In March, President Biden released the American Jobs Plan. The plan included investments in good jobs rebuilding roads and bridges, expanding essential utilities, addressing climate change, and caring for our communities. It also included essential investments in people – a proposed $100 billion for education, training, and supports. Investments that would allow workers most impacted by the pandemic to access good jobs and support recovery for small and mid-sized businesses.
With the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in November, Congress signed off on a portion of the President’s vision, including over $1 billion in investments in skills training. With the anticipated passage of the companion Build Back Better Act, the nation could be looking at another up to $40 billion in skills investments. Thanks to a year of relentless direct advocacy by NSC’s networks, together, these two bills could represent the largest investment in workforce development since the Great Depression.
Equity and Inclusion Rest on Implementation
The American Jobs Plan, consistent with NSC’s Skills for an Inclusive Economic Recovery, included a focus on those most impacted by the recession and historic structural inequities, including workers of color, immigrants, women and those without college degrees as well as small and mid-sized businesses. And passage of these bills is an important milestone in achieving the Skills for an Inclusive Economic Recovery vision.
But whether these historic investments support an inclusive recovery and begin to eliminate structural racism in skills and re-employment policies depends on their implementation. A set of decisions will be made about how these investments are operationalized by federal agencies writing guidance and regulations and by state and local policymakers spending the money on the ground. These decisions could either deepen or address inequities. Recognizing what’s at stake, NSC is launching a new initiative: Implementing an Inclusive Recovery.
Preparing for Implementation With National Listening Sessions
To inform this initiative, over the last two months, with national partners, NSC convened 132 stakeholders from 39 states for 14 listening sessions to inform a set of recommendations that can help state and federal policymakers implement federal recovery dollars in a way that addresses inequities and supports an inclusive workforce.
These sessions have been driven by an organizational commitment that NSC made a year ago in our Skills for an Inclusive Economic Recovery framework: Listening to new allies. We committed to listening to advocates and partners leading racial and economic justice efforts as well as leaders of color in the workforce development world as we continue to build a diverse coalition committed to investing in people. To support this commitment, we partnered with national organizations to host the following sessions:
Some key themes emerged during the listening sessions including the importance of flexibility, lived experience, data and accountability, long-term services, and digital inclusion.
Applying a Racial Equity Framework to Implementation Recommendations
In the new year, NSC will release a framework for state and federal policymakers to support equitable implementation of federal workforce investments and initiatives. And over the ensuing months, we’ll release a set of analyses and blog posts that delve deeper into some of these themes.
Our work developing these recommendations and analyses will be shaped by another organizational commitment that NSC made in Skills for an Inclusive Economic Recovery: Assessing the potential racial impacts of our policies. Earlier this year, NSC completed the development of a racial equity policy impact tool to guide us in assessing our policy proposals. That tool shaped our approach to the listening sessions and will shape our development of themes and recommendations.
Supporting Inclusive Implementation Through Advocacy & Technical Assistance
NSC does not simply put out paper and wait for things to change. We know that the voices that shape our policy proposals must also be at the table in conversation with policymakers. As part of Implementing an Inclusive Recovery, we’ll support our networks of advocates in shaping recovery implementation at the state and federal levels.
At our Skills Summit in February, we’ll host a fireside chat about implementation with White House leaders. We’ll also host a set of listening sessions with Summit attendees and leaders of the federal agencies charged with writing regulations and guidance for federal recovery investments. Throughout the year, we’ll create opportunities for our network to shape federal initiatives and come back to you to join with us in advocacy to ensure success in implementation.
To support inclusive implementation in the states, we’ll be supporting 20 SkillSPAN coalitions and 15 BLU affiliates in their state advocacy agendas and strategies and releasing a tactical advocacy playbook. In addition, we’ll be supporting multi-state academies and peer-to-peer learning groups. This fall, NSC launched a Racial Equity Learning Group with 5 Skills State Policy Advocacy Network (SkillSPAN) coalitions and 5 Business Leaders United (BLU) state affiliates leads committed to advancing state specific policies using a racial equity lens and building more inclusive coalitions. The learning group, which includes California, Indiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, and Ohio, will continue through the end of 2022.
This is About More Than a One-Time Investment
Without a doubt, Congress is on the precipice of a historic level of investment in America’s workforce. But the degree to which these investments support an equitable, inclusive economy go beyond a one-time surge of support. Decisions about the implementation of federal recovery investments will lay the groundwork for new, consistent federal investments in skills, changes to other major federal policies, such as the Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and Higher Education Act, and for the workforce development strategies that states, and localities pursue for years to come.