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Twelve community and technical college systems band together to call on Congress to adopt a job-driven Community College Compact for today’s students

Today, education leaders from twelve community and technical college systems across the country—including those in Arkansas, Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington—sent letters to federal policymakers, urging them to make higher education policy more responsive to the needs of today’s students.

The letters, which were sent to Senate HELP Committee and House Education and Labor Committee leadership, call for the adoption of a job-driven Community College Compact; a set of postsecondary policy proposals developed by National Skills Coalition (NSC) and vetted by a range of stakeholders, including academic institutions, employers, community-based organizations and workforce development boards. If adopted by Congress, these policies would increase access to high-quality education and training programs, crucial support services and transparent information regarding postsecondary programs for students of all ages and backgrounds. Likely 2020 voters and business leaders also strongly support the Compact policies, as demonstrated by recent polling conducted by ALG Research on behalf of NSC.

Community and technical college leaders are voicing their shared support for the Community College Compact in light of the impending reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). The HEA, which is the most comprehensive federal law governing postsecondary institutions and programs, has been eligible for reauthorization by Congress since 2008. Senate HELP Committee Chairman, Lamar Alexander, and Ranking Member, Patty Murray, as well as House Education and Labor Committee Chairman, Bobby Scott, and Ranking Member, Virginia Foxx, have expressed interest in reauthorizing this sweeping legislation before the end of this Congress. Additionally, the White House has named the modernization of the Higher Education Act as one of its top priorities.

The letters urge federal policymakers to consider the following policy changes:

Eliminate the bias against working learners in need of federal financial aid

In today’s economy, approximately 80 percent of all jobs require some form of education or training, and more than 50 percent of jobs can be classified as “middle-skill”—meaning they call for more than a high school diploma but not a four-year degree. As a result, community and technical colleges are working to increase access to high quality, short-term programs that lead to in-demand credentials. However, most federal financial aid available today is reserved for students who are enrolled in programs of study that are at least 600 clock hours over 15 weeks—an outdated policy that fails to account for the training needs of individuals in our 21st century economy.

Therefore, community and technical college leaders are urging lawmakers to consider legislation—such as the Jumpstarting our Businesses by Supporting Students (JOBS) Act (S. 839; H.R. 3497 ) led by Senators Kaine (D-VA) and Portman (R-OH) and Representatives Richmond (D-LA-02), Levin (D-MI-09), Horsford (D-NV-04), Gonzalez (R-OH-16), Herrera-Beutler (R-WA-03) and Katko (R-NY-24)—that would expand Pell grant eligibility to students enrolled in high-quality education and training programs that are at least 150 clock hours of instruction over 8 weeks.

Make higher education and workforce outcomes data comprehensive and transparent

Since higher education is becoming more closely linked with finding success in the labor market, data about the outcomes of postsecondary programs should be available to students, parents, employers and policymakers. However, as community and technical college leaders note in their letters, existing legal restrictions on the collection of student-level data continue to hinder the accessibility of this important information.

To help provide consumers with better data and relieve institutions of duplicative reporting requirements, community and technical college administrators called for action on the College Transparency Act (S.800; H.R. 1766). Introduced by Senators Warren (D-MA), Cassidy (R-LA), Whitehouse (D-RI) and Scott (R-SC) and Representatives Mitchell (R-MI-10), Krishnamoorthi (D-IL-08), Stefanik (R-NY-21) and Harder (D-CA-10), this bipartisan bill aims to establish a secure, privacy-protected postsecondary student level data network administered by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), to which colleges would be able to safely and easily report their data. The data would then be available as a decision-making tool for current and prospective students—making it easier for individuals to improve their lives through education and training.

Ensure the success of today’s college students by strengthening support services

Due to the diversity of the student populations they serve, community and technical college leaders recognize the growing importance of support services such as career counseling, childcare and transportation assistance. While states and higher education administrators across the country are working hard to implement career pathway models that provide nontraditional students with the services they need to succeed in the postsecondary education system, their efforts receive little support at the federal level.

To address this issue, community and technical college leaders are calling for the consideration of the Gateway to Careers Act (S. 1117)—legislation introduced by Senators Hassan (D-NH), Young (R-IN), Kaine (D-VA) and Gardner (R-CO). This bipartisan bill would make federal funding available on a competitive basis to institutions that are working in partnership to serve students experiencing barriers to postsecondary access and completion.

Provide targeted funding for valuable partnerships between community colleges and businesses

Community and technical college leaders work with industry stakeholders every day to provide high-quality training and academic instruction to future workers through sector partnerships. However, Congress has not invested in these partnerships at a scale that would sustain economic competitiveness since the expiration of the Trade Adjustment Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant program in FY 2014. The purpose of the TAAACT grant program, which allocated $2 billion in funding to states from FY 2011-2014, was to increase the capacity of community colleges to address the challenges of today’s workforce through job training for adults and other nontraditional students.

Due to the proven impact of community college-business partnerships, community and technical college leaders are calling for the consideration of legislation that would expand and support these collaboratives, an example of which is the Community College to Career Fund in Higher Education Act (S. 1612; H.R. 2920). Introduced by Senators Duckworth (D-IL), Smith (D-MN), Feinstein (D-CA), Durbin (D-IL), Shaheen (D-NH), Van Hollen (D-MD) and Representative Kelly (D-IL-02), this legislation aims to provide academic institutions and businesses with competitive grant funding so that they can continue to work together to deliver valuable educational or career training programs to students and workers.

Read the letter to the Senate HELP Committee and House Education and Labor Committee, as well as letters of support from Arkansas and Washington.

Posted In: Transportation, Federal Funding, Career and Technical Education, Sector Partnerships, Arkansas, Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Virginia, Washington

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

States should count apprenticeship completions towards postsecondary attainment goals

  ·   By Jenna Leventoff,
States should count apprenticeship completions towards postsecondary attainment goals

In recent years, the federal government has invested significantly in registered apprenticeship programs because they are proven to be an equitable pathway to a good job. Since they allow students to learn while they earn, they can help upskill workers while allowing for broader participation amongst non-traditional students and people with barriers to employment, who may not have the financial resources to stop working and pay tuition while they train for a new career. For these reasons, a new paper by the Workforce Data Quality Campaign, “Counting Registered Apprenticeship Completions” calls upon states to include registered apprenticeship certificates within their postsecondary attainment goals and collect data about these programs in order to measure progress.

By explicitly including registered apprenticeship certificates within postsecondary attainment goals, states can signal to the public that registered apprenticeships are a valid pathway to a good career. It also provides incentive to state policymakers to pass policies that make registered apprenticeship programs more prevalent.

Just over half of states collect the individual-level data they need to understand which residents have enrolled in registered apprenticeship programs, which industries those apprenticeships are in, and the demographic characteristics of those who completed their apprenticeship and earned a certificate. The rest of the states may not have an accurate method of knowing how many of their residents have enrolled in and completed registered apprenticeship programs, and how those completions help equitably address the skills gap.

This paper details how Iowa, a state whose registered apprenticeship programs are administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, and Washington, a state who administers its own registered apprenticeship programs have collected individual-level data on registered apprenticeship completers.

Posted In: Data and Credentials, Work-Based Learning, Iowa, Washington, Workforce Data Quality Campaign

NSC announces Work-Based Learning Academy state teams

  ·   By Rachel Hirsch,
NSC announces Work-Based Learning Academy state teams

National Skills Coalition is pleased to announce the five state teams that have been selected to participate in our 2018-2019 Work-Based Learning Academy: Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Oklahoma, and Washington. Through the Academy, state teams will advance state policies to expand work-based learning opportunities for low-income communities. Teams will work together with faculty advisors and participate in peer-to-peer learning.

Work-based learning helps workers build new skills while earning a paycheck. Through work-based learning models like apprenticeship, the skills that workers build can translate into higher wages and industry-recognized credentials. Work-based learning is an issue of increasing interest among state policy leaders, spurred by federal investment, attention to apprenticeship by the previous and current Presidential administrations, and state-level technical assistance projects. While some states have adopted policies to support apprenticeship, few have policies aimed at expanding work-based learning opportunities for low-income adults and out-of-school youth. Expanding work-based learning to these communities would allow low-wage workers to advance to good jobs and help employers train a skilled workforce.

Some state teams will work on state programs to support work-based learning intermediaries. Intermediaries can help employers establish apprenticeship and work-based learning programs; they also serve as the connection point between business, education and training programs, and workers to streamline services and increase capacity to serve more people. Other teams will focus on state polices to provide support services, like childcare, transportation, and career navigation, to help people succeed in work-based learning.

The selected five state teams are:

  • Connecticut 
    • Connecticut Business and Industry Association’s Education and Workforce Partnership
    • Connecticut Department of Labor
    • Capital Workforce Partners
    • Connecticut State Colleges and University System
    • Connecticut Technical Education and Career System


  • Illinois
    • Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership
    • Associated Builders and Contractors
    • Young Invincibles
    • Chicago Jobs Council
    • Harold Washington College


  • Indiana
    • Indiana Institute for Working Families
    • Indiana Department of Workforce Development
    • REAL Services Inc.
    • United Way of Howard County
    • Indiana Family and Social Services Administration


  • Oklahoma
    • Oklahoma Office of Workforce Development
    • Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy
    • Dell
    • Oklahoma City Black Chamber of Commerce
    • Oklahoma Association of Community Action Agencies


  • Washington
    • Washington State Department of Social and Health Services
    • Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges
    • Construction Center of Excellence

Teams will be partnered with faculty advisors who are experienced in their field of interest. The Academy’s faculty advisors are:

  • Earl Buford, Partner4Work
  • Susan Crane, SkillUp Washington
  • Mark Kessenich, Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership
  • Pat Steele, Central Iowa Works
  • Matt Williams, Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative

The Work-Based Learning Academy will begin with a kick-off event in Milwaukee, WI on June 5-6, which will include a site visit at Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership. The Academy will run from June 2018 – June 2019. If you are interested in learning more about the Academy or NSC’s work on work-based learning in the states, please contact state network manager Rachel Hirsch at rachelh@nationalskillscoalition.org.

Posted In: Work-Based Learning, State Initiatives and Academies, Washington, Oklahoma, Indiana, Illinois, Connecticut
New Indiana and Washington 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 Indiana and Washington State.

Since 1990, immigrant populations have more than doubled in both states, demonstrating the growing role that immigrant workers can play in helping the states meet the demand for middle skill workers and respond to local industries’ talent needs.

To meet these demands, states will need to ensure that their talent-development pipelines are inclusive of the many immigrants who are poised to benefit from investments in their skills: 54 percent of adult immigrants in Indiana and 43 percent in Washington have not gone beyond high school in their education.

Indiana: A strong and growing immigrant population presents an opportunity to meet an ambitious postsecondary goal

Indiana has a steadily growing immigrant population.  The state has seen its foreign-born population more than double from 2 percent in 1990 to 5 percent today.

Immigrants in Indiana are much more likely to be of working age:  82 percent are between the ages of 18-64, compared to just 61 percent of native-born residents. Indiana immigrants also have a higher labor force participation rate: 65.2 percent of adult immigrants in Indiana are in the labor force, compared to 63.4 percent of native-born adults.

The state has recently established an ambitious goal for postsecondary attainment: By 2025, Indiana aims to increase the percentage of state residents with a postsecondary degree to 60 percent. Meeting this goal will require investments in skill-building for all Hoosiers, including those born abroad. Indiana has already begun to make such investments through its innovative WorkINdiana program and related activities. NSC’s new fact sheet outlines additional opportunities for the state to consider.  See the fact sheet: Middle-Skill Credentials and Immigrant Workers: Indiana’s Untapped Assets

Washington: A trailblazing state sets an aspirational goal

Washington State is home to a sizeable population of 1 million immigrants, who comprise almost 14 percent of state residents.  As a result, they make up a vital role in Washington’s labor market. This role will continue growing as the immigrant population increases; already, the share of immigrants in the state’s population has had a 100 percent increase – going from 7 percent in 1990 to 14 percent today.

Washington has also set an aggressive goal for postsecondary attainment, aiming to increase the percentage of state residents ages 25-44 with a postsecondary credential to 70 percent by 2023.  This goal will help focus state policy and spending decisions towards middle-skill opportunities.

The demand for middle-skill workers is anticipated to remain strong in Washington, with 42 percent of new job openings expected to be at the middle skill-level. In order for Washington to capitalize on this demand and draw on the full talents and abilities of their residents, the state will need to invest in the skills of native-born and immigrant workers alike.

Already, the state has been a trailblazer in skill-building investments, while at the local level the Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs represents an important partner.  Learn more in our new fact sheet: Middle-Skill Credentials and Immigrant Workers: Washington State’s Untapped Assets.


Posted In: Adult Basic Education, Immigration, Indiana, Washington

Seattle Jobs Initiative releases guide for SNAP E&T advocates

  ·   By David Kaz, Robyn Vatter and Brooke DeRenzis
Seattle Jobs Initiative releases guide for SNAP E&T advocates

Advocates looking to help low-income people train for family-supporting jobs should check out a new guide released by Seattle Jobs Initiative. The SNAP E&T Advocates Guide provides advice on practical steps that advocates can take to help states make skills training an integral part of their SNAP Employment and Training (E&T) programs. Skills-based SNAP E&T programs utilize partnerships with community colleges, community-based organizations, and other funds to expand quality education, training, and support services to SNAP recipients. When used in this way, SNAP E&T can help prepare recipients for middle-skill jobs with family-supporting wages.

It’s a good time for advocates to weigh in with state leaders and agencies on SNAP E&T. As the labor market tightens, many states are looking for strategies to help people with lower skills get the training and support they need to move into the workforce or advance within their career. States can use their E&T programs – and a combination of federal, state, local, and philanthropic dollars – to provide job training for SNAP participants. Since over half of SNAP households are led by someone with no education beyond high school, expanded training opportunities are critical to help more SNAP participants move out of poverty and into living-wage careers. And the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, which administers the program, is providing resources and technical assistance to help states expand skills-based SNAP E&T programs.

A broad set of advocates, including policy organizations, antipoverty and nutrition organizations, philanthropy, community colleges, workforce development agencies, and others, can collaborate with state SNAP agencies to provide them with the impetus, information, and assistance they need to build out a skills-based E&T program. The Guide includes important tips that advocates can use to develop a successful strategy, including guidance on identifying champions, common obstacles that keep states from developing skills-based programs, and factors that impact SNAP E&T, such as time limits on benefits for able-bodied adults without dependents or programs that mandate E&T participation as a condition of receiving food assistance.

As a companion to the guide, SJI has also released a SNAP E&T Messaging Tool. The tool builds in some of the key messages on the program and why states should use it to help participants build skills demanded by today’s labor market. Advocates can customize the tool to include information specific to their state. They can also use it to introduce SNAP E&T to a variety of audiences who are generally new to the program.  The Messaging Tool was developed with feedback from National Skills Coalition’s partners working to advance skills-based SNAP E&T programs in their states.

For more information about Seattle Jobs Initiative and their SNAP E&T work, please refer to their website. For more information on how to develop a skills-based SNAP E&T policy in your state, check out NSC’s Skills-Based SNAP E&T Policy Toolkit.

Posted In: SNAP Employment and Training, Washington

Ready to work: Seattle creates new on-ramp for immigrant English learners

  ·   By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock,
Ready to work: Seattle creates new on-ramp for immigrant English learners

When a group of stakeholders in Seattle identified that low-level adult English Language Learners were often struggling to succeed in community college, they took action.

The group collaborated with Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, the Seattle City Council, and three city agencies -- the Human Services Department, Office of Economic Development, and the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs – to develop a successful model for serving these learners that could be replicated.

After substantial research and development, the Ready to Work (RTW) program launched in 2015. RTW was created as a prototype model of English language acquisition, career development, and employment, offered in a community-based setting. The program’s goal is “to empower and support immigrants and refugees in overcoming barriers on their journey to economic stability, quality jobs and integration into life in Seattle.”  One of the key features of RTW is its commitment to track participants’ progress over a longer time frame than conventional funding streams typically allow.

What It Is: Program Details

Ready to Work combines English as a Second Language (ESL) classes with computer literacy instruction and case management to help immigrants gain job readiness skills and take steps toward economic self-sufficiency.

Classes meet four days a week, three hours a day, for a total of 12 hours per week. Instruction is provided by two Seattle Colleges and Literacy Source (a community-based adult education provider).  The initial program design also includes:

  • Managed enrollment; new participants can join the class only during quarterly enrollment periods
  • Variable length of participation; learners may stay in the class for a few weeks to 6 months or more, given continued progress
  • Community-based learning; classes are held onsite at the nonprofit Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS) and at South Seattle College
  • Regular digital literacy; learning opportunities are provided daily to participants
  • Activities integrated into curriculum; for example, field trips and guest speakers are pre- and post-taught

RTW also includes several notable features that go beyond English language instruction, says Glenn Scott Davis, who serves as program and policy specialist for the city’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs (OIRA). These features include:

Case Management Navigation and Support. Each quarter, participants receive an average of 10 hours of case management and $250 in support services from ACRS (e.g., discounted public transit passes; gas or grocery cards). “This is an advantage of housing the program at a multi-service nonprofit organization such as ACRS,” says Davis. “Case managers can integrate a multitude of services on-site.” The case managers also help learners to navigate to their appropriate next-step placement at Seattle Colleges or in other education and training programs. Continued case management is available to participants as an ongoing support system even after they graduate from RTW classes.

Workshop Thursdays. These regularly scheduled events include field trips to cultural resources such as the Seattle Art Museum and public libraries; visits to area employers such as Nordstrom, Starbucks, and the PCC grocery chain; and visits to pre-apprenticeship programs.  On other Thursdays, guest speakers visit the classroom to help participants learn about opportunities for job training as home care aides and child care assistants; improve their financial literacy; and find out about childcare resources. Human Resources staff from industry partners also conduct mock interviews to help participants prepare for the job market.

Contextualized instruction. “[Classes] focus on contextualized learning, with a lot of visual aids and group work,” says Davis. “It’s not necessarily [industry-specific], but career development starts from the very beginning [of the program], and we expose people to a wide range of careers.” Teachers and case managers help participants gain a deeper awareness of their existing talents and strengths – a fundamental building block of a self-directed career plan.

Who Is In the Classroom? About the Participants

RTW’s target audience is adult English Language Learners who are seeking initial employment or a better job. Participants typically score at the lowest levels (1-3) of the National Reporting System for adult education. In addition, participants’ literacy and communications skills even in their first language vary widely.

Among participants to date, the top countries of origin are Ethiopia, Vietnam, China, and Mexico. Fully two-thirds (67%) of participants have less than a high school diploma, including 28% who have not even attended high school.

In order to reach potential participants, RTW works with a wide range of community partners to publicize the program and its eligibility criteria.

Multilingual outreach flyers are available in Chinese, English, Somali, Spanish, Vietnamese and other widely spoken languages.

Participants are referred through numerous avenues, including ethnic and community based organizations, ethnic media, and other service providers.

All Together Now: Program Partners

In addition to the Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, RTW’s lead partners include: HomeSight (a nonprofit community development corporation), ACRS, Literacy Source, and two Seattle Colleges (South and Central).

Nearly two dozen other organizations, including city agencies, community and faith-based organizations, and businesses, serve as recruitment, referral or employment partners for the program.

 “The intent of Ready to Work was never to compete with existing adult education programs, but to demonstrate the efficacy of a focused, community-based model that can be replicated on a larger scale to collectively produce better outcomes for learners with lower levels of English,” says OIRA’s Davis. “What we’re doing is developing organic ties between the RTW program and those next-step trainings – not just at college, but also community-based and industry-based short-term trainings – that can help people get quality jobs sooner rather than later.”

RTW has been deliberate in building its initial partnerships with business. “We have started the process of cultivating targeted relationships across sectors with quality employers,” says Davis. “That way, even if people end up in a job that [has a lower starting wage], it will have other benefits and a work culture that is supportive of ongoing learning and mobility.” 

Paying For It: The Funding Source

The city is using Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to initially support Ready to Work, with the nonprofit HomeSight serving as the project’s fiscal agent.   These funds are distributed through the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to communities around the country. They are flexible in design and can be used for a wide variety of activities, including employment and training services for people with low- and moderate incomes.

Other funding sources for RTW include Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Title I funds from the Workforce Development Council, and Washington State funds for adult education through the Seattle Colleges.

The Broader Context: Using Municipal Priorities as a Springboard

While many cities receive CDBG funds, relatively few have used them for programs serving jobseekers with limited English skills. One factor in Seattle’s approach is its ongoing Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI), the City’s commitment to eliminating racial disparities and achieving racial equity.

“The City requires all of its programs to use the racial and social justice toolkit,” explains Davis. “It really helped us be able to define and talk about the Ready to Work program…we aren’t [just] looking at this in terms of access or opportunity, but in terms of equitable outcomes.”

In part, Ready to Work was born out of the recognition that “what transforms people’s lives in the short term is a really good learning experience and a really good job experience,” adds Davis. “One of our core goals is to empower participants as self-directed learners who can make informed decisions…which is key to attaining economic stability and full integration into the life of Seattle.”

Measuring It: An Outside Evaluation

Early results from RTW are strong, says Davis: “Our attendance, retention and completion rates are very high -- we think that shows what people are getting out of the program.”

But Ready to Work isn’t relying on anecdotal findings or even traditional program output data to prove its value. Rather, OIRA has contracted with the well-known firm RTI International to conduct an in-depth third-party evaluation of the program.

Key outcomes being tracked include:

  • Language Skills: Continued level gains; progression in English skills
  • Participation: Attendance in classes and workshops; quarterly course completion and attrition rates; advancement in next-quarter RTW classes and higher level non-RTW programs
  • Employment and Self Sufficiency: Initial and second job placements; progression to self-sufficiency; and retention and advancement
  • Educational Advancement: Advancement to and progression in next-level courses and/or programs and beyond
  • Continuing Participation in English Language Acquisition: Finding ways of engaging employed RTW grads in ongoing English language learning

“A big challenge for so many adult ESL programs is the lack of long-term tracking [of participant outcomes],” says Davis. “So that is what we're attempting to do here. We want to track the longer term impact of our investments in Ready to Work and determine the efficacy and replicability of the model in Seattle and elsewhere.”

The RTI report is expected to be released in Summer 2016.

Next Steps: Learning and Looking Forward

While the Ready to Work program is still in its initial phase, Davis and his colleagues have already begun to identify early lessons. A particular area of focus has been how to ensure that participants have a smooth and successful transition to their next educational or vocational step.  

A key challenge is that while participants may have the desire to seek ongoing education and training following the RTW program, most have an urgent need to find employment.  “We look for the best possible immediate job options,” says Davis. Complicating factors, he explains, is that desirable pre-apprenticeship programs in construction and childcare certification require higher levels of English proficiency. “Our ACRS case managers work with college staff to smooth the transition and place learners in the most appropriate next-level ESL class for their particular goals,” he says.

Another major learning from RTW thus far is that immigrant English language learners follow a variety of paths to economic stability.  One size does not fit all –nor should it, according to Davis.

In particular, while RTW serves participants who are pursuing educational paths leading to college certification (and eventually to the quality jobs that require those certifications), as well as participants who were professionals in their home countries and seek to return to professional jobs, the program also recognizes that the needs of other participants who are not yet equipped to take those paths.  

Going forward, Davis says, RTW will be digging deeper into the question of how to most effectively facilitate learners’ transitions to short-term, industry-focused skills training programs with strong English language supports that can lead to a quality working-class job.  “Where such programs do not exist, OIRA will work with colleagues in the City of Seattle and with our key community, adult education, college, workforce development, and employer stakeholders to nurture new programs,” he says, “in order to provide these participants with equitable pathways to quality jobs.”

In the months ahead, Davis and his colleagues will be tackling these and other questions – including big-picture questions around supportive services, social benefits, and job-creation/job-quality strategies. These structural questions go beyond any single program or institutional actor, and Seattle is looking across the country for ideas to inform its efforts, including to New York City’s Career Pathways initiative.

Tackling structural challenges is nothing new for Seattle, of course. From the citywide Race and Social Justice Initiative to the much smaller Ready to Work program itself, city officials and stakeholders are using a fresh lens to examine long-held assumptions. The picture looks promising.  

Posted In: Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, Adult Basic Education, Immigration, Career Pathways, Skills Equity, Washington
Department of Education calls for second round of applications for Performance Partnership Pilots

On April 26, the Department of Education announced the availability of funding for the second round of up to 10 Performance Partnership Pilots (P3s) to develop innovative strategies to engage and improve outcomes for youth who are out of school and not working. The P3 program provides these partnerships with flexibility in spending funds from the departments of Education, Labor, Health and Human Services and Justice, and Housing and Urban Development. The flexibility is meant to encourage better alignment and integration in spending funds at the state and local level.

Pilots that target disconnected youth living in communities that have experienced civil unrest, rural communities, Promise Zones, in one or more Indian tribes, and who have significant barriers to education and employment such as youth with disabilities, those living in neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty or those involved in the justice system will be given priority. Partnerships are also given priority under the request for applications if they provide disconnected youth with work-based learning opportunities.

Under the first round of the P3 initiative, pilots were launched in the following areas:

  • Baton Rouge, Louisiana
  • Broward County, Florida
  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Indianapolis, Indiana
  • Los Angeles, California
  • The State of Oklahoma
  • Seattle, Washington
  • Southeastern Kentucky, including Bell, Clay, Harlan, Knox, Leslie, Letcher, and Perry Counties
  • Ysleta del Sur Pueblo

Applications for this second round will be accepted through June 27, 2016 and a call for a third round of applications is anticipated in the next few months. 

Posted In: Federal Funding, Florida, California, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Washington

NSC highlights skills policies adopted in states’ 2015 legislative sessions

  ·   By Brooke DeRenzis
NSC highlights skills policies adopted in states’ 2015 legislative sessions

In 2015, numerous states enacted legislation to address the needs of workers and employers and close the middle-skill gap. As highlighted in NSC’s 2015 state legislative round-up, states increased access to career pathways and set policies to support job-driven training.  They also took steps to implement the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which became effective on July 1, 2015.

To hear more about the actions governors and state legislatures took in 2015 to close the skills gap, register for our 2015 State Policy Legislative Round-Up, hosted on July 28 at 2pm ET.

Career Pathways 

At least nine states enacted legislation to support career pathways policies. Career pathways combine education, training, career counseling and support services that align with industry skill needs so participants can earn secondary school diplomas or their equivalent, postsecondary credentials, and get middle-skill jobs. In 2015, Colorado and Minnesota adopted legislation that will increase investments in career pathway strategies in their states.

 Career pathways include adult basic education, typically offered concurrently with and in the same context as general workforce preparation and training for an occupation. In 2015, Arkansas, California, Georgia, and Ohio increased investments in adult basic education.

Tuition assistance is also critical to ensuring that career pathways lead to postsecondary credentials, particularly for part-time, working students. In 2015, Indiana, Nebraska, and Oregon all passed legislation that expands tuition assistance.

Job-Driven Training 

Job-driven training prepares workers for jobs available in the economy. In 2015, a handful of states passed legislation to advance job-driven training.

California, Colorado, and Washington enacted legislation to expand work-based learning in their states by making investments in apprenticeship programs, paid internships in key industries, and apprenticeship preparation and supportive services respectively.

Hawaii and Oklahoma both passed legislation establishing bodies to advise the state on healthcare workforce policy.

Arkansas and Maine passed legislation to support employer-driven training programs developed through partnerships between employers and educational institutions.

WIOA Implementation

In 2015, Arkansas and Louisiana were among states that enacted WIOA implementation legislation specifying the type of workforce plan the state should submit to the federal government under the new federal law. 

In 2015, California, Florida, and Virginia all enacted legislation that emphasizes skills strategies, such as sector partnerships and career pathways, as part of WIOA implementation.

Posted In: Job-Driven Investments, Career Pathways, Arkansas, California, Florida, Louisiana, Virginia, Maine, Oklahoma, Hawaii, Colorado, Washington, Nebraska, Indiana, Minnesota, Georgia

Leadership Spotlight: Susan Crane

  ·   By Yuri Chang
Leadership Spotlight: Susan Crane

Susan Crane is the Executive Director of SkillUp Washington, a workforce funders collaborative which supports employers and working families in the Seattle-King County, primarily focusing on low-income adults. She also serves on NSC's Leadership Council.

In the following interview, Susan shares her experiences in bringing sector strategies to the federal system. She also discusses how involvement with NSC has helped advance her work in Washington State.

Can you tell us a little about your professional background and how you came to focus on workforce development?

I would say that without having tried, there are common workforce development threads that encompass my career. I spent the first decade working with victims of sexual and domestic violence. One of the things that we learned was that women who were economically dependent on their abusers were less likely to be able to leave them and stay away. At the time, there were few services available and public policy in this arena was nonexistent. As a bunch of us 20-somethings, we were able to work on some of the first policy work around sexual and domestic violence. We worked simultaneously on building a service system and moving legislation.

I then went to work as a legislative analyst for the Seattle City Council, where I had the opportunity to learn, analyze and develop policy options. It was an amazing education and the work was fun. I got to work in nuanced areas that don’t necessarily have right or wrong answers, such as public safety, human services, personnel, labor policy and housing. In doing so, I became involved with the Seattle Conservation Corps. SCC provides stabilizing services to its members who are typically low-skill, low-wage adults and often homeless. SCC helps its corps members overcome their barriers by providing stabilizing services such as help for finding housing, getting a wage, battling substance abuse, gaining valuable skills, and providing long-term case management,. That was my initial education to how important the workforce development is to diverse areas of public services.

With over two decades of workforce development experiences, how does the field look different now than when you first started your career?

Well, none of us had gray hair. That and one of the things that has changed in the workforce development field is that initially, small entrepreneurial non-profits were the ones that were involved in shaping sectoral employment strategies. Through the work of Jack Litzenberg—a visionary philanthropist at the Mott Foundation who really had the initial vision of building this field—we all got a chance to learn from each other and hone what those strategies could be. Jack seeded this work and built two pillars in the field: the National Network of Sector Partners, and the Workforce Alliance. The latter is now the National Skills Coalition. I remember being shut in a small room in Oakland where we fought out what the definition of sector employment strategies should be. One of our biggest “wins” was bringing the sectoral strategy to the federal system. Suddenly the federal workforce system was providing funding and opportunities for scale. Another big change over the last several years is the partnerships between sector programs and community colleges.

Your policy experience spans a variety of areas: public safety, housing, health, human services. How does your background contribute to your work with NSC?

I am very lucky to have made a living as a professional dilettante. My work in all of these different policy areas has helped me to be a “systems spanner.” I think people who work in workforce development really understand how to work with multiple systems and many times, systems that may not touch each other, but really need to be bridged in order to work better in order to help low-skilled folks move up. National Skills Coalition is an organization of systems spanners. Their work with government, nonprofits, industry associations and community colleges all help to generate policies and practices that are holistic.

How has your partnership with NSC helped to advance your work in Washington, and how has your work helped to inform and progress NSC’s efforts?

When I left the Seattle City Council I took over as Executive Director of Port Jobs, a small workforce intermediary that is associated with the Port of Seattle. We focused on access strategies, which is taking a high-wage field that is normally closed to people who don’t have some sort of an “in” such as a family member who is already working in that industry, and creating systems that allow people access. We built these access strategies to be a sturdy pillar of the work that is being done here in Seattle. National Skills Coalition is a critical connection to taking the kind of work that we’re doing and moving it to a much larger level. Their presence in policy circles in DC helps us in many ways—as an advisor, translator and connector. NSC’s annual Skills Summit provides an efficient venue for learning about what is happening around the country and on the national level.

Another area where I have been helpful to NSC is my knowledge of policy and practice regarding the registered apprenticeship system. I served as the public member of Washington State’s Apprenticeship and Training Council for 14 years.

What encouraged you to engage with NSC at such a meaningful level as a member of NSC’s Leadership Council, and why should others consider doing so?

They asked me. All kidding aside, who wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to work with a vibrant organization and a diverse group of thought leaders? NSC’s staff are strategic and dig deeply into the skills agenda. Our work is all about helping low-skilled adults get the skills they need in order to support themselves and their families. Being involved with NSC gives us a powerful national voice. The connection to what’s happening in Washington, in having people who are really knowledgeable who are working on our behalf in a particular area, is extremely helpful. I learn far more than I contribute.

Since joining SkillUp Washington in 2010, what do you feel has been your most meaningful accomplishment?

One major focus in our work has been to increase on-ramps to skills training, particularly for low-skilled adults. There are large numbers of very low-skilled adults in Washington who don’t have access to the I-BEST (Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training) program, which helps people get the skills they need to be able to go to work quickly in an area where they can make a decent wage. SkillUp Washington has been focusing on creating on-ramps that helps people who ordinarily wouldn’t be able to make it through, to move forward and into the I-BEST program. We were able to establish robust partnerships with community colleges in order to braid resources, and design and test these on-ramps to the I-BEST program.

Posted In: Sector Partnerships, Sector Partnerships, Washington
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