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Apprentices push for investments in work-based learning on Capitol Hill

  ·   By Jessica Cardott
Apprentices push for investments in work-based learning on Capitol Hill

“People are afraid to go to the doctor,” Jeffrey Bond shared during a meeting at National Skills Coalition earlier this month. “But when you have a community health worker to pick you up at your house and go with you, it’s so comfortable for the client that they begin to trust the health system.”

Jeffrey works at Philadelphia FIGHT, a comprehensive health services organization for people living with HIV/AIDS and those at high risk.  He is one of five apprentices* from across the country that attended an NSC fly-in this April to talk to Congress about how work-based learning programs kickstarted their current careers. Jeffrey’s apprenticeship program involved 150 hours of classroom training at Temple University, coupled with on-the-job training through Philadelphia’s 1199C Training & Upgrading Fund. While training, the labor-management partnership in charge of the training provided stipends for transportation and other necessities to minimize barriers to completion.

The apprentices were invited to DC with their employers and their training providers to offer Congress a full picture of how and why business-led training partnerships work for both industry and workers, and strengthen communities in the process. Jeffrey, now a Re-entry Senior Specialist working with people coming home from prison, explained why his fit with the job for which his apprenticeship prepared him was a success; “I’ve been there, so I knew to have patience with them, talk to them, try to build rapport, build relationships…if you don’t build relationships, you don’t know their mind, you don’t know their mentality, so you really can’t help them.” The apprenticeship was able to translate his existing skill set into a career that supports the health and safety of some of Philadelphia’s most vulnerable citizens.  

The small group of partners at the fly-in hailed from a wide-range of geographic areas, as well as industries; representatives from automotive manufacturing, hospitality, construction, and healthcare shared with policymakers on Capitol Hill their experience building quality training programs that get workers the skills businesses need. The range of voices allowed Hill staff to see how work-based learning can create opportunity outside of traditional apprenticeship settings, in different regions, and in pursuit of different ends.

“The apprenticeship program gave me an opportunity to keep succeeding,” Jeffrey said. “I was committed to success and being gainfully employed and right after completing the program, I was employed full-time.” Since his recent graduation from the program, Jeffrey has been promoted twice and is currently pursuing an undergraduate degree.

*Advocates were either apprentices or participated in a similar work based learning program.

Posted In: Work Based Learning, Business Leaders United

Business leaders fly to D.C. to meet with Administration

  ·   By Jessie Hogg Leslie
Business leaders fly to D.C. to meet with Administration

On November 7-8th, business leaders of BLU headed to DC to meet with the members of the Administration, including the Department of Labor, Department of Commerce, and the White House Domestic Policy Council. The intention of the meetings was to elevate the voice of small and mid-sized businesses in the current federal dialogues on apprenticeship and work-based learning, as well as to talk through how education can better keep pace with the needs of business through the modernization of student financial aid.

Business leaders representing manufacturing, such as Randy Bennett of Automation Tool and Die in Ohio, and Mike Mandina of Optimax in New York, were able to tell first-hand stories of the value that sector partnerships have played in the expansion of work-based learning for their industry.  And Shana Welch, of Mercy Health Systems in Michigan, was able to talk through the benefits and challenges of setting up an apprenticeship program in a nontraditional field like healthcare.

As bills like PARTNERS Act, BUILDS Act, and JOBS Act are introduced in Congress, it’s critical that business leaders are front-and-center to tell the story about how policies such as these support not just the needs of their industry, but the needs of workers back home. This set of meetings with the Administration was one important step in the process.

Attendees included: Randy Bennett, Automation Tool & Die (OH); Anette Smith-Dohring, Sutter Health (CA); Jody Fledderman, Batesville Tool & Die (IN); Liza Smitherman, Jostin Construction (OH); Pam Lendzion, MarineTec (FL); Michael Tamasi, AccuRounds (MA); Mike Mandina, Optimax (NY); Traci Tapani, Wyoming Machine (MN); Angel Pineiro, ASI System Integration, Inc. (NY); Shana Welch, Mercy Health Systems (MI).

Posted In: Business Leaders United
Business Leaders United visits Congress to advocate for apprenticeship, investments in education and workforce development

On Wednesday, twenty-five business leaders from six southern states (Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama) came to Washington, D.C. to advocate for investments in apprenticeship and training programs that prepare workers for in-demand fields.

The business leaders, hosted by Business Leaders United (BLU) and Georgia BLU, held more than 33 meetings with their Senators and Representatives, staff from Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s office, as well as with leadership from the House Ways and Means and Education and Workforce Committees. The employers urged policymakers to invest in the skills of America’s workers with the goals of closing the skills gap and developing a pipeline of skilled, trained workers that can meet the demand of growing industries. They shared their workforce challenges, especially their inability to find enough skilled, trained workers. And, they urged key lawmakers to improve the way apprenticeship and career and technical education works so they better align with the needs of businesses. 

Apprenticeship and work-based learning helps both companies and their workers - companies develop qualified and loyal employees while employees earn certificates and credentials that lead to higher wages.

Unfortunately, federal policies don’t make setting up apprenticeships and work based learning programs easy. So the employers, together with representatives from chambers of commerce, urged Congress to support the PARTNERS and BUILDS Acts that would do three things:  

  • Invest in sector partnerships and intermediaries that help small- and medium-sized businesses work together to develop training programs they could never afford to develop on their own;
  • Incentivize investing in work-based learning. The initial cost to set up apprenticeships and on-the-job training are a hurdle for many small and medium-sized companies. Targeted subsidies and tax credits that help offset company costs make it easier for companies to train new apprentices and upskill their existing workforce; and
  • Establish a support fund that helps move those with minimal job experience, including young people, into apprenticeship opportunities.

The employers also urged policymakers to pass the JOBS Act, which would update the Pell Grant program to make it work for working students and employers. Millions of middle-skill jobs require more than a high school diploma, but not a four-year degree. While there are many postsecondary credentials that help people learn in-demand skills and help businesses hire the skilled workers they need, our financial aid system discriminates against students enrolled in many kinds of short-term or noncredit training programs – even though they prepare students to work in growing industries. Employers urged Congress to change this by

  • Making short term occupational certificate programs and noncredit programs eligible for Pell grants.
  • Encouraging and investing in industry partnerships to make sure training programs have strong connections to regional employers and local labor markets.

The following companies took part in the fly-in:

Kamtek and Magna  – auto body suppliers located in Birmingham, Alabama

Genuine Parts Company is also an auto body supplier located Atlanta, Georgia

Holder Construction Company located in Atlanta, Georgia

Whitaker-Taylor, a business management consulting firm in Atlanta, Georgia;

Custom Plastics and More, a plastics manufacturer in Winston, Georgia

Entergy Corporation, an energy company with presence in Jackson, Mississippi

HAECO Americas, an aerospace manufacturer in Greensboro, North Carolina

Groninger USA, a maker of customized machines for the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries in Charlotte, North Carolina

Skanksa, a construction and development company with headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee

ARM, a software design firm with offices in Austin, Texas

Carolinas Healthcare system, located in Charlotte, North Carolina

Certain Affinity, a tech firm located in Austin, Texas

They were joined by representatives from the Birmingham Business Alliance, The University of Alabama Birmingham, the Douglas County Economic Development Authority, the Jackson Partnership, The Mississippi Economic Council, the Tennessee Baord of Regents, and several chambers of commerce - Metro Atlanta and Cobb, Georgia; Austin, Texas; Nashville Area, Tennessee; and Greensboro and Charlotte North Carolina.

 

*This was originally posted on the Business Leaders United website

Posted In: Business Leaders United

Briefing on infrastructure illuminates the need for skills

  ·   By Jessica Cardott
Briefing on infrastructure illuminates the need for skills

On June 14th, the Senate Career and Technical Education (CTE) Caucus hosted a briefing in conjunction with Business Leaders United and National Skills Coalition called “Building America’s Infrastructure Workforce.” The briefing explored how the administration’s investment in infrastructure initiatives would create millions of new jobs for Americans who are currently out of work, underemployed, or seeking higher wages. The policy recommendations discussed in the briefing can be found here.

Senator Baldwin, one of the four CTE Caucus co-chairs, opened the briefing with comments on the importance of investing in sector partnerships and apprenticeship in in-demand industries.

Industry leaders and Congressional support

BLU brought together two industry-led workforce partnerships to share best practices and policy recommendations to support workforce development in infrastructure. Dawn Pratt, from The Walbec Group, and Mark Kessenich, from WRTP/Big STEP. The Walbec Group is a family of companies that provide professional infrastructure construction and engineering services.  Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership / Building Industry Group Skilled Trades Employment Program (WRTP/BIG STEP) helps Dawn’s companies run work-based learning programs and develop a skilled pool of construction workers for The Walbec Group’s projects.

Pat Steele, the Site Director for Central Iowa Works and Dr. Matt Bruinekool, a consultant at Master Builders of Iowa completed the panel. Central Iowa Works is a regional sector partnership that has helped local businesses, including those with which Matt works, meet workforce demands by expanding populations of workers with access to training to get the skills necessary for the transportation logistics and distribution jobs in central Iowa.

NSC’s Senior Federal Policy Analyst Katie Spiker facilitated the briefing.

Sector partnership and work-based learning, demystified

The panelists shared how employers and other stakeholders are partnering to develop workforce pipelines in infrastructure sectors and why these partnerships have become vital to their success. Both employers on the panel emphasized the importance of their partnerships with the regional sector partnerships in their area. Dawn described the importance of being able to reach out to just one entity, Mark’s organization, when her companies need new workers or when she was developing training programs and needed to work with community colleges, unions or other stakeholders in the community. Matt added that Pat’s organization provides training before workers were on the job as well as support services once workers were employed, making it possible for his employers to increase productivity and be confident in the skills and retention of their workers.

Both employers also emphasized the importance of the partnerships connecting workers with supportive services. Pat described his organization’s provision of transportation services to new workers, a service that ensures workers can make it to their worksites.

Mark emphasized that while these services are vital to the retention of good workers and continued productivity for WRTP/Big Step’s business partners, work-based learning programming and support services can be expensive. He emphasized the importance of Congressional investments in current job training programs like the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and including investment in workforce development in any upcoming Congressional infrastructure bill.

Together, they started a dialogue about the benefits of investing in human capital and how federal policy can support these innovative strategies.

Exposure and reach

Representatives from more than a dozen Congressional offices attended the briefing. While in DC, Pat and Matt met with Senator Ernst’s office about the importance of supporting workforce training and education programs and including these priorities in upcoming infrastructure legislation. The panelists also took a meeting with the Department of Transportation Senior Program Advisor, Marilyn Shazor, to explain how they have used sector partnerships to fill skilled positions in the industry.

President Trump visited Dawn and Mark’s home state of Wisconsin the day before the briefing to talk about jobs. In response to this visit and the President’s previous call to drastically cut federal investments in job training and education, Dawn and Mark spoke with the Washington Post about their reliance on federal investments to support infrastructure workforce pipelines. 

Posted In: Sector Partnerships, Career and Technical Education, Work Based Learning, Iowa, Wisconsin, Business Leaders United

A Year of Upskilling

  ·   By Nicky Lauricella Coolberth ,
A Year of Upskilling

One year ago this week, 150 employer, labor, education, and community leaders met at the White House for a half-day Upskill Summit to share the innovations and collaborations that were currently in place to equip front-line workers with the skills and supports needed to advance in their careers. Nearly one-third of those attendees were NSC partners and allies, including 14 members of Business Leaders United for Workforce Partnerships (BLU) and 30 labor partners.                                                  

At that meeting, 130 employers and labor unions employing and representing more than 5 million workers made commitments to not just sustain, but to expand and grow their efforts to upskill our nation’s workforce. Over the following twelve months, the White House has been engaging regularly with those that made a commitment to stay abreast of progress.  What they’ve found: in just one year, a tremendous amount of new and expanded work has been done to equip frontline workers with the skills they need to advance in the workplace.  

This afternoon, leading employers and their partners will celebrate that progress in Washington, DC, for Win/Win: Making the Case for Employer Talent Development (you can watch a recording of the event at that link). The event will be co-hosted by Upskill America, an organization dedicated to the elevation of good upskilling practices. BLU serves as a member of Upskill America’s Leadership Council.

The return on investment in upskilling is detailed in a new report from Lumina Foundation finds that investing in college tuition as an employee benefit not only helps companies attract and retain top talent – it improves the bottom line. An analysis of health insurer Cigna’s Education Reimbursement Program (ERP) shows every dollar the company puts into the program is returned and generates an additional $1.29 in savings—a 129 percent return on investment.

We’ll update this blog tomorrow, as soon as the updates on the one-year commitments are released by the White House.

Posted In: Business Leaders United

NSC launches new National Advisory Panels

  ·   By Nicky Lauricella Coolberth,
NSC launches new National Advisory Panels

Today, NSC is launching our new National Advisory Panels. We’ve brought together a diverse group of people including leaders from the business, community college, labor, community-based training, public sector, adult education, and immigration communities to help guide NSC’s work in three important areas: skills equity, work-based learning for youth and adults, and postsecondary education.

Many members of our panels are drawn from NSC’s National Partners – key networks with which NSC engages in ongoing strategic collaboration to shape and advance essential policy reforms at the federal and state level. These National Partners include Business Leaders United for Workforce Partnerships, Commission on Adult Basic EducationNational Youth Employment CoalitionNational Council of La RazaNational Council on Workforce Education, Workforce Data Quality CampaignNational Fund for Workforce Solutions, Community College Consortium for Immigrant Education and Young Invincibles.

While NSC has always collaborated with a range of stakeholders when developing our policy agenda, the new advisory panel model will allow NSC to be more responsive to emerging policy opportunities. As primary, strategic work is completed in one subject area, advisory panels will cycle out as new advisory panels develop in response to burgeoning issues.

This expansion of our coalition’s leadership structure reflects our growing, diversifying network and brings new ideas and new allies to the table as we work to position and advance our skills agenda at the state and federal levels.

Take a look at the full membership of our National Advisory Panels here. 

Posted In: Business Leaders United

Erick Ajax named 2016 Skills Champion Award winner

  ·   By Nicky Lauricella Coolberth
Erick Ajax named 2016 Skills Champion Award winner
NSC’s annual Skills Champion Award recognizes a member whose exceptional organizing and advocacy efforts have moved the skills agenda forward in their state or in Washington, D.C. over the past year. This member embodies the Coalition’s mission to seek an America that grows its economy by investing in its people, so that every worker and every industry has the skills to compete and prosper.
 
This year, Erick Ajax, Vice President and Co-Owner of E.J. Ajax and Sons, became the first NSC employer partner to receive the Skills Champion Award. He was honored for his outstanding work to ensure our country’s policymakers invest, aggressively and effectively, in the skills of America’s workers.
 
Erick has worked with National Skills Coalition for a decade, serving on the original NSC Leadership Council. He is a founding member of Business Leaders United and currently serves on its Executive Committee.
 
Erick has been an outstanding advocate for effective workforce policies, particularly those that leverage and build upon private sector investments, all while leading a successful company and sector partnership in Minnesota. E.J. Ajax invests over 5.5% of its annual payroll in employee education, and believes strongly in the value of employer-led partnerships to prepare workers for jobs within his industry. Erick is a founding board member of M-Powered, a Minnesota-based manufacturing sector partnership.
 
Over the last decade, Erick has helped to raise the visibility of the skills gap, sector partnerships, and the need for federal skills policy to be informed by small and mid-sized employers. In addition to seeding and informing dozens of media pieces locally and nationally over the years, he has successfully cultivated Senator Franken (D-MN) as a skills champion in Congress. He has hosted the Senator for site visits at M-Powered, engaged in joint press activities with the Senator, and was his guest at the State of the Union. Ultimately, Erick helped to inform the Senator’s Community College to Career Fund Act, which is based on the successful sector partnerships that he visited in Minnesota.
 
Posted In: Minnesota, Business Leaders United

Business and community colleges united for job-driven training

  ·   By Scott Ellsworth,
Business and community colleges united for job-driven training

On November 9 and 10, dozens of members of Business Leaders United for Workforce Partnerships (BLU) joined together with their community college partners to meet with their senators and representatives. Together, we shared several bipartisan steps lawmakers could take to help employers close the skills gap. We met with representatives from the White House National Economic Council and the Department of Education to talk about how to upskill our workforce in partnership with our local community colleges. We proposed solutions such as Pell for short-term training, support for local partnerships between community colleges and industry to shape career and technical education, and greater support for work-based learning. 

We also spent a day on Capitol Hill meeting with staff from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee and the House Education and Workforce committees, visiting with our elected representatives, and attending a BLU briefing on workforce policies hosted by Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), co-sponsor of the JOBS Act. Senator Al Franken (D-MN) spoke at the briefing about his recently introduced Community College to Career Fund Act” and the positive impact it would have for employers. Saying "help me help you," Franken urged employers to reach out to our senators and ask them to co-sponsor the legislation that would make it easier for employers and community colleges to work together to address the skills gap.  

Download all the materials from the fly-in here. And check out NSC's Flickr page for photos. 

Ways you can get involved:

  • Click here to urge your senators and representatives to support the JOBS Act of 2015 - legislation that would amend the Higher Education Act by expanding Pell Grant eligibility to students enrolled in short-term job training programs - including your employees. To learn more about making Pell work for employers and workers, read BLU’s Policy Brief and NSC’s Policy Brief.


Answer Senator Franken’s call, and ask your lawmakers to co-sponsor the Community College to Career Fund Act - legislation that would help business and community colleges address the skills gap in their local areas by organizing or expanding industry driven partnerships.

Posted In: Higher Education Access, Career and Technical Education, Business Leaders United

BLU profile: Molly Seals

  ·   By Scott Ellsworth,
BLU profile: Molly Seals

This month I had an opportunity to talk to BLU employer Molly Seals, Senior VP of Human Resources and Learning at Mercy Health Partners. She sheds some light on the critical need to prioritize workforce development, and why other employers should get involved with BLU.

BLU: Why is workforce development so important to Mercy Health?

Molly: Workforce development is critical is one of the most important strategies any employer can have to assure current and future success.  It will either enable or inhibit every other strategy the employer puts into place.  Having the right people in the right place at the right time requires sound workforce development. 

BLU: How did you first get involved with BLU?

Molly: I recently became involved with BLU as a result of my work as an executive committee member of CareerSTAT.  My work with CareerSTAT and the work of BLU are closely aligned and both involve advocacy for an increased focus on workforce development.  CareerSTAT encourages more healthcare employers to make workforce development a focus for their front-line workforce and BLU encourages more legislators to recognize the important needs of employers. And workforce development tops the list in all types of industry. 

BLU: What do you value about being a part of BLU?

Molly: BLU connects like-minded employers and helps us prioritize our needs and pool our efforts for the greatest impact in influencing legislators and white house administration. 

BLU: Why should other employers get involved in advocating for employer led workforce partnerships?

Molly:  For workforce development to be most effective, it must be employer-led.  Employers know best the demand side of the equation. They know what jobs they need done and what skills are needed to do that work.  More employers should get involved and assure their organization’s or industry’s priorities are represented in the agendas being advanced. 

BLU: Recently you were at the White House for the day to talk about UpSkilling, what was that experience like for you?

Molly: It was a great experience.  I never imagined having the opportunity to add my voice to that of other employers and share our ideas for innovative prac tices with so many key decision-makers.  The opportunity to exchange ideas and thoughts with four of the Administration’s top cabinet members was a very meaningful experience. 

BLU: Are there other burning thoughts that you would like to share with your employer peers?

Molly: Workforce development is important to our businesses and to the growth and development of our country.  We should all be seeking the most effective strategies that will help us achieve both.  The more employers involved, the more effective BLU will be as a vehicle for change for us all.  

Posted In: Business Leaders United

BLU looks to the future

  ·   By Scott Ellsworth,
BLU looks to the future

As the national voice of small and medium sized businesses on workforce partnerships, BLU has reached out to our employers to set priorities for the next several years.  Each of you should have received an invitation to help set those priorities by completing a survey on a number of policy areas such as:

College Aid for Current Workers – Often, full-time workers do not qualify for federal financial aid because they’re not full-time students or they are pursuing short-term certificates.

Industry-Responsive Technical Courses at Colleges and High Schools - Community colleges and high schools receive public funding to update technical education programs to prepare students for skilled jobs in local industries. Some employers believe such programs could be more industry responsive.

Supporting Companies That Train Workers On the Job – Increasingly, policymakers want to encourage more students / new workers to train on the job through apprenticeships, paid internships, temp-to-hire and other work-based learning arrangements.

Up-to-Date Reading and Math Skills for Applicants and Current Workers - Some companies find that applicants for entry-level jobs do not have the necessary reading or math skills. Others worry that current workers’ math and reading skills aren’t keeping up with changing technical demands and are preventing them from training up for higher level positions.

Integrating Immigrant Workers - Some companies have diversifying workforces with limited English proficiency or foreign-earned credentials that do not match U.S. hiring or licensing requirements. Many of these workers will not qualify for legal status or citizenship unless they learn English and/or raise their skills.

Helping Young People Get a Start - Unemployment is still disproportionately high among certain groups of teens and young adults with sub-par educations and/or limited work experience. Employers have been asked to give these young people the chance to work and learn for a period of time at their companies and in turn have sought coverage of some of their costs or risk for providing work-based learning opportunities.

Credentials - Credentials and certifications are becoming more common as a means of determining qualification for potential workers.  However, there are a proliferation of these credentials and certifications that employers may not be familiar with.

Your input on these issues is critical to set the direction of BLU.  If you have not already responded to the survey, please do so by clicking here

Posted In: Business Leaders United
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