Leadership Spotlight: Cheryl Feldman

February 28, 2014

Cheryl Feldman, Executive Director of District 1199C Training & Upgrading Fund, a labor-management educational trust fund with over 50 contributing Delaware Valley employer partners, has been on the staff of the Training Fund for 36 years. Under her leadership, the Training Fund provides healthcare career pathway educational opportunities for the members of District 1199C (Philadelphia Hospital and Healthcare Employees), an AFSCME affiliate, and community residents. Cheryl has helped develop the Fund’s Learning Center into a comprehensive educational career center providing a wide range of adult education, skills training, and collegiate programs and services for more than 2,000 adults and youth annually. 

Earlier this month, Cheryl received NSC’s Skills Champion award at the 2014 Skills Summit in Washington, DC. She received the award after several years of involvement with NSC, including serving as one of the first members of NSC’s Leadership Council. Cheryl is frequently called down to Washington, DC—often at NSC’s request—to meet with the White House or various federal agencies or to testify before Congress. Last month, following the White House’s “Opportunity for All” event that focused on the long-term unemployed, she met with Vice President Biden to provide input for his cross-agency review of federal workforce programs to ensure they align with worker and employer needs. 

In the interview below, Cheryl discusses how her involvement with NSC has contributed to the work of the Training Fund and made an impact on federal workforce development policy: 

How did you get involved in the field of workforce development?

I was hired 36 years ago by the District 1199C Training & Upgrading Fund. I had graduated two years earlier with a Masters in Social Work and my first job was at a long-term care facility where I first served as a case manager and then went into the training department. While I was working there, I became active in District 1199C and was then offered a job working for the Training Fund. I was hired to coordinate a city grant that came through Philadelphia’s Office of Employment and Training.

The Training Fund had received a series of grants to train incumbent workers for upgrading opportunities and qualify unemployed area residents for the substantial number of family sustaining skilled healthcare jobs. My job was to recruit both union members and the unemployed, provide ongoing case management, coordinate with the training providers who were contracted to provide the training, and engage with employers in placing graduates into employment. The program was very successful and expanded over the years. Eventually, we were able to partner with the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in establishing our own school of allied health. 

What changes have you seen over the past several years in workforce development?

There is less money for training and education. The Training Fund was founded in 1974 as a sector-based initiative serving both our members and unemployed community residents, which was highly unusual. The Training Fund developed a model over 40 years, streamlined it, and created career pathways without having too many examples available to learn from and replicate. We developed our education and workforce model from working closely with partnering employers and workers, designing programs that met the employers' and workers' needs to respond to changes in health delivery and create opportunities for skill upgrading and advancement. We figured out what worked and didn’t work for them. I’m glad to see that the sector approach has grown into a best practice. Now, there is a much more robust understanding of best practices which supports the continued development of our model. 

When did you first get involved with NSC and why?

I’ve been involved with NSC’s Leadership Council since early in its development. NSC is an important commitment on my part because I want to interact with other workforce development practitioners from around the country as well as policymakers. That networking, sharing of ideas and impacting policy on a variety of levels is important to the work, both informing the work we do at the Training Fund and contributing to the field. 

Would you recommend other labor-management partnerships become more active in NSC? 

Yes. Labor-management partnerships are sustainable sector partnerships. We have very compelling, long-term relationships with our employer partners. We have a lot to contribute to the field because of the unique partnership of labor and employers that has resulted in the development of excellent best practices. We also can learn a lot by sharing ideas with others because there are commonalities in practice. The mix and diversity of different kinds of partnerships that underlay sector work, that diversity, finding the commonalities, finding the differences, developing best practices, impacting policy – it is good for labor-management partnerships to be involved.

Given all the other demands on your time, what made you agree to take on a leadership role in NSC?

NSC is where I am able to interact with policy advocacy work. It allows me to interact with policymakers to provide feedback on what does and does not work in the field and have an opportunity to impact policy. The work of NSC in this arena is extremely important and over the past two years we’re seeing the impact we are having, especially with President Obama’s “Opportunity for All” event and the announcement of “Ready to Work Partnership” grants. 

How does your involvement with NSC complement the programmatic and policy work you pursue?

Involvement with NSC complements our work in a variety of ways. The connections we’ve built with different government agencies have allowed us to blend together funding to build pipelines of youth and adults into healthcare career paths. For example, the Training Fund worked with the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry to fund education coaches using money from the Department of Education and an RN occupational trainer with Department of Labor & Industry money to create an incumbent Home Health Aide upgrading program that integrated numeracy, reading, and writing competencies with occupational certification. That kind of policy support to integrate programming—with the support of agencies working together—is how the NSC work complements what we’re trying to do. 

Incumbent worker funding is important. As the PIAAC study shows, most (63%) low-skilled adults in the U.S. are employed. These workers need support in order to upgrade their skills to be viable in the workforce, and have opportunities for advancement. Getting workers the support they need is particularly important to labor-management partnerships like the Training Fund. 

The Training Fund’s commitment to serving the long-term unemployed has also been supported by NSC’s efforts to provide workforce partnerships with an opportunity to give policymakers feedback on successful interventions. Funding for apprenticeship pipelines enables labor-management programs to scale up their efforts to train the unemployed for in-demand skilled employment. Our implementation of on–the-job training with healthcare employers has enabled employers to hire long-term unemployed who are appreciative of the opportunity and committed to doing a great job. It has been a win-win for the trainee and the employer!