Partnerships, Investments, and Equity Headline Largest-Ever Skills in the States Forum

Last week, National Skills Coalition hosted more than 200 state policy advocates from thirty-four states at the 6th annual Skills in the States Forum held in New Orleans, Louisiana. The convening of multi-stakeholder state workforce development advocates engaging in a national conversation focused on policy and coalition building marked a milestone for NSC: the biggest ever in-person Skills in the States Forum.

Attendees represented training providers, community colleges, unions, businesses, community-based organizations, researchers, advocates, and state agencies – all focused on expanding access to inclusive, high-quality skills training so that people can have a better life, and local businesses can see sustained growth.

It was a pivotal time to gather. Our country is emerging from the most devastating economic crisis since the Great Depression. During the past couple of years, Congress has made billions of dollars in investments that have given states the opportunity to support and strengthen the workforce through skills training. With the implementation of historic investments on the horizon (and already underway in some cases) it is critical that we prepare advocacy and implementation strategies for these workforce development investments that don’t repeat the mistakes of the past and, instead, promote an inclusive vision of the future.

The agenda was robust. Advocates discussed and heard from state experts on

  • Strategies for advancing racial equity in our work.
  • Leveraging new federal Digital Equity Act and infrastructure funding.
  • Improving equitable access to postsecondary financial aid and supports.
  • Promoting a transformative, more inclusive workforce system.
  • Elevating worker voices.
  • Building career pathways.
  • Using data strategically to build a more inclusive economy.

The event kicked off with a plenary session that focused on unpacking racial equity and inclusion in workforce development. Clair Minson, Founder & Principal at Sandra Grace LLC and a leading expert on the intersection of racial equity and workforce development gave an inspiring keynote address on the manifestations of systemic and institutional racism in workforce policies, practices, and cultural messaging, along with strategies for dismantling and creating more equitable, inclusive systems. Following her talk, Davante Lewis, Director of Public Affairs and Outreach, Louisiana Budget Project and Kenyatta Lovett, Managing Director for Higher Education, Educate Texas, Communities Foundation of Texas; illustrated what this ongoing work looks like in practice.

Day two of the forum featured a plenary discussion about advancing job quality and equity through sector partnerships. Brooke DeRenzis, Chief Strategy Officer at NSC led a discussion with Bishara Addison, Director, Job Preparation, The Fund for Our Economic Future; Robert Espinoza, Executive Vice President of Policy, PHI; Victoria Johnson, Global Equity Director, HDR; and Aleece Smith, Director of Inclusion and Sector Strategies at KentuckianaWorks.

Most of the content of the forum was driven by thought leaders from NSC’s networks including SkillSPAN and Business Leaders United, many of whom spoke at plenaries or on panels at the Forum including the following:

“I think advocates left the forum inspired – with new ideas, strategies & tactics for policy development, coalition organizing, communications and mobilization. And I think they’re heading to their home states with a renewed enthusiasm for building equitable policies” said Melissa Johnson, Managing Director of State Strategies at NSC. “I’m confident that participants will work to leverage the collective expertise across states and organizations to expand inclusive, high-quality skills training.”


Check out photos of the event on our Flickr page and the full event agenda here.

Some of our favorite tweets from the event are below – you can follow the rest of the #SSF22 discussion over on Twitter.