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New report charts path to reemployment for workers left behind by nation’s pandemic response

The recent health crisis - and unprecedented, rapid job loss associated with it - has illuminated how unprepared the United States is to help workers who lose their jobs reskill to prepare for and successfully enter new employment. Policy responses to the current crisis – while critical – have fallen short of addressing challenges workers and businesses face. In a new report, National Skills Coalition outlines an aligned, comprehensive, reemployment accord to respond to current challenges and prepare for an inclusive economic recovery that addresses prior policy shortcomings and moves all workers and businesses towards success in the 21st century.

This path forward, outlined in A 21st Century Reemployment Accord, includes four key pieces:

  1. Expand access to skills training by making workers who lose their jobs eligible for a Dislocation Training Account, providing up to $15,000 in public funds to invest in training through an apprenticeship program, with a community organization or at a community or technical college. Studies suggest financial concerns are the largest barrier to workers succeeding in training. Reskilling for jobs of the twenty-first century will require short and longer-term training, frequently outside of traditional degree programs, yet today’s workers are often unable to access public funds to support training for quality non-degree credentials.

  2. Launch a federal “Reemployment Distribution Fund,” providing access to income support, through robust unemployment insurance and wage-replacement subsidies, that mitigate the financial impact of job loss on workers, their families, and communities. An initial investment of $20 billion as well as sustainable funding, should empower states to draw down funds to cover the length of training and job search necessary for workers to access a job of the twenty-first century. A first step for Congress to accomplish these goals would be to expand Trade Adjustment Assistance to cover a far larger set of workers, such as those who lose their jobs permanently due to automation.

  3. Create a network of “Twenty-First Century Industry Partnerships” among businesses, education providers, the public workforce system, and community organizations to ensure the significant public and private investments necessary to respond to worker dislocation caused by technological changes in the workplace align with employment opportunities in in-demand industries. Industry and sector partnerships are a best practice across the country but need to be expanded to more industries in more local areas to reach the scale necessary to respond to challenges associated with technological change in the workplace. This expansion will mean a dedicated federal investment.

  4. Maximize eligibility for and access to other support services under existing federal programs for workers during the reemployment process. Barriers to accessing childcare, transportation, and other support services — such as eligibility that doesn’t permit workers to access subsidies while in training programs, underfunding that leads to long waiting lists, or the fact that our social safety net programs reach too few people — make it harder for workers to succeed in training programs necessary for reemployment. To maximize retention and success in a new job, these services should be available to workers during the transition period in a new job, as well. Any federal response to job loss caused by technological change needs to provide workers with access to comprehensive, robust support services that improve worker success and retention.

The new report is the second in several publications National Skills Coalition is releasing this summer detailing recommendations for an inclusive and equitable economic recovery from Covid-19. Read the full brief for more detail on how to modernize reemployment to serve workers and businesses.

Posted In: Federal Funding, Career and Technical Education, Work Based Learning, Future of Work
COVID-19 shines a spotlight on digital skills: Updates and key questions for advocates and policymakers

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown into stark relief the importance of digital literacy for American workers and students alike. National Skills Coalition is providing this overview to help education and workforce advocates understand 1) what changes are occurring, 2) how organizations are responding, and 3) what questions advocates and policymakers should be asking to inform their responses over the short and mid-term.

For more resources on digital skills, check out our industry-specific fact sheets on health workers, manufacturing, hospitality, retail, construction and transportation, as well as Applying a racial equity lens to digital literacy. You can also read further details on Medium and register for our May 5th webinar. 

The current snapshot: Major changes in the education and workforce landscape

In just a few short weeks, millions of Americans have shifted rapidly to a new way of working – remote, separated from their colleagues by distance and sometimes by time zone, tasked with quickly getting up to speed on an array of digital tools with which they may not have had any previous experience.

Meanwhile, millions of other workers are still at work on job sites across the country, including many frontline workers whose jobs require extensive contact with the public. Now they too are being asked to use mobile apps, online reporting mechanisms, and related tools in order to keep their jobs and adapt to new customer and employer demands for contactless interactions and improved health and safety amidst a pandemic.

All of this is occurring while key institutions that have traditionally helped Americans build digital skills are staggering under the weight of new responsibilities in this quickly changing landscape. Many public libraries, which have long been at the forefront of digital skill-building, are closed to the public. Librarians are scrambling to identify the best ways to ensure that WiFi hotspots remain accessible to the public even during building closures.

Thousands of adult education programs, many of which were already providing digital skill-building before the pandemic, have had to convert almost overnight into fully online learning experiences. Higher education institutions are facing similar demands. Teachers and administrators are being forced by circumstance to upskill themselves in the moment, while also assisting learners who may lack a computer, reliable internet access, or the skills to participate. 

Families are struggling to support children, youth, and adults whose educational institutions have moved classes and coursework online. Professors and other instructors are wrestling with converting in-person formats into digitally interactive ones overnight, while trying to ensure equity for students with disabilities and/or limited tech access.

The weight of all of these developments is falling unequally on Americans who are more marginalized, more vulnerable, and less connected than their peers. Workers who are able to work from home are disproportionately Asian or White, leaving Black and Latinx workers more likely to be on the front lines. Households without broadband access are also more likely to be comprised of people of color. Rural communities that lacked broadband access before the crisis are now facing additional ripple effects from those digital gaps -- affecting their workforce, businesses, and broader economies. Compelling new evidence indicates that students with smartphone-only internet access face major academic disadvantages compared to their peers who have home broadband access.

Hitting the ground running: How education and workforce leaders are responding

Education and workforce practitioners have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic with a combination of rapid-response and mid-term solutions. In the immediate term, many organizations have temporarily closed their physical offices, often due to state or local mandates shutting down non-essential businesses.

But even as physical locations have shut down, services have moved quickly online. Staff are working feverishly to assess the digital capacity of their learners and jobseekers, even while trying to ensure that their own personnel are equipped to provide (some) services remotely. At the state level, officials are hurrying to provide guidance to local program administrators amidst a quickly evolving landscape.

These are just a handful of the many hundreds of examples of how skills advocates are responding: 

Program level:

  • From Washington DC, the Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School, a major provider of adult education and workforce development programs, reports that “From quickly developing distance learning materials and making creative online spaces to connect; to establishing additional phone lines answered by Student Services team members to provide supports in English, Spanish, Amharic, and French; to holding classes via Zoom, Schoology, and QR-code enabled smartphone lessons; our mantra is: We’ve got this!”

  • From South Texas near the US-Mexico border, Maria Cris Gonzalez of the state’s Region 1 Adult Education Program notes that she has done a rapid-response survey to understand staff technology gaps among the 85 teachers serving 3500 adult learners in her programs. Teachers with varying degrees of digital literacy skills have been racing to get up to speed with tools such as Zoom and WebEx. Meanwhile, the Integrated Education and Training welding program is still on track; their community college partner has helped shift it to an online format. Despite the epidemic, adult learners are persisting, Gonzalez adds: "I have students who live in cars. I have students who live in homes with dirt floors. But they are still attending class via their cell phones." 

  • From San Diego, Tech Hire has teamed up with ServiceNow and the San Diego Workforce Partnership to offer a new 5-week intensive virtual training for IT Service Managers. The training will help participants earn two certifications, preparing them to hit the ground running in IT careers.

  • From Illinois, Becky Raymond of the Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition notes: “Our recent work in the Illinois Digital Learning Lab (IDLL) showed that 85% of the adult learners participating in the program tested below a proficient level on basic computer skills. Now more than ever, I am heartened by the work that CCLC’s team has done to bridge this divide. Through our technology projects, low-scoring adults have been connected to critical apps and websites such as Chi311, MedlinePlus and the Center for Disease Control’s online resources…. Over the past year, it has been inspiring to work with adult educators across the state to help them set up online learning platforms for their students. We didn’t realize how critical these platforms would be in continuing connection and learning for low-scoring adults during this time. We understand that many adult educators will not be able to implement an easy switch to distance education and we are committed now more than ever to helping adult education programs and instructors facilitate learning at a distance.”

State level:

  • California’s Adult Education Program has reminded its providers that recipients of the state’s $500 million adult education funding stream (as distinct from federal adult ed funds) are funded based on need, rather than seat time or testing results, thus relieving them of concerns about providing in-person testing at a time when many locations are closed. CAEP also provided a list of resources for adult educators who are needing to convert their classes to an online format. OTAN, one of the state’s technical assistance providers for adult education programs, has set up a Field Support resource page.

  • Maine Governor Janet Mills has signed an executive order suspending certain restrictions on job training funds managed by the Maine Community College System’s Maine Quality Center (MQC) program. Suspending those restrictions, such as eligibility and employer matching funds, gives the MQC program more flexibility to rapidly provide free online training to people who have been displaced by the recent effects of COVID-19. “So many people have lost their jobs because of COIVD-19. But overnight there is a huge demand for workers in certain jobs, such as medical assisting and pharmaceutical technicians,” notes Maine Community College System President David Daigler notes. “We need to give people the training and skills they need to step into those jobs as quickly as possible.”

National level:

  • The US Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education (OCTAE) has issued guidance for WIOA Title II-funded adult education programs as many make a shift to distance learning formats

  • The federal LINCS bulletin board is hosting a lively discussion among adult educators on how to move to online education

  • The EdTech Center at World Education has launched the Tips for Distance Learning website to assist adult basic education programs in launching or improving their distance learning program.

  • The International Society for Technology in Education has created an educator help desk

  • The National Digital Inclusion Alliance has created a COVID-19 resources page


Key questions for advocates and policymakers to be asking

As the pandemic evolves, both skills advocates and policymakers will be called upon to develop effective and evidence-informed responses to quickly changing needs of businesses and workers. Below, we outline key questions to consider as these decisions are being made.  

  • How are new digital demands in specific industries such as healthcare or transportation, distribution and logistics affecting workers’ ability to function effectively in the current environment? What reskilling or upskilling interventions need to be provided to assist them? (Note: An industry snapshot released by National Skills Coalition before the pandemic highlighted the stark need for digital literacy skills among healthcare workers.)

  • How are new state investments in COVID-19 rapid response supporting education and workforce development activities? How could they be strengthened?

  • How is existing expertise in digital skill-building -- whether from experienced adult educators, higher education instructors, or other partners -- being drawn upon to inform future program design and funding decisions?

  • How are digital skill-building efforts being woven into existing upskilling programs and policies? In particular, how can workforce development and higher education providers ensure that explicit digital skill-building activities are incorporated, as appropriate, in their programs?

  • How do digital skill-building policies and programs connect to the other “two legs of the stool” on digital inclusion – namely, broadband internet access and digital devices such as laptops and tablet computers?

  • What lessons learned or evaluation results can be captured from recent events to help illuminate the pros and cons of online learning for specific populations of workers, such as those with limited literacy or English skills?


Posted In: Work Based Learning, Future of Work
National Skills Coalition members: Demonstrating leadership and tackling the Future of Work

Last month, National Skills Coalition hosted our 2020 Skills Summit; an annual gathering of workforce development leaders from across the country with an emphasis on the importance of skills in our 21st century economy, including how workers will be impacted by the Future of Work (FOW).

During the Skills Summit, workforce development stakeholders—including education leaders, business leaders, community-based organizations, state and local government leaders and labor organizations—heard from a range of experts about the “state of play” of skills policy in our nation’s Capital. Attendees were also briefed on NSC’s 2020 Skills For Good Jobs Agenda, which outlines priorities around a number of key federal policy areas, such as the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, the modernization of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and ensuring racial equity in education and workforce programs.

This year, NSC’s Skills for Good Jobs Agenda included an emerging policy platform around the Future of Work (FOW). While most workers are optimistic about the FOW, it is also hard to deny that technology will have an impact on the jobs of the future. In fact, at least 60 percent of jobs are projected to be significantly impacted by automation and 10-15 percent of jobs will be eliminated. These changes would mean that 100 million workers would need to be upskilled or reskilled to succeed in the 21st century economy.

Because of this projected impact, workforce development leaders—including those present at the Skills Summit—see skills and job training programs as a top priority for workers, businesses and our country for the Future of Work. In light of this, NSC hosted three, FOW-focused break-out sessions (pictured above) at the Skills Summit where attendees heard from a panel of experts around specific policy areas: including digital literacy, business engagement and reemployment. Attendees then participated in small group discussions with their peers to talk through challenges and opportunities of proposed federal policy solutions. An overview of each of these discussions is as follows:

Digital Literacy

  • Problem statement: American jobs are undergoing massive technological transformation. To succeed in this rapidly changing environment, workers need broad-based digital problem-solving skills that equip them to learn a wide variety of today’s technologies and navigate continued changes in the future.
  • Panel of experts:
    • Leticia Lewis, Software.org: the BSA Foundation
    • Alison Ascher Webber, World Education/Digital US
    • Angela Siefer, National Digital Inclusion Alliance
    • Moderator: Molly Bashay, National Skills Coalition
    • Key takeaways from small group discussions:
      • Defining digital literacy at the federal level is a crucial step towards ensuring its prioritization in education and training policies.
      • Gaps in digital skills affect students and workers of all ages including those working in in-demand industries. Efforts to increase access to digital literacy must be thoughtfully designed so that they reach all individuals—including individuals from traditionally vulnerable or displaced populations.
      • Digital literacy should be embedded into education and training best practices, including Integrated Education and Training (IET) programs and career pathways.
      • Industry and sector partnerships (ISPs) should be utilized as a convening tool to bring business and industry, education leaders, community-based organizations, labor organizations and other workforce development stakeholders together around digital literacy.

Business Engagement

  • Problem Statement: Given the importance of skills in today’s economy, many business leaders stand ready to play a significant role in making sure new and incumbent workers can access the education and training they need to be successful in in-demand industries. However, small and mid-sized business leaders, while willing to invest in skills training, often lack the tools necessary to scale and sustain these programs on their own.
  • Panel of experts:
    • Cassi Zumbiel, Manufacturing Institute
    • Mary Ann Pacelli, National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), Dept. of Commerce
    • Ethan Pollack, Aspen Institute
    • Moderator: Katie Brown, National Skills Coalition
    • Key takeaways from small group discussions:
      • Robust industry and sector partnerships are crucial tools for connecting workforce development strategies with larger scale economic development strategies. Currently, these partnerships exist across the U.S., but stakeholders lack the resources needed to expand them at the pace and scale necessary for the future of work.
      • The federal government has utilized tax incentives for businesses to drive private investments in education and training. These incentives—while effective—should encourage work-based learning and reskilling in addition to hiring. Additionally, more workforce development stakeholders should be made aware of available tax credits for hiring, so these credits don’t go unused.
      • Given impending changes to our nation’s workforce due to automation, training for incumbent workers who will need to reskill to stay in their jobs should be a priority at the federal level. Incumbent worker training should have a dedicated federal funding stream, so as not to take resources away from supports for dislocated workers.


  • Problem Statement: Workers who lose their jobs due to technological change in the workplace will need reskilling to prepare them for jobs of the 21st century, well beyond the intensity and length of time covered by current policies.
  • Panel of experts:
    • Andy Stettner, Century Foundation
    • Jessica Fulton, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies
    • Michael Griffiths, Deloitte Learning Consulting Practice
    • Julie Squire, National Association of State Workforce Agencies (NASWA)
    • Moderator: Katie Spiker, National Skills Coalition
    • Key takeaways from small group discussions:
      • Individuals who have been dislocated from their workplace need access to income supports in addition to supportive services while they work to transition to a new job through education and training. Eligibility for these supports should not change based on why an individual was displaced from their job.
      • Industry and sector partnerships play a significant role in ensuring workforce development stakeholders can work together to address dislocation as well as strategies for recruiting and retaining new workers.
      • Connecting the unemployment system with education and training providers as well as community-based organizations is key to ensuring displaced workers have quick access to high-quality jobs. These connections will also make the dislocation to employment pipeline less cumbersome for individuals in need of assistance.


NSC is extremely appreciative of the efforts of all those who participated in these sessions. NSC plans to roll this valuable feedback into a series of policy briefs on the Future of Work set to be released this year.



Posted In: Future of Work

Skills 2020: Iowa ground game & the future of work

  ·   By Rachel Unruh,
Skills 2020: Iowa ground game & the future of work

The 2020 election cycle is a crucial opportunity to raise the visibility of the overwhelming public support for skills training. And National Skills Coalition is leading the field in making sure candidates and the press understand voter views on skills training as well as the policies that can support a competitive workforce – policies developed and vetted by our diverse national coalition of business, labor, colleges, community organizations, advocates, and public officials based on what’s working in their communities.

With first in nation status, Iowa’s February 3rd caucuses transform the state into the epicenter of candidate activity and media attention during December and January. That’s why the NSC team is on the ground in the state making sure that skills are in the spotlight. 

On December 13th, NSC’s press secretary Ayobami Olugbemiga joined local, national, and international press in Des Moines for a tour of the Iowa Caucus Consortium’s media filing center - home base for the media during the February caucuses. Ayobami met with reporters and previewed polling that NSC will roll out in January that explores skills training as a voting issue for caucus goers.

On December 17th, NSC sponsored the Iowa Caucus Consortium’s community forum on the future of work in Des Moines. CEO Andy Van Kleunen talked about the need to harness digitalization, automation, and artificial intelligence - which will impact 60% of today’s jobs – by developing a comprehensive skills policy response. He highlighted NSC polling which found that 87% of Iowa voters support a comprehensive policy that would provide skills retraining at no cost to any worker who loses their job due to automation.

Andy was joined by Tej Dhawan, Chief Data Officer at Principal Financial; Christina Trombley, Executive Director of Online Programming at Drake University; and Mary Bontrager, Executive Vice President of Talent Development at the Greater Des Moines Partnership. Watch video of the event here

The NSC team will be back in Iowa in January for an Iowa Caucus Consortium CEO forum sponsored by NSC’s Business Leaders United. NSC’s Voices for Skills campaign is sponsoring the Consortium’s candidate forums leading up to the caucuses (watch candidates talk about skills training at these forums at our Voices for Skills Facebook page). And our team will be on the ground during the caucuses making sure the media understand voter views on skills training.

But we won’t be stopping in Iowa. NSC will continue to raise the visibility of skills training throughout the primaries and through the general election. Want to get involved in our educational ground game over the next year or just stay up to date on what candidates are saying about skills? Visit www.voicesforskills.org and sign up to be a voice for skills and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Posted In: Future of Work, Iowa

CA Future of Work event aims to serve incumbent workers in a changing economy

  ·   By Katie Spiker,
CA Future of Work event aims to serve incumbent workers in a changing economy

National Skills Coalition recently travelled to Silicon Valley to build bridges between those driving technological innovations associated with the “Future of Work” and current workforce policy debates in Washington, DC about how to respond to these disruptions.  With the recent announcement from California Governor Gavin Newsom about a new state Future of Work Commission, NSC wanted to learn how the state’s emerging discussions around Future of Work could inform the Coalition’s efforts to advocate for polices that will help workers and local companies prosper through these structural shifts in the labor market.

On June 12, 2019, NSC joined with the Institute for the Future (IFTF) and Autodesk Foundation to co-host a roundtable discussion with 40 representatives from leading technology companies – Apple,  Autodesk and Salesforce – as well as community colleges, organized labor, community organizations , philanthropy, and the “futures” community.  These included leaders from the Skills for California Network who recently released an agenda of workforce and education policies that could better secure a strong economic future for all Californians.  Van Ton Quinlivan—NSC Board member, Institute for the Future fellow and former Vice Chancellor of the CA community college system—was instrumental in bringing together such a diverse group to discuss a set of actionable policies that could reskill millions of incumbent workers for a changing, tech-infused economy.

U.S. workers and companies face an unprecedented acceleration of workplace technologies, with broad implications for the “future of work” in America. By most estimates, at least 60% of today’s jobs will be impacted by digitalization, automation, and/or artificial intelligence. That means over 90 million working Americans may have to acquire new skills just to stay in their jobs, let alone to advance in their industries. An additional 10-20% of jobs are likely to be eliminated and replaced with new types of higher-skilled positions, requiring broad-based income and reskilling support for millions of impacted workers as they develop new careers.

While many conversations have focused on abstract solutions to address this impending shift, far less attention has been paid to actionable steps necessary to address the future of work…today.

Attendees discussed several key policy recommendations to best serve incumbent workers—particularly those most vulnerable to technological changes—to prepare for both the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in the future of work:

  1. Update and scale education and workforce policies to support more rapid assessment and retraining of current workers at risk of technological impact.
  2. Increase both public and private investments in employee upskilling and target those investments at workers most vulnerable to tech displacement.
  3. Expand sector partnerships and technical assistance for local businesses to help them and their employees inclusively adopt new technologies.
  4. Launch a new comprehensive national workforce re-employment system that supports all unemployed workers, regardless of the source of their displacement.
  5. Align public and private workforce and labor market data to support better decision-making and equity across workers in this uncharted era.

In addition, Institute for the Future staff presented new innovations in the areas of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies that could impact the types of scalable training that could be made available to a range of current workers and future job-seekers who will need to continually raise their skills to keep ahead of the technological curve.  IFTF staff also shared current thinking on the ethics of current technology deployment and the tech industry’s role in evaluating – and preventing – bias  exacerbated by new technology in the workplace.

Participants agreed that there was great opportunity to continue working together to shape some of these policy discussions both in Washington and in Sacramento.  National Skills Coalition looks forward to continuing to engage with businesses, worker representatives, and training providers to advance a set of actionable, winnable polices to help today’s workers and local businesses benefit from the technology changes that are already restructuring the U.S. economy.

Posted In: Future of Work, California
There’s More than One ‘Future of Work’: National Skills Coalition sponsors series to bring more perspectives into the Washington discussion

Everybody in Washington wants to talk about the Future of Work (FOW), but they don’t necessarily want to have the same discussion—nor should they.  That’s why National Skills Coalition is sponsoring a series of events in our nation’s capital—and streamed to the rest of the country—to unpack how different industries, different groups of workers, and different sized companies will each face unique challenges as automation, artificial intelligence and digitalization redefine skilled work in the U.S.  As our nation’s leaders assess policy options proposed to respond to these changes, they need to pay attention to these various FutureS of Work that often go unaddressed by popular one-size-fits-all FOW solutions.

Representing a nationwide network of workforce development experts who have been dealing with the impacts of technology and changing skills needs in America’s labor market for years, National Skills Coalition wants to bring some of that hands-on expertise into Washington’s assessment of these issues. Community colleges and community organizations, unions and labor-management partnerships, leaders of both small and large businesses across a range of sectors—manufacturing, healthcare, information technology, construction, energy, retail, and agriculture:  Each of these brings real-world insight into how a tech-driven economy has and will impact different workers and workplaces.  They’ve also seen where government policies have worked and where they have fallen short in supporting the most effective local strategies for upskilling millions of American workers to meet changing economic demands.

NSC hopes the following events bring some additional depth to the Future of Work discussions in Washington:

Register for these Events

  • Uneven Prospects for Different Groups of Workers:  February 6th, 2019, 9:00-10:30 AMHosted by National Skills Coalition at its 2019 Skills Summit, Omni Shoreham Hotel, 2500 Calvert St NW, Washington, DC, 20008.  (Conference registration required to attend in-person.)

    Technology associated with the Future of Work will impact workers in every sector and at every level in the U.S. economy—but those impacts will not be borne equally.  Research indicates the majority of job losses from automation will be borne by workers earning less than $20 / hour with a high school degree or less; many of these will be workers of color. Mid- and late-career workers with less developed digital skills than their younger counterparts are likewise vulnerable, as are a range of other experienced workers if they’re at a workplace that is not willing or able to continually invest in their re-skilling.  How should public policy respond to the FOW impacts felt by these different groups of working Americans? What complimentary role can private industry play in these responses, and how can public policy better leverage those investments for workers most vulnerable to these changes? 

  • Tech’s Workforce Impact Across Different Industries:  February 28nd, 2019, 9:00-10:30 AMHosted by Microsoft at the Microsoft Policy and Innovation Center, 901 K Street NW, 11th Floor, Washington, DC 20001. 

    Popular discussions about technology and the Future of Work often reference robots in manufacturing as the prototypical demonstration of automation’s likely impact on future workers.  But automation’s 20th century introduction into modern U.S. manufacturing—and the role that national policy played in that tech diffusion—is distinctive and likely quite different from how new technologies will be introduced into other U.S. industries here in the 21st century.  How will the introduction of AI, automation, and digitization look different between different sectors, based on their contrasting operational structures and workforce compositions? As national policymakers think about how to respond to these changes, is there a need to consider some industry-specific policies that need to be developed around workforce re-skilling to complement other more universal policies to assist workers and firms across industries?  Industry workforce experts will share their thinking on these issues.  

  • Small Companies versus International Firms:  Date, time & location TBD

    The introduction of new workplace technology is a significant capital expense that company operators have to weigh against prospective increases in productivity and profitability.  That math is often going to play out differently depending not only on the relative cost of the technology, but also upon the relative ability of a firm’s workforce to take full advantage of the technology.  As such, smaller firms—despite the availability of new productivity-enhancing technologies—will often introduce technology at a slower rate, or perhaps not all, even as larger firms in their industry are leaning ahead.  In industries in which the predominant number of firms are smaller companies, what does that mean for the uneven pace of technology adoption in the Future of Work? Should there be different type of policy interventions considered to assist firms of various sizes within the same industry, including how to help their workforces re-skill to make use of these new tools?

Register for these Events

A final culminating event in the series will be scheduled for late spring, in which a number of emerging and actionable policy options will be presented to Washington policymakers and other experts, developed in consultation with the stakeholders featured during the event series. the course of the three prior events. 

National Skills Coalition is excited to bring these additional perspectives into the national FOW policy debate. Click here to find out what National Skills Coalition is doing on future of work and related workforce skills and employment issues.

Posted In: Future of Work

Factory robots versus mom’s caregiver: Industry-specific differences within the Future of Work

  ·   By Daniel Bustillo and Andy Van Kleunen
Factory robots versus mom’s caregiver: Industry-specific differences within the Future of Work

This post was originally posted on NSC's Medium.

Everybody wants to talk about the Future of Work (FOW), but they don’t necessarily want to have the same discussion — nor should they. It’s time to recognize that there is a diversity of futures ahead for U.S. workers in different industries, even when they’re dealing with the same structural shifts in the labor market. Our policy responses will need to be just as nuanced and industry-focused.

Mega-trends are just part of the story

When confronting a topic as large as the future economy, researchers tend to focus on the big picture — the structural mega-trends that could potentially touch all workers and companies. But even at that conceptual level, there are disagreements between FOW analysts (and their foundation sponsors) about which mega-trend is the dominant threat. For some, it’s the rise of alternative work arrangements that are replacing traditional employer-employee relationships with low-wage gigs and independent contracting. For others, the FOW is about automation’s perceived threat to replace human labor with machines and computer algorithms.

These dueling FOW discussions attract not only different think-tanks and foundations, but also different groups of worker advocates, industry leaders, and policymakers. They likewise generate different policy recommendations, from portable benefit packages to offset the gigs, to universal basic income or lifelong learning to help humans keep pace with the robots.

So there is already more than one future being discussed under the Future of Work banner. But for those of us in the workforce development field — training providers and intermediaries preparing under-employed workers for skilled jobs, or helping employees advance into higher-skilled positions within companies — the FOW is even more complicated than that. Grappling with these mega-trends with firms of various sizes across different industries — manufacturing, healthcare, information technology, construction, energy, retail, agriculture — we see a multiplicity of futures that standard FOW policy proposals can only partially confront. As leaders of a coalition that has long called for U.S. labor policies that build out a national infrastructure of industry partnerships that can fine-tune policies to focus on a sector’s specific workforce challenges, we see a need for such a perspective within current FOW discussions as well.

Manufacturing as FOW poster child?

Take, for example, the differing trajectories that technology and workforce issues have taken between the manufacturing and healthcare sectors.

Manufacturing has been the default lens through which most people currently view the future of automation and A.I. Download any “Future of Work” publication, and it likely sports a graphic of colorful robotic arms on a factory floor with nary a human being in sight. That image taps into a popular narrative of U.S. manufacturing: Tech = machines in workplaces where humans once stood = shrinking workforce = bad for workers.

Of course that narrative glosses over other factors that contributed to manufacturing job losses over the past half-century, including trade and international competition. It also misses how technology in many cases improved the job quality and wages of factory work over the same period. As early as the 1950s, union leaders like the United Auto Workers’ Walter Reuther testified to Congress about the labor movement’s cautious embrace of automation as a way to improve the working conditions (decreased repetitive tasks, improved safety) and productivity of U.S. manufacturing workers, so long as that increased productivity led to higher wages for those newly skilled to harness that technology. That same belief is still resonant today, as was apparent at a recent meeting of the AFL-CIO’s newly created Future of Work Commission. Industrial union leaders cited Reuther’s legacy when talking about the labor movement’s interest in managing, rather than fighting, the introduction of A.I. onto the factory floor. Labor/management partnerships would also ensure that current as well as new workers were trained to be the pilots versus the victims of new robots and other tools.

Over the years, the federal government has likewise stepped in to support the introduction of new technologies into American manufacturing. This included the creation the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), based out of the Commerce Department’s National Institute for Science and Technology (NIST), to help smaller manufacturers adopt the latest technologies used by larger firms to stay internationally competitive. More recently, President Obama (and to a lesser extent, President Bush before him) called for new federal investments in training to prepare millions of workers for jobs that manufacturers claimed were going unfilled because of a shortage of skilled workers. The Trump administration has even more loudly staked its political claim on the future of the U.S. manufacturing workforce — though it has been less clear, beyond its effort on trade, if the administration has any plans to tangibly invest in training the manufacturing workers of tomorrow.

The future of work in U.S. manufacturing will thus follow a pretty distinctive history. Automation’s impact on factory employment has been over a half-century in the making, such that both workers and employers in the sector have become accustomed to the trend. While images of factory robots may prompt anxiety from FOW observers outside the industry, many people inside manufacturing — both those who own the robots and those who work with them — see technology as a hedge against future job losses in an increasingly competitive international market. Worker advocates acknowledge that the number of factory workers may continue to decline, but that most of that job loss will be concentrated in lower-skilled manufacturing occupations that require a high school degree or less. This is a tragedy for the workers who were in those less-skilled positions; their displacement raises a set of equity issues that to date have received relatively little attention from policymakers. Otherwise, most of today’s manufacturing workforce discussion has been about how to attract workers — particularly young workers — with higher levels of education into the sector. Rather than being a harbinger of potential future displacement, robots and associated tech are actually a selling point to these prospective young recruits whose parents’ generation otherwise still sees manufacturing as low-skilled, dirty and dying.

The FOW in healthcare faces different challenges

How might the same technology trends play out for our nation’s healthcare workforce — a sector that has received relatively little attention in FOW discussions?

Specifically, what impact might AI and digital technologies have on caregiving occupations — the nurse aides, home health aides and personal care assistants who comprise the majority of healthcare workers?

For one, unlike the long-term trend toward fewer, higher-skilled manufacturing workers, caregivers are only poised to grow in number, pushing the healthcare sector to become the largest single major industry for employment by 2026. Industry efforts to control costs and increase the productivity of that growing healthcare workforce have likewise been different. While manufacturers increased worker productivity through the infusion of modern technology, today’s healthcare providers had more often relied on an old school method that factory owners had instituted a century ago to get more output per each worker — that is, the “speed-up.” Caregivers who were physically lifting, cleaning, feeding, medicating and toileting patients were just asked to work faster to cover more patients during each shift. Such strenuous demands took its toll, generating among the highest workplace injury rates of any employment sector.

All of this contributed to average annual caregiving workforce turnover rates of anywhere from 60 to 100%. Such a labor strategy could only be sustained by a ready supply of workers, often women of color and immigrants, who lacked many other job options. But with growing demand for aging and disability services and a tightening labor market in which even lower-skilled workers have less demanding job options for the same low pay, caregiving’s high-turnover, high-stress workforce strategy has finally met its limit. There is also a small but growing number of healthcare providers who have become concerned about the quality of care that could be provided by an unsupported workforce, and thus have begun collaborating with unions and other sector intermediaries to assess new approaches to their employees’ training, retention and overall job quality.

It’s in that context that the healthcare industry must re-examine technology as a means to both improve patient care and to stabilize its over-stretched workforce. The issue in healthcare is not necessarily whether the workforce is going to be down-sized by tech, but rather how the jobs of millions of healthcare workers — more than the entire manufacturing workforce in the U.S. — are going to be changed in a sector that to date has not seen many new labor-enhancing investments in technology. As more baby boomers demand to “age in place” at home versus in an institutional setting, new technologies to support that shift — ”smart” refrigerators that can assess when food is running low, blood pressure and medication regulators monitored off-site, telemedicine that allows doctors to communicate with patients at any hour — could soon become part of the frontline caregiver’s workplace, while at the same time even further increasing the number of home care jobs. Growing reliance on digital medical records and care plans that can be transmitted in real-time to caregivers will ensure more fine-tuned care for home-based patients, but it will also require caregivers with the necessary literacy and digital fluency to make use of that information.

Herein lies the fundamental challenge for a tech-infused future for caregiving work. While new factory technologies are being introduced into a sector staffed by higher skilled, tech-ready workers, home and community-based patient care is being delivered by a workforce that, statistically, has among the lowest literacy, math and digital skill levels of any industry cluster, including a large proportion of workers for whom English is not their first language. While the low-skilled, low-wage manufacturing worker is an anachronism of the past, the less and quickly trained, low-wage healthcare worker is the default for this growing industry.

Efforts to improve the wages, benefits, training opportunities and working conditions for this workforce have been a longstanding priority for advocates in the sector, including those in the unionized sectors led by SEIU and others. These efforts, coupled with the increases in safety and reduced injuries — to caregivers as well as their patients — that could come from new technologies, provide a welcome boost to current workers and should become more common in the industry. But healthcare also needs to make the sector more attractive to an entirely new generation of recruits. While manufacturers are using the glitz and sex appeal of shiny robots to enlist more educated young applicants, that option is not available for the majority of jobs in the healthcare sector. Healthcare has to figure out how to provide real opportunities to the millions of low-wage workers it already has — and will likely continue to attract — to raise their skills and increase job quality while keeping pace with the sector’s new technologies.

The Healthcare Career Advancement Program (H-CAP), a national organization of SEIU union locals and healthcare employers partnering to develop forward thinking solutions to emerging workforce issues in healthcare, has begun to bring this FOW discussion to the communities where such caregiving is taking place, involving employers, workers, and education and training providers in the conversation. With an extended network of workforce intermediaries that covers almost 1,000 employers and 650,000 workers from every occupational level in the healthcare industry — from home care, to skilled nursing facilities, to clinics and hospitals — across 15 states plus the District of Columbia, these labor/management industry partnerships are on the front lines of developing an FOW agenda that directly engages industry to develop workforce solutions. This agenda prepares new and incumbent workers with the skills needed to support a transitioning delivery system — now and in the future — and harnesses technological innovation in order to provide higher quality care to patients.

The need for “future” sector-specific policies

It may not seem particularly insightful to conclude that manufacturing and healthcare are two different industries. We would agree. But as participants in various “future of work” events over the years, we’ve noted that obvious point is often lost in FOW forums (with some notable exceptions). In-depth discussions about the breadth or tempo of AI’s future applications, while fascinating, often miss the basic point that workplace technology’s impact will ultimately be determined not by the acumen of its design engineers, but by the operating constraints and capital budgets of different companies, and by the skills of the workers tasked to apply it. Firm and workforce constraints, in turn, are going to be quite different from industry to industry.

As we saw with automation in manufacturing, the availability of the technology did not guarantee its adoption by smaller firms without government assistance. Worker adoption of technology in a manner that benefited both firms and the workforce required both public and private investments in the skills of those workers, as well as efforts by unions and other industry intermediaries to jointly manage the technology’s introduction in a manner that took full advantage of the new abilities of a changing workforce. Some of those same challenges will face tech’s introduction into the healthcare sector, requiring both public and private interventions that enable that transition effectively and equitably. Yet healthcare’s specific industry context will likely mean that the specific interventions required — new training regimens, new occupational titles and career pathways, new means for ensuring that new tech improves both job quality for workers and care quality for clients — are likely going to be quite different from those developed for the FOW in manufacturing.

Industry context should be incorporated not only by FOW theorists. It needs to be embraced by policymakers as well. While there are some universal policies that could be improved across the board for all workers impacted by automation — such as a more robust and predictable public means for supporting and retraining workers whose displacement is a result of irreversible structural changes in an industry vs. the cyclical result of a momentary downturn in the economy. But other FOW policies, particularly those trying to support the advancement of workers and firms in a new technological age, are going to have to be industry-specific. Such sector-specific policies could be initiated at the national level, as was done for U.S. manufacturing in the past. They could also be developed or implemented at the regional level by sector-specific partnerships of employers, unions, workers, labor/management partnerships, training providers and other intermediaries. Either way, we will need a more diverse set of joint public and private collaborations in managing the FOW than has been discussed up until now.

Our coalition members — employers, unions, community colleges, community organizations, workforce boards, industry intermediaries — look forward to working with FOW experts and policymakers to see if we can bring more of their on-the-ground, industry-specific expertise into future FOW discussions. There is more than one future in the FOW. Let’s involve workforce experts from across all sectors to help figure out how to make that future accessible and beneficial to all U.S. workers and businesses.

Posted In: Future of Work

22 Meet-Ups Reveal Angst Across Communities: California leaders get real about automation, stranded workers and skills

  ·   By Van Ton-Quinlivan and Kermit Kaleba
22 Meet-Ups Reveal Angst Across Communities: California leaders get real about automation, stranded workers and skills

This post was originally posted on NSC's Medium.

By Van Ton-Quinlivan, Executive Vice Chancellor of Workforce and Digital Futures of California Community Colleges and Kermit Kaleba, Federal Policy Director of National Skills Coalition

Technology and market forces are changing the workplace, the talent needs of employers, and the skills workers need to stay in the game. For example, digital skills have become the new basic skill of the workplace; according to Burning Glass, 80 percent of middle-skill jobs require some digital skills. And the shelf life for those skills is getting shorter. The rapid pace of technological change means that workers need regular skill booster shots — that is, access to reskilling over time — to increase their economic resiliency.

In this climate, a growing segment of “stranded workers” are finding that the market for their skills is disappearing and they aren’t able to access those skill booster shots. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 2.5 million Californians — in the prime working ages of 25 to 34 — are in the economically vulnerable situation of having a high school degree but no industry-valued credential. Within the broader California labor force — age 25 to 65 — more than 8 million adults are in this situation. Across the country, this population stands at more than 31 million, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Over the last four months, the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office has met with hundreds of business, workforce, community, civic, labor, and education leaders in 22 community meetings throughout California to hear their insights on the future of work and the economic imperative of helping stranded workers train and retrain for jobs of the 21st century.

Automation is reshaping work and the shelf life of skills

In every community, leaders expressed expectations about disruptions in the workplace from automation. Automation is welcomed when it eliminates unpleasant jobs unwanted by people. But, automation is also reshaping existing jobs and their workflow. The business and economic development leaders shared this loud and clear. Yet, they also articulated which skills will transcend waves of automation.

In the Salinas Valley, Wesley Van Camp, general counsel at Tanimura & Antle, a premium produce grower, said “Technology is not going to replace our employees. They have the soft skills. As the jobs require computer literacy, the jobs will become better jobs.” The company has developed its own training program because classes were not available when its employees were available for training.

In San Bernardino County, the Workforce Development Board’s Business Service Manager shared the story of a robot security guard patrolling the parking structure at a local health care facility. “I saw a couple of people repairing the robot — doing jobs that no doubt pay better than the security guard the robot replaced.”

Reskilling stranded workers: We need local partnerships, support services, and accessible programs

Leaders shared three key strategies for ensuring stranded workers have a way back into the economy.

First and foremost, partnerships between community colleges, community organizations, and industry will be essential, but industry needs to be the leading voice. In the Central Valley, Richard Chapman, president and CEO of the Kern County Economic Development Corporation said, “We won’t be immune to the impact of automation.” But he added that partnerships between industry and colleges to reskill the workforce will be “critical to prepare for the coming disruption.”

Second, access to support services will also be essential. To effectively engage in upskilling, the “stranded worker” population will need a high-support student experience that is culturally appropriate. In the far north of the state, Butte County leaders highlighted the importance of partnering with community-based organizations, who would could help working learners access and navigate support services.

Finally, community leaders emphasized that reskilling opportunities need to be short (less than a semester) and available at accessible times and in accessible formats and platforms. Many “stranded workers” currently can’t retrain because of work and family obligations, scheduling challenges, transportation time to campus and affordability. In addition, about half of them come from Spanish-speaking households.

Solutions: In California and in Washington, D.C.

To address the impact of automation on the workplace, the California Community Colleges are working with the California Economic Summit and its robust regional network as well as others to implement the Strong Workforce Program — a strategic investment to align college programs with the skills needed to prepare Californians for jobs that pay better than minimum wage. In addition to an infusion of $248 million a year, the Strong Workforce Program requires colleges to consult with businesses and align programs and curricula with in-demand jobs within regional economies. Colleges are financially rewarded for increasing student completion and employment.

In addition, to address the particular needs of stranded workers and the issues lifted up by the community leaders in these 22 cities, Governor Brown proposed creating California’s 115th community college — a statewide online college that can reach Californians who need to develop additional skills to rise above minimum-wage jobs and stay ahead of shifts in the economy. The college will offer industry-driven, competency-based pathways that allow students to progress as they master skills. The college will offer start times throughout the year uncoupled from the academic calendar, and classes will be offered during hours when students are able to take them. Students will receive individual and personalized support from success coaches.

California has big plans but can’t do it alone. Leaders in Congress will need to join in the efforts. First and foremost, Congress must update the Higher Education Act to better address the millions of “stranded workers” across the nation and the impact that automation is having on the necessity for constant reskilling. If amended to include oversight and accountability provisions, pending Federal legislation could provide an avenue to address the issues lifted up in California — issues that are being felt in communities across the nation.

The Community College to Career Fund Act includes provisions aimed at supporting local partnerships between industry and community colleges to help ensure reskilling is tied to the needs of local employers. The Gateways to Career Act seeks to provide essential support services to workers balancing work, family, and education. Finally, the JOBS Act includes provisions to update the federal Pell grant student aid program to support the kinds of short-term programs that can address the rapid reskilling pressures caused by automation and the particular needs of working learners. When accompanied by meaningful accountability to ensure colleges and programs are using public funds responsibly, and that a robust oversight structure protects against the abuses of bad actors, these changes will ensure all Americans can gain the knowledge and skills valued by employers, critical to our future economy.

There are a lot of solutions being offered to the perceived impacts of automation, but not all of these solutions are based on the real experiences of business leaders, educators, and other local leaders at the frontlines of workforce and economic development. A growing number of workers are being stranded as their skills lose value. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Business is changing radically and the education system needs to match that radical change. We can change the postsecondary education ecosystem so that it is structured to address changes in the workplace and regional economies. But changing that ecosystem requires true partnerships between states and regions, and among colleges and employers within the regions. It requires the support of both state and federal policy. If we can heed the expertise of local experience and re-tool our approach to re-skilling, our regional economies can thrive, and no worker will be stranded.

Find out more on the National Skills Coalition position on these federal policies here: https://www.nationalskillscoalition.org/

Posted In: Future of Work