A Q&A With A Candidate For Arlington County Board
Responses by Erik Gutshall, Candidate for Arlington County Board
Responses received April 27, 2017

America’s Future Workforce (AFW) aims to bring together elected officials, candidates and interested stakeholders for an in-depth conversation on policy affecting citizens as well as policy shaping the future economic and social landscape of Arlington County, Virginia. Below are the questions posed to each candidate and the corresponding answers from Erik Gutshall.

Why is economic justice and economic opportunity such an important topic for the residents of Arlington County?

Part of Arlington’s great progressive history is rooted in opening prosperity to all our residents. This is increasingly difficult in the current national climate where increasing income inequality is the result of national tax and employment policies. Despite that climate, making sure our workers receive fair living wages for good work is in our community’s best interest. When workers are exploited with low wages, denial of benefits or overtime pay, e.g., they are less likely to be able to support their families and unfortunately often have nowhere to turn except public assistance for housing, food, healthcare, and other services. In my opinion as a small businessman, this is not only immoral, but an unfair shift of costs to taxpayers from less scrupulous employers. An economy with gainful employment for all workers stimulates more economic activity and adds to our tax base, reducing the need for public assistance. At the same time, the entire workforce benefits from the security of knowing that should a personal financial, healthcare, or other crisis affect them, Arlington County has a strong social safety net designed to help our neighbors in need get back on their feet so they can return to productive work as quickly as possible.

What actionable resolutions can the Arlington County Board take to fight for economic justice?

I support continuation of the County Board’s Living Wage policy for the County workforce and the extension of the policy, to greatest extent legally possible, to County contracted services. Of course, the County must also set an example by following best practices in its own human resource management activities. I will not be shy about using the Board’s bully pulpit to advocate for workers, engaging and educating employers on the legal requirements and good business sense of paying workers fairly. Finally, I would work with my colleagues to focus Arlington Economic Development on the need to proactively provide technical assistance to 1099 contractors to help them protect themselves from unfair exploitation as our economy continues to evolve and diversify.

How can we prepare children enrolled in the Arlington County Schools for the workforce?

As the father of three daughters, this is a topic near and dear to my heart. Every parent in Arlington wants their children to be well-prepared for the dynamic, challenging job search they will face upon graduation from high school and college. While the responsibility for instruction lies with the School Board, the County Board must be a strong community partner and ally, helping to connect and harness the knowledge and skills of the whole community in pursuit of the goal of expanded real-world opportunities for students. In fact, graduation requirements will include demonstration of job readiness for next fall’s incoming freshman, so there is urgency to working together for the benefit of our young people.

Let me lay out a concrete example of what the County Board could do. County government is full of skilled jobs at many levels. Opening opportunities for internships – paid and unpaid – across departments could have multiple benefits. Students would be exposed to essential job skills like answering business phone calls, communicating with peers and superiors, responding to emails, participating in group meetings and projects, the importance of showing up on time and ready to work, and dealing with outside stresses. They would also have the opportunity to understand the role of government in making good communities. And County departments would have direct contact with the next generation of residents – opening new avenues for learning and adapting in our rapidly changing electronic age. Success in this arena can be shared by the County with employers – encouraging them to open their doors as well, potentially establishing permanent internships and other job-skill related opportunities.

Do you think the workforce development center for Arlington County should be revamped to help train people for in-demand jobs?

I applaud the work Governor McAuliffe has done to better align the state-level Education, Commerce, Labor, and Veteran’s Affairs departments around workforce development. The potential for getting a significantly larger bang for workers from this alignment of Federal Workforce and state policy and funding is significant. But we can’t rely on the Commonwealth’s actions alone. It is important for local training to 1) be focused on jobs that actually exist in the region and 2) be available in a timely manner so that persons seeking work have the greatest opportunity to find it. Our local market is challenging, as many of the unfilled jobs require high-level skills that take time to acquire. 

Shining more light on the outcomes that Arlington’s workforce development center is achieving is the first step. As they often partner with the Community Colleges and other skills development programs, I believe the County Board should receive – at least twice a year in a public setting – an update on the number of people receiving services that are funded with public workforce dollars and the number who have successfully achieved their employment goals. Until we understand what is working and what is not, it is difficult to say whether changes would be appropriate.

How can you bring more opportunity to the in-need residents of Arlington County?

Arlington County should make a concerted effort to identify the barriers to employment for our in-need residents and target resources to address these barriers in partnership with the non-profit sector. While a significant portion of those seeking work have gaps in their education and skills that can be addressed by existing programs, it is equally important in Arlington to address other barriers for those struggling to find employment.  Many would-be workers are hampered with poor access to transportation or quality childcare.  Some also face social and emotional barriers that can be addressed with counseling and mentoring.  Arlington County must reach out to our thriving business community and encourage employers to participate in a county-wide effort to ensure that all workers in our economy share in our prosperity.

America’s Future Workforce aims to heighten the awareness of the issues affecting Arlington County and its citizens. In compliance with all 501c3 regulations, all candidates were contacted and asked to partake in this Q&A.

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