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Leadership Spotlight: Chaer Robert

Chaer Robert is the Manager of the Family Economic Security Program at the Colorado Center on Law and Policy. In the interview below, Chaer shares her take on student's access to information about educaton options, her experience leading CO Skills2Compete, and what she’s learned from her work in the field.

1. Tell us a little about your professional background and how you came to focus on workforce development?

Prior to my current position at Colorado Center on Law and Policy, I worked as director of the Denver Women’s Commission of the City and County of Denver. There I did public education, coalition building and advocacy on a wide range of women’s issues.

While I was familiar with issues like pay equity, women in nontraditional jobs, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and access to child care, I did not have a background in workforce development. That began four years ago at CCLP as I staffed the already existing Skills2Compete Coalition.

2. When did you first get involved with NSC/WDQC and why?

As coordinator of a state coalition affiliated with National Skills Coalition, I was on a steep learning curve. I attended the national conferences, but cherished the technical assistance and support we got advocating for WIOA, then commenting on aspects of the federal rules, and our state and regional and local WIOA plans.

3. Can you tell us about your efforts to pass a consumer scorecard bill in Colorado?

During a coalition planning session two years ago, the group identified private occupational schools as one of three top priorities, along with having Colorado recognize all three high school equivalency tests (done!)  and advocating for the provision of support services so that people can successfully enter and complete training.

Since Colorado is a very libertarian state, with split party control of each house of the legislature, we knew failure was guaranteed if we tried to add burdensome regulations on the for-profit educational sector. Instead we crafted, with substantial help from the Workforce Data Quality Campaign, a bill that would ask no more of a private occupational school as was asked for a public college or university also competing for WIOA training dollars, Pell Grants or GI benefit eligibility. Basically, the school would have to report student names and social security numbers. Agencies could then obtain verified employment, wage and debt outcomes could be obtained and statistical information would be made available to the public on an existing state comparative website along the lines of the federal College Scorecard website. The bill was killed in the first committee.

We learned an incredible amount about comparative websites, student disclosure requirements, accreditation, state certification, Title IV reporting, impact of private school closure on students, credit transferability, GI bill eligibility, WIOA outcome data reporting, etc.  We’re not done, although we have not yet decided on what to try next. 

4. Why do you feel that it is so important for students to have information about their education options?

In this culture people are told, and believe, that education and training are the key to upward mobility. Low income Coloradans are told that education is the path out of poverty.  Therefore, it is easy to believe that any investment in one’s education is good.  Many for-profit colleges actively market to low income adults.  They often cost 3-4 times as much as community colleges, leaving people with substantial debt, even after receiving Pell Grants or GI benefits. This investment in time and money could be worth it if upon graduation they get a job with a significant boost in earnings.  But some school graduates earn no more than those with a high school diploma. And those who leave school before completing any certification end up with debt, potential default and lower credit score, no credential and having used up some of their eligibility for future Pell grants or GI benefits. To make good choices about their return on investment, student need to know graduation rates, job placement rate, verified earnings data, average student loan and loan default rates.  Public outcomes data also helps schools focus on job and earnings outcomes for students, and bragging rights if their students tend to succeed.

5. What is the most fulfilling part of leading the CO Skills 2 Compete coalition?

The amazing synergy that comes from having members from many sectors and organizational levels discussing issues, designing action, and advocating. From line staff to directors in community based organization, workforce centers, community college, SNAP Employment and Training, adult education, opportunity youth programs, vocational rehabilitation, policy wonks, advocates for those experiencing homelessness, welfare to work programs, and others, we together end up with a deep understand of workforce issues.

6. What do you feel has been your most meaningful accomplishment during your time at the Colorado Center on Law and Policy?

I am always proudest of our legislative accomplishments. For Skills2Compete Colorado, I am particularly proud that we conceived, wrote, and successfully lobbied a bill to fund Adult Education Workforce Partnerships. In 2014, Colorado was THE ONLY STATE that did not put a dime of state money into adult education. Our bill created a million-dollar grant program, with funds going to adult education providers who partner with a post-secondary training entity and an employment program. Too often adult education students and graduates have a hard time getting to the on-ramp for career pathways and other employment opportunities.

Leadership Spotlight: Sarah Labadie

Sarah Labadie is a Senior Policy Associate at Women Employed. In the interview below, Sarah shares her take on job-driven financial aid as a pathway to success and what she’s learned from her work in the field.

Tell us a little about your professional background and how you came to focus on workforce development?

I have a Bachelor Degree in Communication from Cornell University and had initially planned to work in public relations. But I spent a year teaching in Honduras and returned to the United States with a new goal: to make a difference in people's lives. Teaching was not my path (although it did give me an appreciation for the incredible work teachers do) so I looked for opportunities in nonprofit organizations. I joined Women Employed in 2008 as a program coordinator working with the education and training team and quickly figured out that I wanted to focus on transforming policy in the state. WE has been crafting and improving workforce development policies since well before I joined and I was thrilled to help give more women--and men--the opportunity to reach their education and career goals.

When did you first get involved with NSC and why?

Women Employed has been involved with NSC for a long time, but my first real introduction to the organization was in 2010, I believe, when I attended my first Skills Summit. I was familiar with NSC's great work--at the time, I was referencing NSC policy briefs and and participating in webinars--but seeing the team in action and connecting with people and organizations doing great work in Illinois and beyond gave me a different appreciation for NSC's role.

Can you tell us about your efforts with Women Employed?

Women Employed mobilizes people and organizations to expand education and employment opportunities for working women. With regard to workforce development, that means everything from improving state policies around career pathways to increasing state funding for financial aid to developing new high school equivalency options. Right now, we are focused on passing a budget in Illinois. The state has not had a fully-funded budget for 18 months now and that has meant no funding for our public colleges and universities or for the Monetary Award Program (MAP), Illinois' need-based financial aid grant. We are also helping define career pathways for the whole state, as WIOA implementation moves forward and we see a need to ensure everyone in the state is working with the same language.

Why is job-driven financial aid critical to Women Employed’s mission of expanding educational and employment opportunities for working women?

Many working women need more education to move up the career ladder or into careers they want, but don't have the money to start or return to college. They may also have to balance work with school and other responsibilities, so attending full time is often challenging or downright impossible. We fought for and won financial aid for less-than-half-time students in Illinois to ensure that working women taking one class would be eligible for financial aid. The next step is to ensure that those who are seeking short-term training are able to pay for it using financial aid.

What do you feel has been your most meaningful accomplishment during your time at Women Employed?

WE has accomplished a lot in the time I've been there, from passing paid sick days in Chicago and Cook County to creating Career Foundations, a curriculum for adult education students that helps explore careers, identify a best fit, and create an education plan to reach that career. But two pieces stand out for me personally. The first is defensive. We have protected eligibility and, to a lesser degree, funding for MAP. And once a budget is in place, the policy behind MAP is strong. The second is being part of the task force that approved all three high school equivalency tests and is moving toward alternatives to assessments. Hopefully this work will result in more students receiving high-quality credentials and degrees.

National Skills Coalition recently released a series of scans and toolkits for policymakers and advocates to advance a skills equity agenda in their state. For more on Job-Driven Financial Aid, take a look at our Policy Scan, Policy Toolkit and Toolkit Summary.

Posted In: Job-Driven Investments, Skills Equity, Illinois
SWEAP update: leaders from seven states meet to advance use of data tools

On November 16 and 17, forty leaders from seven states met in Chicago to advance the use of data tools to inform state workforce development policies. The State Leadership Forum was part of the State Workforce and Education Alignment Project (SWEAP). 

With the generous support of JPMorgan Chase Foundation and USA Funds, NSC’s SWEAP is creating better cross-program information that allows state policy leaders to see how these programs can work together to meet employer skill needs, and how individuals can advance through these programs over time in the pursuit of postsecondary credentials and higher-paying employment.

SWEAP is assisting California, Mississippi, Ohio, and Rhode Island develop three types of data tools: dashboards, pathway evaluators, and supply and demand reports. Dashboards use a small number of common metrics to report education and employment outcomes across workforce development programs. Pathway evaluators show how people use a range of education and training programs to earn credentials and move into jobs. Supply and demand reports display how the supply of newly credentialed workers compares to the number of workers that employers need.

At the Forum, state teams consisting of Governor’s Offices, legislators, state workforce agencies, state higher education agencies, state workforce development boards, and others demonstrated their data tools and discussed how information from the tools can impact policy. In addition to the four SWEAP states, attending the Forum were representatives from three new states: Maryland, Massachusetts, and Michigan. 

The states shared many ideas on how information from the tools can impact state policies. Among them: the data can inform resource allocations and postsecondary program offerings; the data can identify key industries for sector partnerships; the data can pinpoint talent pipelines for business recruitment and job growth; the data can be an important part of state career guidance policies; and the data can identify effective pathway programs.  Also, the process itself of building the tools can point out gaps in a state’s data infrastructure that require administrative or legislative fixes.

In 2017 NSC will share lessons learned during SWEAP with additional states. In the winter NSC will conduct a webinar on SWEAP.  In the early spring we will post reports from each of the states and on the project overall. Also, throughout the year NSC and Workforce Data Quality Campaign staff will be available to assist other states, particularly on state policies associated with data tools. 

Posted In: State Workforce and Education Alignment Project

Leadership Spotlight: Emily Price

  ·   By Silvia Vallejo
Leadership Spotlight: Emily Price

Emily Price is the Director of the Center for Employment Training at So Others Might Eat, in Washington , DC. In the interview below, Emily shares her take on skills training as a pathway to success and what she’s learned from her work in the field.

Tell us a little about your professional background and how you came to focus on workforce development?

I started my career as a case manager with Adult Protective Services and later enrolling children into the Children’s Health Insurance Program. My attention started to wander towards policy when I became an Emerson Hunger Fellow with the Congressional Hunger Center. Through my fellowship I researched the impact of emergency food assistance and studied anti-hunger and nutrition policies. Knowing social justice was my passion; I completed my Masters of Social Work and returned to DC for another stint in case management and therapy. All my direct service taught me about poverty from the people living it and I quickly discovered that helping people navigate the existing landscape of services wasn’t enough; I needed to be part of creating a successful, results driven, top notch institution. Through mutual colleagues I learned about So Others Might Eat (SOME)’s employment training program and immediately fell in love. In my 11 years at SOME Center for Employment Training we have grown from serving 35 people a year to 180.  Our budget has grown from $650,000 to $1.6 million and staff has grown from 5 to 17.  Most impressively our placement rate has grown to 100% graduate job placement. I am a graduate from the Aspen Institute Workforce Leaders Academy and held multiple seats on Mayoral Workforce Development Taskforce committees. 

When did you first get involved with NSC and why?

When I first came to SOME I was interested in learning more about the workforce landscape and best practices of other jurisdictions. I found myself turning to National Skills Coalition. Recently, new WIOA regulations and Integrated Basic Education Skill training work has brought me closer to NSC and their work in these areas.

Can you tell us about your efforts with SOME’s Center for Employment Training?

The SOME Center for Employment Training (SOME CET) is a licensed Postsecondary Title IV Vocational Institution that prepares homeless and low ­income men and women in Washington, DC to secure and retain living wage jobs in fields that have established career ladders and offer opportunities for advancement. Launched in 1998, the program remains the only free program in DC that provides job training and wraparound services to the District’s homeless population. The SOME CET model includes sector skills training in high­demand industries, integrated basic education, job readiness instruction, job placement services, and one year post placement retention support. In 2015, SOME CET enrolled 159 students, successfully graduated 72%, and placed 100% of graduates in jobs; with 87% of employed students retaining employment for at least one year. Rather than hastily moving students through 3-4 week courses and then placing them in jobs where they are expected to sink or swim, SOME CET’s students take an average of 6 months to complete our program. During training, students receive support that ensures they overcome personal challenges. Staff works with students to assess work skills and interests. Students then choose career tracks within two high­-growth sectors: health care and maintenance. Training is just the beginning: SOME CET supports its graduates for 365 days’ post­placement ensuring the first year of employment is a success.

What brought you to your position as Director of the Center for Employment Training?

The holistic model of providing a technical job skill, integrated basic education and support services concurrently was absolutely the right balance for me. I know that the greatest secret to helping people move out of poverty is education and it’s not always the traditional English and Math education we commonly consider. True transformation happens when people have safe and supportive environments to change. SOME CET is such a place. It’s through this space people learn to hope, they learn to dream and ultimately they learn to believe in themselves. Staff is trained on motivational interviewing, trauma informed care, solutions focused theory, and strength's perspective. I'm a social worker at heart and all our training has a therapeutic element infused in the work. Our employer partners rave about the graduates emotional maturity, professionalism and dynamic communication skills. We see graduates promoted within the first year of employment because they can handle conflict, read rulers, convert fractions and navigate interpersonal relationships. One employer was able to increase revenue by 40% and positive Yelp reviews doubled when they hired three of our graduates. The model of serving the whole person is what brought me to SOME.

What do you feel has been your most meaningful accomplishment during your time at SOME? 

My focus and attention has always been to put the mission into action and show participants one option for success. Being part of the solution and making policy work through practice is a great honor. In the social service sector we are really good at pointing out what’s not working rather than offering solutions. SOME CET is a demonstration on successful social justice programs. We have seen remarkable success since implementing our IBEST program with nearly 40% increase of educational functioning level.  Additionally the One Year post employment Retention Program has an 87% success rate.   

However, the true measure of my work is in the lives that have been changed. It's not the number served, graduated or employed; it's the alumni that take their family on vacation for the first time, or show off their first car. When we teach a person with a history of trauma and abuse that they are not bound by their past, but liberated by their future; they are free to learn and grow.  That is what SOME CET does and that is what brought me to lead the impressive SOME Center for Employment Training.


Posted In: Career and Technical Education, Sector Partnerships, Career Pathways, District Of Columbia

Building meaningful SNAP E&T programs: A Q&A with Sara Muempfer

  ·   By Silvia Vallejo
Building meaningful SNAP E&T programs: A Q&A with Sara Muempfer

Sara Muempfer is the Director of Workforce Development at the Maryland Department of Human Resources (DHR). In the interview below, Sara shares her take on the importance of SNAP E&T programs and what she’s learned from her work in the field.

Tell us a little about your professional background and how you came to focus on workforce development.

Workforce development was something I fell into and immediately loved the satisfaction of getting people connected to work and satisfying employer needs. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Human Development Family Studies from the Pennsylvania State University. Following my time there, I moved to Maryland where I started my career in workforce development with Humanim, placing adults and youth with disabilities into employment. After Humanim, I moved onto Maryland Works, Inc. an association providing technical assistance and training to workforce development professionals that serve individuals with various disabilities, those transitioning from TANF, and veterans. In the early 2000’s, I began working for the Anne Arundel Workforce Development Corporation, a local workforce investment board, where I focused on disability and youth workforce development services. Then, in the mid 2000’s, I joined the workforce development and adult learning department at the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing & Regulation. I spent six years there, working on various grant funded projects and gaining a broader perspective on the field of workforce development.  In 2014, I joined the Department of Human Resources as the Director of the Bureau of Workforce Development.

When did you first get involved with NSC and why?

In late 2014, staff from DHR and I attended a SNAP E&T conference in Washington State, to learn about their robust SNAP E&T model, focused on skills development and support services. During this conference, we learned that the NSC was beginning to support some states with developing a new and creative model, leveraging existing third party partner investments in the SNAP population. DHR began to understand the model’s mechanics as well as this extraordinary opportunity. The NSC has been an invaluable partner and helped us to build a meaningful program focused on occupational skills development, support services, and job placement.

Can you tell us about your efforts with SNAP E&T in Maryland?

Currently, Maryland is transforming our SNAP E&T program, working to create a program that includes attainment of skills used by in-demand industries. We are also participating in the Food and Nutrition Service’s SNAP to Skills technical assistance project, to help us build up a meaningful SNAP E&T program. This past fiscal year, we have honed in on two priorities: connecting able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) to employment, training and support services and adding more SNAP E&T third party partners, community colleges and community based organizations, to our network. Our focus for both priorities is on education and training, case management, job placement and retention.

What brought you to your position as Director of Workforce Development at the Maryland Department of Human Resources?

The Department of Human Resources recognized the need to elevate workforce development to a higher level of focus and importance. They were in the process of creating the Workforce Development Bureau and I saw it as a great opportunity to better connect my efforts in the field to the larger workforce development system, in Maryland and nationally.

What do you feel has been your most meaningful accomplishment during your time at the Department of Human Resources? 

We have had great momentum here, but two things really stand out for me. The first one is that our SNAP E&T transformation has been positive and moving in a good direction. We are engaging several new external community colleges and community based organizations to help us realize our new program vision.  The other one is the inclusion of TANF as a mandated partner in Maryland’s WIOA Combined Plan. We hope to build a comprehensive workforce development system that will include providing equal and meaningful access to TANF recipients. 

Posted In: SNAP Employment and Training, Maryland