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NSC’s new SkillSPAN will increase skills & job training opportunities for thousands in 25 states over next five years

  ·   By Andrew Bradley and Brooke DeRenzis
NSC’s new SkillSPAN will increase skills & job training opportunities for thousands in 25 states over next five years

Today, National Skills Coalition launches SkillSPAN (Skills State Policy Advocacy Network), a first-ever nationwide network of non-partisan coalitions that will bring skills and job training opportunities to thousands of people through policy changes in 25 states over the next five years.

SkillSPAN and NSC’s new Business Leaders United (BLU) state affiliate network will pass policies in the postsecondary education, workforce training, adult education, career and technical education, and safety net arenas to expand economic opportunities for workers and their families while boosting local business capacity.

We are launching this network at a critical time: skills training is a popular, bipartisan issue and many of the country’s governors ran on skills training as a critical plank in their education and economic platforms. SkillSPAN and BLU are poised to help these and other state leaders deliver on their skills training promises and address key economic challenges in their states.

SkillSPAN coalitions will include policy organizations, workforce advocates, community colleges, community-based organizations, businesses, unions, and others advocating for a shared agenda.

Ten state coalitions will join SkillSPAN in 2019, with an additional ten joining in 2020, and further growth in 2021. Fifteen states will have BLU affiliates by 2020. With an initial $3 million grant from Ballmer Group, NSC will provide grants to SkillSPAN coalitions and BLU state affiliates, along with an infrastructure to support cross-state learning and technical assistance.

Seizing an economic and political moment

Despite economic, political, and geographic differences, every state in the nation faces a common labor market challenge: jobs that require education and training beyond high school but not a bachelor’s degree make up the largest portion of the labor market; yet too few workers have access to training for these jobs, many of which pay family-supporting wages.

With unemployment at a record low and technology changing the way we work now and in the future, everyone who wants to build their skills – from people who are looking for a job to low-wage workers who want to upgrade their skills and take the next step in their career — should have the opportunity to do so. Training is important for people who want good jobs that can support their families, for businesses looking to adapt to continual industry changes, and for states whose economic growth and competitiveness depends on building a skilled and inclusive workforce.   

Across political parties and regions of the country, people have called on policy leaders to recognize this need and include skills training in education and jobs proposals. As governors and state legislators begin new terms this month, they are looking to respond.

SkillSPAN and the BLU affiliate network will provide capacity and infrastructure to seize these economic and political opportunities. In every statehouse, policymakers can support workers and businesses while strengthening the economy by investing in the skills of people – from the father who wants to train for a new career after being laid off to the young woman who wants to take on an apprenticeship instead of college debt.

As a national network, SkillSPAN will leverage the combined expertise of state coalition members and amplify their collective voices in state capitols across the nation.


Scaling what works for workers and business

SkillSPAN coalitions will advance policy changes that impact workers and businesses across a range of areas, including:

  • Protecting and increasing vital funding for successful skills training programs
  • Turning back efforts to impose work requirements in safety net programs and replacing them with polices to provide job training and supports to low‐income people, including those utilizing TANF, SNAP, and other income supports
  • Expanding apprenticeship and other forms of wage‐earning, work‐based learning, particularly for low‐income working adults and out‐of‐school youth
  • Making financial aid available to working people and creating new pathways into college programs for low‐skilled workers, along with support services
  • Helping states invest in sector partnerships so that participating companies—particularly small‐ and medium‐sized businesses— inform training and higher education efforts connected to their industry
  • Creating new opportunities for low‐wage workers with limited basic or English skills to acquire these skills in partnership with their employers, as well as local schools, community organizations, community colleges and unions
  • Expanding state data systems and publicly-available data tools so that policymakers and the public can know which programs place people in jobs and raise their incomes

Across these issues, SkillSPAN coalitions will work to ensure that policy changes advance racial equity in the workforce.

Inaugural coalitions

In 2019, coalitions in 10 states will join SkillSPAN. Despite a wide range of political and policy environments, these states share a need for comprehensive policies that secure a skilled workforce and a strong economic future for all residents. NSC has selected a nonprofit organization to lead each state coalition. The 2019 states and coalition lead organizations are:

  • California: California EDGE Coalition
  • Georgia: Georgia Budget & Policy Institute
  • Illinois: Chicago Jobs Council
  • Indiana: Indiana Institute for Working Families
  • Iowa: United Way of Central Iowa
  • Massachusetts: SkillWorks
  • Michigan: United Way for Southeast Michigan
  • North Carolina: North Carolina Justice Center
  • Tennessee: Complete Tennessee
  • Washington state

As they work to advance skills policies, SkillSPAN coalitions will leverage the voice of businesses in their states through NSC’s new BLU state affiliate network. In March 2019, National Skills Coalition will announce the members of that network in partnership with the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives. BLU is supported by NSC and National Fund for Workforce Solutions, and includes businesses from a range of industries who are working with local partners to train and hire residents for skilled jobs, or upskill their existing workforce, and who want policymakers to follow their lead and invest in workers’ skills. By working in partnership on shared agenda items, SkillSPAN coalitions and BLU affiliates will achieve policy wins for workers, businesses, and the economy.

Posted In: SkillSPAN, Massachusetts, Michigan, California, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, North Carolina, Tennessee, Washington
Business investment in upskilling for incumbent workers: lessons from a Pre-Lean ESOL Program in Massachusetts

In a tight labor market, companies across the United States are mulling how best to upskill their incumbent workforce to meet business needs. A particular challenge is adults with foundational skills gaps in reading, math, or spoken English. These kinds of skill gaps can prevent workers from even being able to participate in occupational training opportunities that can help them improve their earning prospects and better contribute to the business bottom line.

In Massachusetts, one effort is demonstrating the value of employer-informed training approaches that capitalize on strong public policies and partnerships with experienced training providers.

The Pre-Lean English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program was created by the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MassMEP) in collaboration with the nonprofit English for New Bostonians (ENB).

Formally known as Principles of Lean Manufacturing for English Language Learners, the program was sparked by the discovery that businesses eager to realize cost savings by training workers in Lean Manufacturing techniques faced a challenge: Workers who were English learners were not able to participate in the training on an even footing with their English-speaking colleagues.

National Skills Coalition spoke with Jim Gusha of MassMEP, Mark Camus of Russelectric, and Franklin Peralta of English for New Bostonians to learn about the program and the policies that facilitate it.

Why was this an important issue for your organizations to tackle?

Jim: Just as context, MassMEP works primarily with small and medium sized manufacturers. We have three different areas of focus: operational excellence, business development and innovation, and workforce development. Often that means moving people from unemployment into a job – helping them build basic skills like math and reading, as well as specific skills like Computer Numeric Control (CNC) operation, metrology, etc. We have strong relationships with local higher education institutions as well as training facilities in our offices.

But now that unemployment level is so low, you’ve got under-employed people. Companies are crying for help. We’re looking to try and bridge that gap, to put together programming to reach those people and get them into the manufacturing workforce, or help them move up in their current roles. This project started off as a way to respond to a need that we were seeing among some of our manufacturers that have high numbers of immigrant workers [who needed to upskill].

Franklin: English for New Bostonians is a nonprofit, but we’re also an activist grantmaking organization that funds 23 programs serving more than 1,100 English learners each year. There is a huge business component to our work, because across Massachusetts, 1 in 5 workers is an immigrant. Many of them are still building their English skills: 439,000 working-age people in our state are English learners.

So businesses are really important partners for us, especially in the manufacturing sector, where a lot of immigrants in our state are employed. We engage with companies through our English Works campaign. We are always trying to think about how to help businesses make the connection between investing in English skills for their employees, and seeing greater productivity and improved safety outcomes.

We don’t just work with individual businesses; we also work with industry associations and groups like MassMEP. So it was natural for us to respond when Jim reached out.

Mark: We are a privately held, family-owned independent company. We have about 325-350 employees in two main facilities – in Massachusetts and Oklahoma. Our products help make sure that companies who can’t afford to lose power, don’t lose power. Like airports, banks, data centers, hospitals. It’s business to business.

It was MassMEP and AIM – Associated Industries of Massachusetts – who came to us initially. They reached out to us regarding a 2-year grant from the Massachusetts Workforce Training Fund Program (WTFP), covering all aspects of Lean manufacturing and related concepts. Based on the composition of our workforce, we identified that ESOL would need to be a component of the training.

What prompted you to think about designing a class specifically for English learners?

Jim: Previously, when MassMEP has done work in areas like Fall River, Lowell, or Boston [that have large immigrant populations] we’ve always had to tap into a [bilingual] person at the company to translate some of the concepts we’re trying to train on. It was cumbersome and I’m not really sure how effective it was. Employers want to have their [English learner] employees involved in training but sometimes they shy away from sending them because they’re not sure the message is getting through.

We were offering this Lean 101 8-hour introductory session. For that training, there was a lot of communication that was necessary: interaction with the instructor, lecture, and so on – and we were just not sure that the message was getting through to the participants who were English learners.

So then we thought about ESOL programming as kind of an on-ramp to the Lean training. In general, ESOL is a time commitment for a company – it can take 6 months to a year for a worker to gain a level in their language skills. While that’s great, it’s also time-consuming if what you want is just for someone to get up to speed enough to be able to understand Lean.

I bounced the idea of a Lean ESOL class off of Franklin and he liked the idea. ENB had a person who they recommended who could help us put it together, and that’s how this whole project got started.

Why were partnerships necessary for Russelectric to engage with this project?

Mark: The partnership with MassMEP is important because we’re a relatively small business.  It’s not practical for us to design and launch entire training programs – that’s just not what we do. We do very much have top-down support for this project, from the CEO and CFO on down. I report directly to the CFO.

In terms of establishing our relationship with English for New Bostonians, I went to the annual awards breakfast that ENB puts on. It was a fantastic event -- very uplifting, inspirational, professionally run. So that made a good impression on me. They had good stories and examples of other companies they’d worked with.

Knowing that we were working with experienced partners helped convince us that this was a good use of company time and resources.

What does the class entail?

Mark: There are about 10 classes, at two hours per class. The classes are held from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., and employees get paid for their time.  The reaction to the class has been quite favorable.

What are the key differences between Pre-Lean ESOL and a regular English class?

Jim: I can’t stress this enough – this is not a replacement for a traditional ESOL program. I don’t want companies to think that. [Rather], it’s a class that makes sense for workers to take before they start their Lean journey. It allows them to conceptually understand the key points of Lean, learn some specialized vocabulary, and participate in the improvement process.

What drives employers to work with you on training?

Jim: Over the years, MassMEP has served thousands of businesses in Massachusetts, of which 80 percent have fewer than 100 employees. These companies aren’t large enough to have [extensive] in-house training resources. MassMEP is an important resource for them because we can look at the training needs across a range of small companies and develop programs that meet their needs.

We’re very fortunate that our state is very supportive of this type of programming. Massachusetts has a fund that is paid for through a tax on unemployment insurance – the Workforce Training Fund. It allows employers to receive grants to support training for incumbent workers, with greater weight given to projects that boost skills and opportunities for lower-skill or low-wage workers. We often work with businesses to design training that can be supported by this fund.

How was this project funded?

Jim: As an organization, we’re set up as a nonprofit, and our funding comes from the US Department of Commerce, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and fee-for-service training programs. For this project, MassMEP funded all of the program development and paid for a curriculum developer to work with ENB.

It took us about a year to develop. It was constantly tweaked. We ran a pilot at a company that was interested in Lean training, but hesitant to begin it, because about 20% of their workforce was not fluent in English. After the ESOL pilot ended, production workers in the pilot class shared valuable feedback with us -- such advising us to use more videos – and were able to successfully move on to the regular Lean training with their native-born co-workers

Franklin: ESOL training for immigrant workers is one of the top priorities for the Workforce Training Fund; that, coupled with the fact that many of these limited English speaking employees are currently in low-skills positions, puts the Pre-Lean ESOL program in total alignment with the mission of the Fund to upskill our state workforce.

How are you measuring success? What’s next for this project?

Mark: At the worker level, it’s primarily observational. We are judging this as part of the overall Lean training. If we see ESOL participants being able to participate on equal footing with their [non-ESOL] coworkers, that’s a good sign.

As part of our broader Lean training activities, we do have some specific outcomes we have to report to the state about operational efficiencies and cost savings and so forth.  We are also considering doing individual performance evaluations.

Jim: Since our initial pilot class, we have implemented the curriculum with two other companies, and it’s going well. We’re confident that we can do it well now – it’s not a pilot any more.

We’ve also gotten the support of the Massachusetts Secretary of Labor and the Commonwealth Corporation, which oversees the Workforce Training Fund, which is really helpful as we think about continuing to expand.

Franklin: In terms of measuring success, the first thing we do is to assess the current ESOL level of each potential student. At Russelectric, this evaluation determined that we needed to organize the employees in two groups, low-intermediate and intermediate. This helped the instructor to adjust the curriculum to better serve the two levels.

We also do a general evaluation at the end of the course. At Russelectric, 31 employees participated in the program, and they gave an average score of 4.6 out of 5 to the question: Can I use this knowledge at my job? The bottom line is, you can see how their newly gained confidence enables them to contribute their own ideas to their company’s Lean process improvement.

What lessons does this project have for other employers?

Mark: I would say that the Pre-Lean ESOL class worked because it was fully incorporated into everything else we were trying to do with Lean training. It wasn’t a stand-alone thing.

Plus, we know our workforce. Demographically, we’re diverse – our workers are Hispanic, Southeast Asian, Cape Verdean, and more. We knew that if the Lean training was going to succeed we had to make sure everyone was prepared to participate.

Thinking about other employers, I would say that if you’re a small business and you don’t have time to develop a whole new training curriculum, reaching out to partners like your state’s MEP and organizations like English for New Bostonians can help. This is what they specialize in, and that leaves us free to do our jobs.

What lessons does this project have for other Manufacturing Extension Partnerships?

Jim: Well, of course, while there are MEPs in all fifty states, their local contexts are different. But in general, I think this project demonstrates how good policies like the Workforce Training Fund can be combined with strong partners who have specialized expertise to help small and mid-sized businesses solve their training issues.

As I said, it’s a tight labor market. Everybody’s trying to find good workers.  Sometimes the worker you need is already on your payroll – they just need a little boost, and training can provide that boost.

What lessons does this project have for adult education and workforce policy advocates?

Franklin: It doesn’t matter which end you start with – whether you are thinking about how to help immigrant workers build their skills, or how to help small businesses find the talent they need. In both cases, you can create a win-win. Partnerships are what make it possible.

And then, once you get a good partnership going, you have to tell the story! Policymakers need to hear about how important education and training investments are, especially for small businesses. Whether it is federal policymakers hearing about why MEPs are important, or state policymakers hearing about incumbent worker training funds, you have to show how their ideas are working in the real world. Everybody likes to hear a success story.

Posted In: Adult Basic Education, Immigration, Massachusetts
New Massachusetts and Missouri state fact sheets: Immigrants can help meet demand for middle-skill workers

Two new fact sheets from National Skills Coalition highlight the important role that immigrant workers play in filling middle-skill jobs in Massachusetts and Missouri.

Both states have growing immigrant populations and a high demand for middle skill workers, along with ambitious goals for postsecondary attainment for their residents. Given these growing populations,  immigrants will play a vital role in helping the states meet the demand for middle skill workers and respond to local industries’ talent needs.

In order for both states to achieve their postsecondary goals and to close their middle skill gaps, they will need to ensure that their career pipelines are inclusive of the many immigrants who are poised to benefit from investments in their skills: 24 percent of adult immigrants in Missouri and 22 percent in Massachusetts have not gone beyond high school in their education.

Massachusetts: A Large Immigrant Population is Part of the Middle-Skill Solution  

Massachusetts is home to approximately 1.1 million immigrants, who comprise almost 17 percent of state residents.  As a result, they play a strong role in Massachusetts’ labor market. This role will continue growing as the immigrant population increases; already, the share of immigrants in the state’s population has increased by 74 percent from 10 percent in 1990 to 17 percent today.

Massachusetts has set an ambitious goal for postsecondary attainment, aiming to increase the percentage of Commonwealth residents ages 25-34 years old with a college degree to 60 percent by 2020.  This goal will help focus efforts towards middle-skill opportunities and engagement.

The demand for middle-skill workers is anticipated to remain strong in Massachusetts, with 41 percent of new job openings expected to be at the middle skill level. In order for Massachusetts to capitalize on this demand and draw on the full talents and abilities of their residents, the Bay State will need to invest in the skills of native-born and immigrant workers alike.

Learn more in our new fact sheet: Middle-Skill Credentials and Immigrant Workers: Massachusetts’ Untapped Assets.

Missouri: Investing in Skills Training Will Help Meet the State’s Ambitious Postsecondary Goal

Missouri’s economy has a robust demand for middle skill workers, with more than half of all jobs (53 percent) being middle-skill occupations. This demand is expected to remain strong, with 48 percent of new job openings between 2014-2024 expected to be at the middle skill level.  Yet only 46 percent of Missouri workers have been trained to the middle-skill level. This presents an opportunity for the state to invest in skill building for both native-born and immigrant workers to assist with meeting the middle skill demand.

Missouri has also set an aggressive goal for postsecondary attainment. The state aims to increase the percentage of residents with a degree or high-quality certificate from 46 percent to 60 percent by 2025.  This ambitious attainment goal will help focus state policy and spending decisions towards middle-skill opportunities.

Immigrant workers represent an important element of the state’s labor market, and a potentially responsive pool of candidates for skill-building opportunities. Foreign born residents of the Show-Me State are much more likely to be of working age; over 80 percent are between the ages of 18-64 compared to 61 percent of native-born residents.  Missouri immigrants also have a slightly higher labor-force participation rate, at 66 percent compared to 63 percent of native-born adults. Policymakers can help ensure that these new workers can fully contribute to Missouri’s economy by investing in proven policies that prepare people with the skills local businesses need.

Learn more in our new fact sheet: Middle-Skill Credentials and Immigrant Workers: Missouri’s Untapped Assets.


Posted In: Immigration, Adult Basic Education, Missouri, Massachusetts

Governors unveil 2017 workforce proposals

  ·   By Sapna Mehta
Governors unveil 2017 workforce proposals

Governors across the nation are proposing new measures to increase middle-skill training.  Among the most common proposals are state support for apprenticeships and new investments in community college training, including free tuition. 

California Governor Jerry Brown proposed an additional $150 million for grants to support community colleges to develop and implement “guided pathways programs, an integrated, institution-wide approach” to improve student success.  The Governor also proposed utilizing $923,000 in federal funds to expand existing apprenticeship programs and create new programs in non-traditional and emerging industries.

Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan proposed $41 million for the Going Pro Program, a job training program that focuses on in-demand occupations in advanced manufacturing, construction, information technology and healthcare. The Governor also spoke of the need to work with legislators and the private sector to increase the number of registered apprenticeships in the state.

Governor Brian Sandoval of Nevada proposed a $21 million investment in career and technical education programs at the state’s four community colleges. 

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf requested $12 million in new funding to establish the Manufacturing PA initiative – a partnership between the Department of Community and Economic Development, research universities, community colleges, and other training providers to foster growth and innovation in manufacturing.  Of the $12 million, $5 million is for a manufacturing training-to-career grant program, which would facilitate partnerships between manufacturers and community colleges and technical providers, to link job training to career pathways through programs such as apprenticeships, on-the-job training, and paid internships. The Governor also proposed $4 million to expand apprenticeship opportunities, including grants for employers of up to $2,000 for each registered apprentice.

Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin proposed a $5 million increase in state funds and a new $5 million program for the Department of Workforce Development to make grants to the Wisconsin Technical College System for in-demand certification programs for high school students. The Governor also proposed $5 million for a registered apprenticeship program.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan proposed the Student Debt Relief Act, which would allow “Marylanders to deduct one hundred percent of the interest paid on their student loans from their state income tax return.” Additionally, as part of the Governor’s $5 million 2017 Maryland Jobs Initiative, he proposed opening six new P-TECH high schools, and funding to support students currently enrolled in existing schools.  P-TECH schools partner with employers and colleges to provide secondary to postsecondary pathways in STEM.   The Jobs Initiative also includes a $3 million investment in cyber job training grants, modeled after Maryland’s Employment Advancement Right Now (EARN) workforce training program.  The Governor also announced a $1 million investment in Maryland Partnership for Workforce Quality, to encourage employers to invest in employee training.   

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker proposed the $4 million Learn to Earn program, which would offer scholarships for training and certificates in certain fields, as well as transportation and child care subsidies to make it easier for people to attend the trainings.

Governor Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island proposed $2 million for the Community College of Rhode Island Westerly Job Skills Training Center, which prepare students for jobs in advanced manufacturing in partnership with employers, and $2 million for the state’s TechHire initiative for training in technology related fields.  The Governor also proposed free tuition for two years at the state’s public colleges: University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College and the Community College of Rhode Island.  Additionally, she proposed expanding P-TECH high schools.  

Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb proposed investing $2 million to create regional Jobs Ready Grants to help incumbent workers earn in-demand credentials or certificates.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe proposed a budget enhancement of $1 million for the New Economy Workforce Credential Grant Program, which supports 124 different training programs at Virginia’s Community colleges.  The Governor also proposed requiring community colleges to award college credit for apprenticeships and other related programs, expanding access to in-demand credentials for non-traditional students. 

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed the Excelsior Scholarship Program, a “last-dollar scholarship” to provide free tuition at the state’s public two- and four-year colleges to residents earning up to $125,000 annually.

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam proposed tuition-free community college education for all adults without a post-secondary degree.  Currently, adults without post-secondary degrees can attend Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology tuition-free through Tennessee Reconnect, and only recent high school graduates can apply for “last-dollar scholarships” to attend the state’s community colleges through Tennessee Promise. Funding for the new adult scholarships would come from the state’s lottery proceeds.

Ohio Governor John Kasich proposed piloting the Accelerated Completion of Technical Studies program, which would provide financial support to low-income students pursuing associate degrees at community colleges for in-demand jobs.  This is modeled after a similar successful program at the City University of New York.

Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas proposed free tuition at two-year colleges and technical schools for high school students who enroll in high-demand fields, such as computer science or welding.  The grants, known as Arkansas Future Grants, would be available on a first-come, first-serve basis.  They would be paid for by repurposing $8.2 million in general revenue funds from other workforce and higher education grants.

Posted In: Arkansas, California, Michigan, Massachusetts, Maryland, Nevada, New York, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin

New data highlights importance of English classes for immigrant workers in Massachusetts

  ·   By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock,
New data highlights importance of English classes for immigrant workers in Massachusetts

A new report from the nonprofit English for New Bostonians is providing a unique view of adult English learners in Massachusetts. The report is based on a survey of nearly 1,500 adult English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) class participants at 39 different programs statewide. National Skills Coalition conducted the data analysis for the report, titled Talking Jobs: Lessons from ENB’s 2016 Student Employment Survey.

The analysis found that the overwhelming majority of survey respondents (85%) were in the labor force, including 62% who were currently employed and 23% who were looking for work. Among survey respondents who were working, fully half (50%) said their co-workers also need English classes.

The survey also explored whether respondents’ employers were making investments in their skills and providing opportunities for growth. Respondents who were working were asked whether their company provided benefits such as tuition assistance or reimbursement, fixed schedules, opportunities for promotion, and training to help employees do their jobs better.

Each of these benefits has important implications for English learners:

  • Fixed schedules can make it easier for ESOL students to attend classes regularly. Sixty percent (60%) of respondents reported that they are given a fixed work schedule.
  • In-house training can signal a company’s interest in retaining and promoting workers. Nearly half (49%) of respondents reported that their employer provides them with some type of training.
  • Having opportunities for promotion can inspire workers to build English and other skills in order to move up the career ladder. A relatively small number of respondents (34%) reported having such opportunities at their current job.
  • Tuition assistance is both a symbolic and tangible investment in a worker’s continued upskilling. Just 9% of respondents reported having tuition benefits.

Notably, workers who were employed at larger companies of 50 or more employees were more likely to have access to the above benefits. However, only 43% of working survey respondents were employed at these larger companies.

Other data from the survey provided a vivid illustration of the under-employment of many Massachusetts immigrants. Numerous respondents were working in entry-level positions in the US, despite having held professional jobs in their home countries. Among these respondents were an immigrant architect who is now selling cell phones, an auditor working in a pizzeria, and a dentist making fruit smoothies. Prior research has found that lack of English language skills is a major contributing factor to such under-utilization.

Key conclusions from the report include:

  • There is unmet demand for adult ESOL classes in Massachusetts.
  • Although workers’ direct supervisors are often aware that they are participating in ESOL classes, it is not known whether higher-level managers are similarly informed.
  • Immigrant workers may be unaware of opportunities for promotion at their current place of employment, or may lack such opportunities.
  • The mismatch between a worker's home-country profession and his or her current occupation can be dramatic.
  • There are opportunities to further engage employers in key industry sectors regarding immigrant skill-building issues.

Each of these conclusions is explored in more detail, along with supporting evidence from survey findings, in the full report. A two-page Executive Summary is also available. 

Posted In: Adult Basic Education, Immigration, Massachusetts

10 states to participate in “SNAP to Skills” technical assistance project

  ·   By Brooke DeRenzis
10 states to participate in “SNAP to Skills” technical assistance project

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced that 10 states have been selected to receive in-depth technical assistance as part of a new U.S. Department of Agriculture “SNAP to Skills” project. The selected states include Arizona, Arkansas, California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina and Tennessee.

The effort, led by the Seattle Jobs Initiative, will help these states design job-driven Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Employment and Training (SNAP E&T). States will participate in the project through September 2017. 

Over the past several years, National Skills Coalition has partnered with Seattle Jobs Initiative to promote skills-based SNAP E&T programs in the states. By combining education, training, and support services, SNAP E&T programs can expand opportunities for low-income people to move into family-supporting jobs.

With support from partners like the Annie E. Casey and W.K. Kellogg foundations, NSC has worked with SJI to share best practices and recommendations based on Washington State’s skills-based SNAP E&T programs. Together, we’ve produced numerous publications and webinars, hosted a meeting for 11 states interested in skills-based SNAP E&T, and provided technical assistance to four states looking to expand SNAP E&T partnerships with community colleges and community-based organizations. We’re now working together to identify opportunities for aligning SNAP E&T with broader state workforce development efforts under the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

The SNAP to Skills Project is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s effort to help SNAP E&T programs become more job-driven. In December 2015, the agency’s Undersecretary for Food Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon issued an official communication to state SNAP agencies promoting practices that help participants build the skills required by today’s job market.

NSC will continue to provide resources to partners in the field on how SNAP E&T programs can expand opportunities for low-income people to enhance their skills, credentials, careers, and ultimately, their families’ financial well-being. 

Posted In: SNAP Employment and Training, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee

Governors propose workforce initiatives - Part 2

  ·   By Bryan Wilson ,
Governors propose workforce initiatives - Part 2

More governors have announced 2016 workforce development initiatives in proposed state budgets and state of the state addresses. Initiatives include support for sector partnerships, secondary and postsecondary career and technical education, training in STEM fields, and P-20W state longitudinal data systems. State legislators are now considering the governors’ requests. This is the second of two blog posts highlighting this year’s gubernatorial proposals.

Massachusetts Governor Baker proposed $83.5 million to enhance career and technical education: $75 million over five years to fund grants for equipment; $7.5 million for work-based learning grants, including nearly doubling support for school-to-career connecting activities; and $1 million for new Career Technical Partnership Grants to strengthen relationships between vocational schools, comprehensive high schools, and employers. The Governor also proposed $5 million to help the chronically unemployed including: $2 million to create a new Economic Opportunity Fund that will  invest in community-based organizations that partner with businesses to offer job training and hiring opportunities; $2 million for the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund, the state’s sector partnership program, marking the first time that new funding would be available for two consecutive years; and $1 million to expand the statewide re-entry and job training program for former criminal offenders re-entering society.

Tennessee Governor Haslam proposed $10 million for the second round of Labor Education Alignment Program (LEAP) grants, the state’s sector partnership program. The Governor also requested $20 million for the Drive to 55 Capacity Fund, to help community and technical colleges meet the growing demand for degrees and certificates. The Tennessee Promise of two-years of free tuition for high school graduates and the Tennessee Reconnect policy of free tuition for adults, who have some postsecondary education but not a credential, are rapidly increasing student demand. Drive to 55, is the Governor’s effort to reach the goal of 55 percent of Tennessee’s population having a degree or certificate by 2025.

Kentucky Governor Bevin proposed a new bond pool of $100 million for the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet to co‐invest with local communities to meet demand for high‐skill jobs, including jobs in advanced manufacturing and information technology. The money would finance capital investments in training facilities

Maryland Governor Hogan proposed more than $4 million to continue Maryland’s Employment Advance Right Now (EARN) sector partnership program. The Governor also proposed $704,000 to launch four P-TECH schools. P-TECH schools partner with employers and colleges to provide secondary to postsecondary pathways in STEM. 

Alabama Governor Bentley proposed restructuring the state workforce development system, including consolidating Regional Workforce Development Councils reporting to the Department of Commerce and aligning those regions with the community colleges. The Governor also proposed codifying and funding the state longitudinal data system that he established in 2015 by executive order. 

Rhode Island Governor Raimondo proposed $500,000 to expand the number of P-TECH schools in her state (from three to at least five), and $2 million for TechHire coding boot campus and online courses for rapid training. The Governor also proposed realigning existing workforce dollars to fund her Real Jobs Rhode Island sector partnership program.

Delaware Governor Markell proposed extending the state’s longitudinal data system into the early learning, higher education, and workforce domains. Governor Markell also proposed expanding TechHire sites in his state.

*This blog is part of series on governors proposed state plans for 2016. You can read the first blog post here.


Posted In: Adult Basic Education, Career and Technical Education, Career Pathways, Sector Partnerships, Alabama, Kentucky, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Rhode Island

White House Upskill Summit: summary and resources

  ·   By Andy Van Kleunen,
White House Upskill Summit: summary and resources

Last Friday, I attended the White House Upskill Summit, which brought together employers, labor unions, foundations, educators, workforce leaders, non-profits, and technology innovators on a topic very familiar to many of us—the need to do more to enable millions of front-line workers to advance into better paying jobs.   

For most of you, collaborating in your communities every day with working people and the businesses that employ them, this is a very familiar concept—but it is just starting to gain real currency here in Washington. And so I was very proud that out of the 150 participants at the White House summit, almost a third were NSC partners and allies. That’s further confirmation that our nation’s policymakers increasingly want to hear from you about these issues we care so much about.

The summit started with opening remarks from Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to the president. Other participating leaders in the Obama Administration included Labor Secretary Tom Perez and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.

Most of the summit was devoted to breakout sessions focused on ways that participants were already investing in the upskilling of front-line workers, through apprenticeships, on-the-job training, attainment of new credentials, employer provided education benefits, and the use of mentorship and supportive services.

I was pleased that so many NSC partners and allies took on leadership roles at the summit by making presentations or reporting out from the breakout sessions. And Business Leaders United for Workforce Partnerships (BLU), a national project of NSC and the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, was a strong voice for small and medium-sized employers throughout the day.

The summit closed with an address from Vice President Joe Biden, who talked about this new focus on upskilling in the context of the broader goals laid out by his Job-Driven Training Action Plan from last year. That government-wide directive to improve the quality and alignment of all of our federal investments in people’s skills and employment had likewise been informed by the work of many of the NSC allies at the summit, and by many more of you who have been longstanding champions on these issues here in Washington. I think one of our BLU partners put it well:

“Like many other business owners, I want to continue to grow my company and the only way I’m going to do that is to find new solutions to bring in the skilled labor we need,” said Traci Tapani of Minnesota’s Wyoming Machine in an interview after the summit with Minnesota Public Radio. “The most exciting thing is it doesn’t just benefit businesses, it benefits the employee by giving them a pathway to a higher paying job in the future. Everybody really wins when you’re upskilling.”

I was impressed by the level of discussion, collaboration, and willingness to share challenges and opportunities faced by both business and labor in their efforts to upskill workers. Seeing our nation’s business and labor leaders be willing to come together to say that we as a nation need to be doing more to raise the skills and career prospects of our country’s front-line workers was heartening. This is far from an everyday occurrence, and I think this cooperation is a positive sign of things to come for the future of our skills movement.

In the days following the summit, some of the good work being done in the field by NSC ‘s partners and allies has been highlighted in the press. A selection of these news stories, as well as resources that were released in conjunction with the summit, can be found below.



Pictured: Photo 1 - Adine Forman and Lauren Chenven reporting on credentials; Photo 2 - Cheryl Feldman and John Gaal presenting on apprenticeship; Photo 3 - Stuart Bass, Deborah Rowe, and Kerry Gumm reporting on mentoring and support services

Posted In: Massachusetts, New York, Missouri, North Carolina

BLU attends White House Upskilling Summit

  ·   By Scott Ellsworth,
BLU attends White House Upskilling Summit

Last Friday, 14 members of Business Leaders United for Workforce Partnerships (BLU) attended a White House summit on the critical need to upskill America’s frontline workforce. The summit brought together leading employers from a range of companies—including national corporations as well as small and medium-sized firms like those which lead BLU—to share best practices for helping frontline workers acquire the skills and training needed to advance to better-paying jobs or stay relevant in their chosen fields.

“In order to keep our edge, we need to build the most skilled workforce in the world,” said Vice President Biden in his address to the summit attendees. “Upskilling is not only critical for business, it’s critical for America.”

Biden’s message was echoed by the Secretaries of Commerce and Labor who were both present at the summit and active participants. They all recognized the importance of the work that is being done to allow people to take the next step in their careers.

During the summit, attendees participated in roundtable discussions and breakout sessions focused on apprenticeships, on-the-job training, credentials, employer provided education benefits, and mentorship and supportive services. The summit presented an opportunity for BLU employers to weigh in with the administration on the issue of upskilling and see what strategies other business and labor leaders have implemented nationally. Employers also discussed how other businesses could be encouraged to join the movement and emulate the good work that is already being done.

“I can hopefully take away [from the summit] some of the best practices in use around the country,” said Michael Tamasi of Massachusetts-based AccuRounds to The Enterprise.

“There were a lot of ideas around what other employers throughout the United States are doing,” said Traci Tapani of Minnesota’s Wyoming Machine in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio. “To find like-minded people who are already doing this kind of [upskilling] work has been helpful to everyone that is here.”

BLU employers were particularly pleased to hear the administration pledge to help facilitate upskilling commitments.

Karl Robinson, President of North Carolina-based trucking company R&R Transportation, expressed hopes to the Triad Business Journal to see greater support in getting more employees into the logistics industry.

"If I had more drivers, I could hire them tomorrow," Karl said. "All of the other trucking companies in the Triad area could use drivers yesterday."

What BLU businesses are doing right now serves as a model for others to follow. An interactive map showcases upskilling commitments from employers across the country, such as Mike Mandina of Optimax in New York, whose employees are encouraged to take advantage of the company’s 100 percent tuition program for community colleges.

“As employees attain higher skills, the opportunities within the company for both wage growth and promotion increase,” Mike stated in the Rochester Business Journal.

In conjunction with the interactive map, the White House released an Upskill Initiative Fact Sheet highlighting several BLU employers and an employer handbook for upskilling America’s front-line workers.

BLU employers were a leading voice for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) at the summit on an issue which is of such immense importance to the future health of the U.S. economy—creating new opportunities for our employees to raise their skills and advance within our companies.

“Like many other business owners, I want to continue to grow my company and the only way I’m going to do that is to find new solutions to bring in the skilled labor we need,” said Traci Tapani. “The most exciting thing is it doesn’t just benefit businesses, it benefits the employee by giving them a pathway to a higher paying job in the future. Everybody really wins when you’re upskilling.”

Posted In: New York, Wyoming, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Business Leaders United

Massachusetts Makes New Workforce Investments

  ·   By Brooke DeRenzis
Massachusetts Makes New Workforce Investments

Earlier this month, Massachusetts’ governor announced key investments in the skills of the state’s workforce. Over six years, Massachusetts will invest $15 million in adult basic education in an effort to help participants gain postsecondary credentials and good jobs. Massachusetts has over 16,000 residents on the waitlist for adult basic education and ESL services. State policies that promote adult basic education as part of a broader job training strategy are critical to equipping academically underprepared workers for middle-skill jobs.

The investment is financed through Massachusetts’ “Pay for Success” model: private investors will cover the upfront cost of the initiative, and Massachusetts will repay those investors with a return when participants achieve certain training and employment outcomes. The state of Massachusetts selected NSC partner Jewish Vocational Service of Greater Boston to provide adult basic education.

On August 13, Governor Patrick also signed economic development bill H.4377. While the bill is wide-ranging, it includes important investments in middle-skill training.

The bill provides $2.5 million to the state’s Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund. Of that amount, at least $1 million must be transferred to the Department of Higher Education to develop, implement and promote stackable credentials that cumulatively lead to a degree or industry-recognized credential. The stackable credentials must be responsive to industry needs. Stackable credentials allow workers to build their skills and earn a postsecondary credential while they continue to work. The remaining funding will be used by the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund to address the state’s middle-skill gap.

H.4377 also provides $12 million for an Advanced Manufacturing, Technology and Hospitality Training Trust Fund. The fund will support training to address worker shortages in these industries.

Photo credit: Eugena Ossi/Governor's Office (CC 2.0)

Posted In: Data and Credentials, Massachusetts
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