New report flags opportunity to act collectively on skills

By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, February 24, 2015

A new report from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education highlights the opportunity created by three coinciding developments in the adult education and workforce fields. Making Skills Everyone’s Business details how this convergence of activity has the potential to spark a coordinated national effort to address the lack of foundational skills among U.S. adults. The three developments are:

Making Skills Everyone’s Business was developed by the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) with the input of voices from across the adult education and workforce landscape. NSC’s own Leadership Council had the opportunity to weigh in at a special listening session hosted in conjunction with our 2014 Skills Summit.

It is gratifying to see that many of the approaches highlighted in OCTAE’s report are already embraced by NSC members and partners. They include:

Engaging employers to accomplish common goals. The so-called “upskilling” of incumbent workers is an important element of remedying skill gaps. Results from the OECD Survey of Adult Skills indicate that two-thirds of US adults with low basic skills – 24 million people — are currently employed.  NSC has long championed this issue through our Business Leaders United (BLU) initiative, which brings together small and mid-sized employers who share a commitment to industry-led investments in workers. More recently, BLU joined other leaders in the field in launching Upskill America.

Identifying opportunities to build on labor’s strengths. In particular, labor-management partnerships provide crucial opportunities for incumbent workers to increase their skills and advance in the workplace. NSC has worked closely with partners in labor to identify promising approaches for remedying foundational skills gaps, and consider how these approaches might be expanded to serve aspiring as well as incumbent workers. Learn more about labor’s commitment to upskilling.

Designing partnerships to facilitate collective impact. The value of collective impact strategies – in which place-based partnerships of business, labor, community organizations, and others develop local solutions to an agreed-upon problem with defined outcomes – has been well-documented in the literature. Equally important is the recognition that such partnerships must have a “backbone organization” that is staffed and has adequate resources to sustain the partnership and facilitate its success.

Improving access to high-quality career pathways. The Making Skills Everyone’s Business report defines career pathways as “a series of connected education and training strategies and support services that enable individuals to secure industry-relevant certifications, obtain employment within targeted occupational areas, and advance to higher levels of future education and employment.” The report highlights several innovative state programs that establish such pathways, including Minnesota’s FastTrac.

Aligning public investments for maximum effect. The new WIOA legislation provides a game-changing opportunity for states to align their investments to better advance low-skilled workers. In particular, the unified statewide plans required by WIOA (and the optional, more robust combined plans) are a chance for states to rethink the constellation of services provided across the four titles of WIOA and beyond. As Making Skills documents, federal agencies are working now to plan coordinated technical assistance to help states align funding to better support adult learners. Some states are already leveraging federal resources such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Employment & Training (SNAP E&T) program to support employment-focused basic skills education.

Check out the full Making Skills Everyone’s Business report on OCATE’s website, and watch the video announcement of the report below: