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SkillSPAN coalitions in GA, NC, and TN to boost training opportunities in the South

  ·   By Brooke DeRenzis
SkillSPAN coalitions in GA, NC, and TN to boost training opportunities in the South

National Skills Coalition is deepening its efforts to bring skills training opportunities to more people in the South by providing increased support to its three southern SkillSPAN partners. NSC’s SkillSPAN (Skills State Policy Advocacy Network) is the first-ever nationwide network of non-partisan coalitions working to advance state skills training policies. Coalitions from ten states joined SkillSPAN in 2019.

Coalitions led by Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, North Carolina Justice Center, and Complete Tennessee are among SkillSPAN’s inaugural coalitions and currently represent the network’s presence in the South. With generous support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, NSC will provide increased financial and technical assistance to strengthen the capacity of these coalitions. With this additional support, SkillSPAN leaders in Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee will be able to bring new partners to the table to create policy changes that expand economic opportunity for workers and their families and advance racial equity in the workforce.

Each of these SkillSPAN leaders will build on work they’re doing as part of NSC’s Southern Skills Policy Initiative.  NSC launched this initiative last June to help partners in Southern states put forward state policies to support skills training:

  Georgia Budget and Policy Institute is working to expand financial aid so that more people who face financial barriers to postsecondary training, including workers of color, can earn middle-skill credentials.
  North Carolina Justice Center is working to develop better apprenticeship pathways for workers of color and other underrepresented workers.
  Complete Tennessee is working to leverage federal and state programs to support more adults as they pursue postsecondary training that leads to a career.

These policy changes are critical to building a stronger economy in these states and throughout the South. While most of the jobs in the South are middle-skill jobs, policymakers in Southern states have not created enough opportunities to help workers train for these jobs. In a recent report with the Federal Reserve Banks of Atlanta and St. Louis, we provided a skills policy roadmap for Southern states. We also underscored the need for a skilled and thriving economy to be an inclusive economy.  With more than four in ten Southerners being people of color, education and training policies that advance racial equity in the workforce will make the South’s workers, businesses, and the economy better off. We’re excited to provide additional support to our SkillSPAN partners in Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee to build a stronger Southern economy by creating more skills training opportunities for their state’s workers.

Posted In: SkillSPAN, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee

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

Southern states must build a skilled workforce for a stronger economy

  ·   By Melissa Johnson,
Southern states must build a skilled workforce for a stronger economy

Southern states face a skills gap and must adapt to a new U.S. economy in which most jobs require training beyond high school, according to a new report from the National Skills Coalition and the Federal Reserve Banks of Atlanta and St. Louis, Building a Skilled Workforce for a Stronger Southern Economy.

Most of the jobs in the South are middle-skill jobs, requiring education or training beyond high school but not a four-year college degree. However, across the South, there are not enough workers trained to fill middle-skill jobs.

This middle-skill gap, however, isn’t insurmountable. Southern states could step up to the challenge of educating more of the region’s adults to close this gap. Focusing on grade school students alone won’t be enough to close the skills gap now. If each and every one of the South’s graduating high school students were to stay in the region and train for open jobs that require postsecondary education, there would still be unfilled positions.

Moreover, if southern states are going to close their skill gaps, they must provide more opportunities for all adults – including people of color – to access high-quality  education and training. More than four in ten Southerners are people of color. A skilled and thriving southern economy must be an inclusive economy.

To help states realize economic improvement, this report includes a roadmap of critical steps states may take to establish policies that could help them close their skills gaps. State policymakers could:

  • Use workforce development strategies, such as sector partnerships and work-based learning, as economic development tools capable of meeting industry needs.
  • Invest in communities to implement high-quality workforce development strategies at the local level.
  • Establish job-driven financial aid programs that are available to a wide range of students.
  • Form middle-skill training pathways and include comprehensive supportive services that enable completion.
  • Create state data systems that provide accountability on how training programs are helping residents with diverse needs get skilled jobs.

State policymakers could consider also easing their path to implementation of these steps by taking the following actions, which could help unite a broad set of stakeholders around a common plan for skills development:

  • Set a bold goal for increasing the number of adults trained for skilled jobs.
  • Create a cross-agency “Skills Cabinet,” and task agency leaders with working together to develop and implement a strategy for meeting the state’s postsecondary attainment goal for adults.

In addition to the roadmap, this report also includes examples of current policy from southern states, proving that these policy changes may be implemented in the region’s unique context. Residents, businesses, and state economies are counting on their leaders to examine these policies and take the appropriate steps that will help them thrive now and in the future. In conjunction with the launch of this southern-focused report, National Skills Coalition is launching its Southern Skills Policy Initiative. Through this Initiative, National Skills Coalition will work with teams in five states –Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas – to advance policies that can build a skilled workforce.

Over the next year, National Skills Coalition will work intensively with partners in Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee to put forward state policies that help workers and businesses in those states to get the skills they need to compete:

In Georgia, we will promote policies that prepare more residents for skilled jobs by making it easier for people with low incomes to afford postsecondary training. Partner organizations include Center for Working Families, Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, Annie E. Casey Foundation Atlanta Civic Site, Atlanta Career Rise, and Metro Atlanta Chamber.

In North Carolina, we will conduct research and engage key stakeholders to build more equitable pathways and work-based learning opportunities for skilled careers for students and workers of color and other underserved populations. Initial partner organizations include North Carolina Justice Center, North Carolina Community College System, and Eastern Carolina Workforce Development Board.

In Tennessee,we will identify policies that address the non-academic and advising needs of working students so they can succeed in postsecondary training, as well as opportunities to promote apprenticeship, work-based learning, and postsecondary training that responds to industry needs. . Partner organizations include Complete Tennessee and the Nashville Chamber of Commerce.

National Skills Coalition will also work with partners in Mississippi and Texas in 2018 to support in-state discussions on apprenticeship and work-based learning.

In Mississippi, we will discuss policies that help more parents build their skills while supporting their families by providing child care assistance to workers in pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs. Partner organizations include Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative and Moore Community House Women in Construction Program.

In Texas, we will discuss policies that expand apprenticeship and work-based learning opportunities for both adults and young people. Initial partner organizations include Educate Texas, Austin Community College, and the United Ways of Texas.

Through the duration of the Southern Skills Policy Initiative, NSC will create opportunities for partners from each state to share lessons learned with each other and other community leaders in the region.


Posted In: State Initiatives and Academies, Georgia, North Carolina, Mississippi, Texas

NSC Calls for Postsecondary “Career Pathways Support Fund” in New Paper

  ·   By Kermit Kaleba
NSC Calls for Postsecondary “Career Pathways Support Fund” in New Paper

In an economy where more than 80 percent of all jobs require some form of postsecondary education or training, expanding access to high quality workforce programs at community and technical colleges is increasingly critical to our nation’s economic competitiveness. However, our current federal higher education policy doesn’t do enough to support the needs of working adults and other non-traditional students who need postsecondary skills and credentials to get and keep family-supporting jobs. In a new issue brief released today, National Skills Coalition proposes a new $500 million Career Pathways Support Fund that would allow community and technical colleges to provide critical academic, counseling and support services that help low-income and other non-traditional students succeed in job-driven education programs.

Today’s college students are increasingly diverse: more than 70 percent of all undergraduates are classified as “non-traditional,” and roughly 40 percent of college students are over the age of 25. Many of these students are balancing school attendance with work and family obligations: at community colleges, 22 percent of full-time students and 41 percent of part-time students are also working full-time, and 30 percent of community colleges are parents. These changing demographics mean that we need to be rethinking the kinds of supports that postsecondary institutions offer to better align with the realities of working adults, including strategies to accelerate time to completion, career counseling, and wraparound services like child care and transportation assistance to help students.

Our new issue brief highlights examples of three states that are tackling these issues head-on, including the Career Pathways Initiative in Arkansas, the Pathways for Academic Career and Employment (PACE) program in Iowa, and the Basic Skills Plus program in North Carolina. The paper also provides an overview of current federal efforts to support parents and other adult students, which have not kept up with the growing demands of today’s college enrollees.

With Congress looking to begin discussions around reauthorization of the Higher Education Act this fall, NSC calls for lawmakers to consider creating a new dedicated fund that supports community and technical colleges who are providing career pathways programs aimed at working adults and other non-traditional students. This new Career Pathways Support Fund – which is part of NSC’s broader Community College Compact proposal outlined in our Skills for Good Jobs Agenda - would encourage qualifying institutions to partner with employers, adult and secondary education providers, and other stakeholders to ensure that participants are able to obtain industry-recognized credentials while also receiving necessary support services. We also urge Congress to pair the new Career Pathways Support Fund with increased investments in financial aid for working students, consistent with the bipartisan JOBS Act, and strengthen support for partnerships between community colleges and local and regional industries. 

Posted In: Higher Education Access, Arkansas, Iowa, North Carolina

National Skills Coalition hosts first Southern States Convening on Skills Policies

  ·   By Brooke DeRenzis
National Skills Coalition hosts first Southern States Convening on Skills Policies

On May 8, nearly 40 state and national workforce leaders gathered in Atlanta, GA to take part in National Skills Coalition’s southern states convening on skills policies. The event, co-hosted with Atlanta CareerRise, Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, and Metro Atlanta Chamber, provided a forum for cross-state sharing on skills policies and practical strategies for moving them forward in southern states. The convening was made possible through the generous financial support of JPMorgan Chase & Co., The Annie E. Casey Foundation, and W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

While the South is a large region of the country with a growing population, many of our southern state partners have expressed concerns that too many people are left out of economic opportunity, in part because not everyone has the chance to get the education and training required to find a family-supporting job in today’s economy. This doesn’t just hurt workers and their families; it also hurts businesses that depend on a skilled workforce to grow.

That’s why we teamed up with our Georgia partners to host a day’s worth of cross-state discussions on advancing skills policies in southern states where partners are addressing similar regional issues. Partners from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee participated. Together, participants represented policy and research organizations, community colleges, funder collaboratives, business associations, and workforce practitioners, as well as national organizations and foundations working in the South.  

In addition to discussing common issues across the region, the convening featured existing examples of skills policies from southern states. Collin Callaway, Arkansas Community Colleges and Kenneth Wheatley, Mississippi Community College Board discussed their states’ policies that support career pathways at community colleges – the Arkansas Career Pathways Initiative and Mississippi Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (MI-BEST). Brad Neese, Apprenticeship Carolina described how the program uses registered apprenticeship to help align the state’s workforce development and economic development strategies. And Laura Ward, Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, discussed Tennessee Reconnect and why helping adults earn postsecondary credentials matters for businesses.

Participants also used small group discussions to continue to share across states on topics such as apprenticeship and work-based learning, sector partnerships and skills policies for states with rural communities, pathways to credentials for less-skilled workers, and skills policies as part of economic development strategies. Peer advisors from southern states led each of the small group discussions.   

At the end of the convening, National Skills Coalition committed to working with participants to identify opportunities to continue cross-state sharing and network-building among workforce development leaders in southern states. To learn more, please email Brooke DeRenzis, State Network Director.  

Posted In: Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee

White House highlights employer, municipal roles in refugee and immigrant integration

  ·   By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock,
White House highlights employer, municipal roles in refugee and immigrant integration

Two events last week highlighted the crucial role that municipal leaders and US employers can play in facilitating the skill-building and economic integration of refugees and immigrants.

First, the White House announced a Call to Action for the U.S. private sector to make new, measurable and significant commitments that will have a durable impact on refugees. 

The Call to Action is being issued as part of a suite of activities in advance of an international Leaders’ Summit being convened by President Obama this coming September. It is focused on generating new commitments in three impact areas: 

  • Education – Facilitating refugee children and young adults’ education by ensuring that refugee students can access schools of all levels and creating quality long-distance learning platforms and programs.
  • Employment – Increasing employment opportunities for refugees, supporting refugee entrepreneurship, and assisting refugees’ reentry into the workforce.
  • Enablement – Increasing humanitarian financing, strengthening infrastructure and access to resources needed for refugees to become self-reliant, and supporting countries taking new steps to welcome refugees or allow them to work and attend school.

The Call to Action highlighted fifteen founding companies that have already taken significant action on refugee issues both in the US and abroad, including support for English language, digital literacy, and employability skills. The companies are: Accenture, Airbnb, Chobani, Coursera, Goldman Sachs, Google, HP, IBM, JPMorgan Chase & Co., LinkedIn, Microsoft, Mastercard, UPS, TripAdvisor, and Western Union.

The second event brought approximately 150 local leaders to the White House to recognize their work in integrating immigrant refugee newcomers in their communities via the Building Welcoming Communities Campaign (BWCC). 

National Skills Coalition is one of the national partners for the BWCC, serving as a resource for policy questions related to workforce and adult education issues. NSC Senior Policy Analyst Amanda Bergson-Shilcock attended the White House event.

More than 50 American cities and counties have now joined the campaign, which formally launched last year. The White House released a report detailing “Bright Spots” in immigrant and refugee integration policies across dozens of the communities, including:

  • The City of Charlotte (NC), which in collaboration with its Immigrant Integration Implementation Team hosted a convening that showcased local companies with apprenticeship programs, and discussed how to incorporate immigrant workers in these programs.  
  • Welcoming Salt Lake (UT), which is working with employers to pilot onsite English classes for New American employees.
  • The City of St. Louis and St. Louis County, which work in partnership with the nonprofit International Institute of St. Louis (IISTL) to develop career pathways for immigrants and refugees, including through IISTL’s new International Institute Center for Career Advancement.

Attendees at the BWCC event were welcomed by Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council (DPC). Other federal officials addressing the gathering included: Leon Rodriguez, Director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services; Rohan Patel, Special Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs; and Felicia Escobar, also of the DPC.

Also speaking at the event was Rachel Peric, deputy director of the nonprofit Welcoming America, who noted the rapid growth of the welcoming effort: “Just a few years ago it was 10 cities, and now we’re at 50.” She added: “The question is not whether our communities will change… it is how we will make the most of that change in ways that will strengthen our civic fabric.”

The event concluded with a panel of federal officials, who described steps taken in their agencies to support refugee and immigrant skill-building and integration:

  • John Kelly of the Corporation for National and Community Service discussed the role of AmeriCorps/VISTA members in facilitating immigrant and refugee integration.
  • Juliet Choi of US Citizenship and Immigration Services emphasized the growing range of resources offered by USCIS to support naturalization and English language acquisition, including an online English and citizenship class locator.
  • Chris James of the Small Business Administration highlighted the SBA’s Made It In America initiative to support immigrant entrepreneurs.
  • Johan Uvin of the Department of Education emphasized the value of place-based strategies in supporting immigrants’ English language and skill-building. He referenced the administration’s prior Networks for Integrating New Americans initiative and offered a preview of a forthcoming effort to connect adult English learners to career pathways.
Posted In: Immigration, Missouri, North Carolina, Utah

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

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

BLU Employer Profile: Jeff Frederick of Syngenta

  ·   By Scott Ellsworth,
BLU Employer Profile: Jeff Frederick of Syngenta

This month I had an opportunity to ask Jeff some questions about where he works and why he takes so much of his time to help develop a more robust workforce system in North Carolina. Read our conversation below:

Tell me a little bit about Syngenta.

Syngenta is one of the world's leading companies with more than 27,000 employees in over 90 countries dedicated to our purpose: Bringing plant potential to life. Through world-class science, global reach and commitment to our customers we help to increase crop productivity, protect the environment and improve health and quality of life.

One of the unique things about Syngenta is that our actions and products can help address one of the planet’s most challenging dilemmas: how to grow more crops from less resources. That is why our ambition is to bring greater food security in an environmentally sustainable way to an increasingly populous world by creating a worldwide step-change in farm productivity. And that means on every farm - the 8 million large farms of over 100 hectares and also the 500 million farms of around only 1 hectare. Each farm and farmer has a role to play.

How did you come to focus on workforce development in your career?

Throughout the course of my career I have worked in many industries that have had significant economic challenges furniture, healthcare, textiles, etc. It seems that a quickly evolving workforce has always been a business focus for me. Either quickly ramping up or scaling down has been the order of the day. I really developed a passion for workforce development after seeing so many great folks laid off during business down turns. After having to deliver so many difficult messages to people losing their jobs, I wanted to find a way to give something back. Economic and Workforce development was my way of attempting to do that.

How did you first get involved with BLU, and why did you choose to come to the last Fly-In?

I first got involved with BLU during last year’s fly-in. I was excited to be able to participate in such an exchange of ideas with other business leaders as well as policy makers.

What was your experience at the last Fly-in?

It was a tremendous experience for me and truly opened my eyes to the concept and power of advocacy. I was also able to build lasting relationships and networks with folks that wanted to achieve the same goals that I did for their local and national community. I remember returning home and wondering why more folks in our workforce system weren’t aware of this type of advocacy program and why we didn’t have more representation from NC.

Why are you planning to attend the January 2015 Fly-In?

I want to build on last years’ experience. I was a novice last year and I want to be able to leverage this year’s experience for all it has to offer. I am hoping to grow my workforce networks and continue to build lasting relationships that will benefit the cause of an effective workforce.

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

The employer’s voice is one of the most effective vehicles there is relative to shaping policy. Policy makers and administrators want to hear from the job providers/creators. As employers there are a lot of unmet needs relative to the workforce and we must do more to shape the worker pipelines we need currently and in the future. There’s an old saying “a closed mouth doesn’t get fed.” I find this a very fitting challenge. If employers are to truly get what they need, we have to engage more in advocacy and workforce development activities.


Posted In: North Carolina, Business Leaders United
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