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Skills for an Inclusive Economic Recovery: A Call for Action, Equity, and Accountability.

  ·   By Andy Van Kleunen,
Skills for an Inclusive Economic Recovery: A Call for Action, Equity, and Accountability.

As I draft this message with National Skills Coalition’s Board of Directors, I keep returning to this fact: The emotional, physical, and economic toll that the COVID-19 health pandemic has taken on our country can’t be overstated. Our coalition stands with the working people and local businesses who have been most impacted by the pandemic’s economic fallout.

The deeply inequitable consequences of this economic crisis for Black, Latino, Indigenous, and other communities of color, for immigrants, and for people with a high school diploma or less lay bare our nation’s history. A history of structural racism that kills people of color and robs them of their livelihood. A history of public policies that undermine the aspirations of working people who want to train for a better job. A history of economic recovery strategies that pick winners and losers rather than creating real pathways to prosperity for everyone.

But today, as the NSC Board, we come to you in a spirit of hope, responsibility, and determination with the release of Skills for an Inclusive Economic Recovery: A Call for Action, Equity, and Accountability. This call to action offers a vision for the role that skills policy can play in an inclusive recovery. A recovery in which workers and businesses most impacted by this recession, as well as workers previously held back by structural barriers of discrimination or opportunity, are empowered to equitably participate in and benefit from economic expansion and restructuring.

Skills for an Inclusive Economic Recovery will guide our coalition’s work over the next two years. And over the coming months, we will share actionable legislative agendas and in-depth policy solutions that achieve the goals we put before you today. Solutions that state and federal policymakers can run with. Solutions based on the experience and expertise of our member businesses, labor-management partnerships, community organizations, community colleges, and education and workforce experts. Solutions that will require your advocacy to make them real.

America cannot train its way out of an economic crisis, nor can skills policy shoulder alone the weight of a more inclusive economy. Inclusive skills policy on its own will not dismantle structural racism, bring economic security to every worker, or ignite sustainable growth for every small business. A web of policies and practices contributes to these goals. But skills policy has an essential role to play and must be part of our nation’s path forward.

So it’s with a sense of hope, responsibility, and determination that we ask you to walk with us on this path and shape this journey.

In solidarity,

Andy Van Kleunen, CEO and Board member, along with the rest of the NSC Board

Scott Paul (Chair)

Alma Salazar (Vice Chair)

Jessica Fraser (Secretary)

Alice Pritchard (Treasurer)

Daniel Bustillo

Brenda Dann-Messier

Melinda Mack

Ned McCulloch

Girard Melancon

Rory O'Sullivan

Grant Shmelzer

Abby Snay

Van Ton-Quinlivan

Portia Wu

Posted In: Future of Work, Work Based Learning, Career and Technical Education, Higher Education Access, Federal Funding, Work-Based Learning, Postsecondary Education, Skills and Supportive Services, Upskilling

How states can rev up their recoveries through upskilling

  ·   By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock,
How states can rev up their recoveries through upskilling

The COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted and accelerated two trends that were already occurring in the American workplace: First, the demand for new skills and competenciesincluding digital skills, from workers at every level. Second, the growing importance of investing in employer-based upskilling strategies that can help already-employed workers adapt to changing skill needs on the job, as well as new jobseekers who are preparing for employment at a particular company 

A new report from National Skills Coalition provides a roadmap for state policymakers and skills advocates eager to take action on these issues. Funding Resilience: How public policies can support businesses in upskilling workers for a changing economy details the strengths and shortcomings of state incumbent worker training funds, and makes recommendations for better state policies in this important area.   

Uneven patchwork of policies leaves many workers and businesses out in the cold 

Even before the pandemic, the US was not investing nearly enough in proven strategies to help incumbent workers upskill and new workers enter jobs. Today, only thirty states provide any dedicated state funds for incumbent-worker training -- and among those that do, funding reaches only a tiny fraction of potentially eligible workers and businesses.  

Funding Resilience details the current landscape of state policies that support employers’ in-house upskilling efforts, and explains the major bottlenecks and barriers preventing widespread replication of effective practices. Some of these barriers can be addressed through simple revenue-neutral changes that will not affect state budgets, such as making application cycles more frequent to match the speed of business.   

An opportunity to strengthen policies as states launch COVID economic recovery efforts 

The report makes recommendations for how policymakers can take action to change the trajectory and equip more businesses to implement upskilling programs that respond to emerging labor market demands. These timely ideas are particularly relevant for policymakers spearheading COVID recovery efforts, especially given that many businesses will need support for rapid re-skilling as previously unemployed workers return to the labor market. 

To preview the report’s conclusion: States with existing incumbent worker policies should strengthen them, and those without such policies should advance them. Reinvigorating state incumbent worker training policies is necessary to ensure that the essential workers and industries that the United States depends on can flourish in a post-pandemic economy.  

Enthusiastic advocacy from businesses and workers – combined with the growing public recognition that existing workforce investments are simply not sufficient for the present moment – can provide the momentum necessary to galvanize policymakers to act.   

Get all the details in the full Funding Resilience report. 

Posted In: Federal Funding, Work Based Learning, Future of Work, Upskilling

Skills mismatch: Lack of access to skills training hurts workers and businesses

  ·   By Molly Bashay
Skills mismatch: Lack of access to skills training hurts workers and businesses

National Skills Coalition’s newly updated fact sheets demonstrate the national and state demand for skills training and skilled workers to fill the in-demand jobs that define and support the American economy.

Every day, in communities across our nation, workers seek out opportunities to ensure their families can thrive. At the same time, businesses are anxious to hire skilled workers—people trained for jobs in growing industries like healthcare, medical technology, IT and software, and advanced manufacturing—as well as tradespeople like plumbers and electricians.

These jobs [1], which require education and training that falls between a high school diploma and a four-year degree, are the backbone of the American economy and they depend on a skilled workforce ready to fill them.

For many workers and families, skills training (including on-the-job training, apprenticeships, or two-year degrees) is a ticket into the middle class. And for employers, skills training is a valuable investment in their workforce, business productivity, and long-term success.

But too few people have access to the skills training and education needed to fill the jobs that power our economy. (See chart.) The mismatch between the skills workers have and the skills that in-demand jobs require leaves opportunity on the table. Skills training is the key to filling in-demand jobs—yet without access to skills training and education, workers are locked out of opportunities to succeed.

America’s workforce is its premier economic asset. Unlocking workers’ access to skills training prioritizes what workers and businesses need to fill in-demand jobs in a 21st century economy.

States can respond to this skills mismatch by adopting policies to expand equitable access to skills training, credentials and in-demand careers—particularly for communities who face structural or systemic barriers to participation, like low-income populations, people of color, and immigrants.

Individual employers can similarly invest in their incumbent workforce through in-house or external skills training opportunities facilitated by trusted partners like community colleges and local training providers.

Find out more and download your state’s skills mismatch fact sheet here.

[1] Sometimes called “middle-skill jobs”


Posted In: Work-Based Learning, Postsecondary Education, Upskilling
Upskilling adults with disabilities through better systems alignment: A new brief highlights Texas model

American businesses are facing the tightest labor market in decades. At the same time, seven out of ten Americans with disabilities are working or want to work, but they are not always well-served by workforce and education systems. Skills advocates can address both sides of this equation by improving alignment among workforce and education systems so that people with disabilities can upskill for in-demand jobs.

A new brief from NSC showcases one community that has embarked on this type of alignment process. Stakeholders in the workforce development, adult education, and vocational rehabilitation systems in the Rural Capital region of Texas have been collaborating since 2016.

Upskilling adult learners with disabilities: How collaboration among adult education, vocational rehabilitation, and workforce development partners can strengthen systems also provides recommendations for state and federal policymakers who want to support the upskilling of jobseekers with disabilities through better systems alignment.

When systems work better, people with disabilities can upskill more easily

Imagine an adult learner who is eager to earn his high school equivalency and find employment, but whose severe dyslexia has never been properly diagnosed or treated. If his adult education instructor is well-connected to her counterparts in the vocational rehabilitation (VR) system, he may be referred for formal diagnostic testing and become eligible for additional supports.

Similarly, consider a jobseeker with a hearing impairment who has been working with a VR counselor and is frustrated that she can’t find a laboratory-technician training program that will also allow her to brush up on her math skills. If her VR counselor is well-connected to workforce and education partners, she may be referred to an Integrated Education and Training program that fits the bill – and allows her to find rapid employment in this in-demand field.

Businesses benefit when public systems work more smoothly together

Many small and mid-sized businesses depend on the workforce and adult education systems to upskill workers for in-demand jobs. Many such occupations are middle-skill jobs that require more than a high school diploma, but not a four-year degree. The federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) includes mechanisms that encourage local workforce providers to collaborate with peer agencies to provide services such as Integrated Education and Training that can prepare workers for middle-skill jobs.

How Texas is tackling this challenge

The nine-county Rural Capital area surrounds the city of Austin, and encompasses a broad range of suburban, exurban, and rural communities. Rural Capital stakeholders have spent more than three years working to strengthen connections among local workforce, adult education, and VR partners. The goal: make smoother customer handoffs, provide trackable referrals, and ultimately achieve better outcomes for adult learners and workers with disabilities and the local businesses who need their talents.

Rural Capital’s activities have included: Developing a shared vision across stakeholders; providing cross-system professional development to help frontline staff learn how their counterparts approach things; creating streamlined referral protocols and data collection processes; educating stakeholders about the services and eligibility requirements of their peers; and more.

State and federal policymakers can help other communities replicate this success  

Regardless of whether states choose to locate their VR agency under the umbrella of the state labor department as Texas has done (NSC takes no position on this issue), policymakers can take action to improve alignment among these key systems.

For example, Texas Workforce Commission officials made WIOA Title II adult education leadership funds available to local partners to support systems integration. Rural Capital partners used that investment to hire an outside facilitator to guide their collaboration process. Other state policymakers should consider following Texas’ lead, making WIOA Title I or Title II leadership dollars available to support systems alignment efforts.

Other recommendations for state policymakers: Invest in technical assistance and cross-system professional development for adult education, workforce, and VR partners. Consider issuing policy guidance or using requests for proposals to encourage local providers to detail their referral processes, co-enrollment, or other forms of collaboration.

At the federal level, policymakers should consider providing guidance on the use of state leadership funds to support alignment across WIOA titles. Federal agencies should release joint guidance in advance of the Spring 2020 WIOA state planning process to further encourage state partners to collaborate. And Congress should ensure that WIOA is funded at its full authorized levels.

Check out the full policy brief to learn more about each of these recommendations.

Posted In: Upskilling