White House Upskill Summit: summary and resources

By , April 29, 2015

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