Chair: Councilmember Elissa Silverman and Committee
Budget Hearing Testimony from Elizabeth Lindsey, Chief Executive Officer, Byte Back
May 28, 2020
My name is Elizabeth Lindsey, and I’m the CEO of Byte Back, a 23-year old nonprofit headquartered in DC. I’m also a proud Ward 5 resident and mom to two DCPS students.
Byte Back’s mission is to provide a pathway of inclusive tech training that leads to living-wage careers. In 2019, more than 400 DC adult residents benefited from our free digital skills training, which takes them from turning on a computer for the first time to gaining high-level IT skills. Fifty-seven alumni started careers as IT technicians, administrative assistants, and other positions, earning, on average, more than $23,000 a year more than before Byte Back.
Today, digital skills aren’t a luxury – they’re a necessity.
Thousands of DC residents don’t have the option for computer–based jobs. In DC, 25% of households don’t have broadband access. East of the River, this jumps above 50%. And 14% of unemployed adults are not digitally literate.
Unfortunately, we’re seeing significant retrenchment for digital inclusion in the FY21 DC budget. But we think DOES and the WIC can help.
At Byte Back, we envision a DC where unemployed residents can access training and employment virtually without requirements of multiple in-person visits to job centers. We envision a workforce development system that awards more grants to nonprofit training providers for cohorts of students. We see the potential for cross-sector partnerships to build more seamless pipelines for jobseekers to move from digital literacy into advanced training and into living–wage in-demand tech careers.
So, we are here today to ask DOES to allocate at least $2 million in funding in grants to DC nonprofits, outside of the ETPL, to provide technical?and digital literacy training. We ask that DOES also offset costs for computers and broadband for participants and allocate a large portion of spending to Wards 5, 6, 7, and 8 to meet WIOA Title 1 criteria.
In 2019, Byte Back received a DC WIC Strategic Industry Partnership grant. Sector partnerships and workforce development training outside of the WIOA ETPL are essential. This could be improved with a lengthened funding timeline, ability to fund a pathway of training, and by including funding for devices, software, and broadband to meet 2021 circumstances. With current unemployment trends, we ask that allocation for community grants increase to at least $1 million.
Instead of closing the digital skills gap for adults in DC, this budget, as is, will widen the digital divide.
The District needs to invest in digital skills and tech training, computers, and access to broadband so that residents of every ward are able to safely support their families and communities.