Combating Racism in our Fight for Economic Opportunity

A Message from NSC CEO, Andy Van Kleunen

Racism’s Impact on Economic Inequality

For twenty years National Skills Coalition has called out the unequal economic opportunities faced by many working Americans, with a particular focus on how certain people have benefitted from significant government investments in their education and career advancement while others have been deemed undeserving, ill-equipped or not a priority.

There are multiple dimensions to these inequities impacting a wide range of working people, but structural racism has often been at their heart—with particularly devastating consequences for workers of color. Black workers were excluded from ambitious college-to-career programs like the original G.I. Bill. Racist views about the poor jettisoned training from anti-poverty policies, to be replaced by punitive “work first” and “work requirement” sanctions. Today, workers of color are disproportionately enrolled in our nation’s least resourced workforce development programs, and they struggle to receive even the most modest of skills training services under those policies.

These injustices have contributed to the racial income gaps in our country today. We know that inclusive skills policies will not eliminate structural racism in our labor market. But we believe that more inclusive skills policies can be part of the solution, helping to address the disparities that preclude too many Black, Latino, Pacific Islander, Native, and certain Asian American workers from a chance at pursuing economic security.

Calling out the racism that has infected our nation’s workforce, higher education, and support service policies can also reveal other barriers that impact the training and advancement options for a broader range of working people, including many white workers. They include workers who do not have a college degree, or who live in certain urban or rural zip codes, or who toil in certain under-valued but now-recognized “essential” industries.

National Skills Coalition is trying to raise our organization’s internal equity compass. We are also bringing together all our member stakeholders—business leaders, labor leaders, community-based organizations, community colleges, local workforce experts, anti-poverty advocates, and advocates for immigrant and racial justice—to collectively assess how we can combat structural racism within our nation’s skills policies. We do this both because it is the moral thing to do, and because the U.S. economy cannot thrive so long as we allow discrimination of any kind to pervade how our nation invests in its people.


Recent Efforts to Address the Equity Challenge

Internal Operations
  • Between 2017 and 2020, we increased representation of people of color on our staff from 21% to 55% and in our C-suite from 0% to 50% and maintained leadership on our board at 33-36%.
  • We applied a racial equity lens to an organizational salary analysis and made salary banding transparent internally and in job announcements.
  • Using a racial equity lens, we developed and are implementing organizational career pathways that bring transparency to competencies, pay, and promotions and establish a framework and culture of goal-setting and coaching to support career advancement.
  • We retained REI consultants for ongoing trainings for the organization’s management team to bring a racial equity lens to supervisory culture and expectations, and to build staff capacity to have impactful conversations about race, equity, and inclusion.
  • We have begun building racial equity and inclusion into the core competencies upon which supervisors and staff are evaluated.


Engaging the Field and Policy
  • We established a Racial Equity National Advisory Panel representing our national network’s stakeholders (business, labor, public sector, community organizations, community colleges, and advocates).
  • We released The Roadmap for Racial Equity: An Imperative for Workforce Development Advocates, a foundation for our efforts to bring a racial equity lens to our policy work, and the basis for multiple presentations by NSC staff to allies around the country.
  • With our Board of Directors, we put forward Skills for an Inclusive Economic Recovery: A Call for Action, Equity and Accountability. This framework will guide our efforts over the next two years in a manner that we hope will advance racial equity in our federal and state advocacy work.
  • We continue to co-convene, with immigrant rights advocates and the Immigration and Federal Skills Policy workgroup, advocating for policies that invest in the career paths of recent immigrants as part of a larger agenda to fully and legally incorporate them into the U.S. workforce.
  • We hired a new Senior Fellow for Workforce Data Policy with expertise in tracking comparative economic outcomes for workers of color across a range of skills and education policies, and have begun building out our capacity to replicate such efforts at the state and federal levels.
  • We are developing a racial equity policy impact tool to assess our policy proposals and reforms.
  • We continue to support our 20 state SkillSPAN coalitions with tools and processes that help them apply a racial equity lens to their organizing and policy development.


Holding Ourselves and Our Policies Accountable

This work is just the beginning. We will continue to bring a more intentional racial equity lens to our organizing and advocacy efforts. We will redouble efforts to build racially inclusive networks to shape the policies proposed by our coalition. And we will hold ourselves accountable for the policies we promote, creating quantitative analyses that will tell us if our agenda is improving economic outcomes for workers by race, gender, age, and income.

We still have a lot of work to do on racial equity and inclusion—both in our efforts working toward systemic change through public policy and through the practices of our own organization—and we are still learning how to do it right. But we will continue the work.

I am so grateful to you, our partners, for what you are doing as well in your communities every day to build an inclusive workforce.  We look forward to learning from and collaborating with you.


Andy Van Kleunen, CEO

More Resources

Learn more about NSC's commitment to making racial equity an essential element of national skills policy.

Our Racial Equity Team

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