Policies in practice: NSC staff visits four coalition partners to see workforce development in action

By Nicky Lauricella Coolberth, September 26, 2022

Featured photo: NSC Staff visits the automotive technology program lab at Northern Virginia Community College.

Connecting with and understanding the work of our coalition partners is at the heart of what allows NSC (National Skills Coalition) staff to effectively champion skills training policy at the state and federal levels. And there’s no substitute for an in-person site visit to a workforce development, education, or training facility to actually see programs in action and policy in practice.

That’s why NSC staff was so excited about our recent staff retreat where our staff of thirty broke up into groups to visit four DC-area coalition partners to tour the facilities, connect with coalition partners and, speak with people taking skills training courses.


How digital equity can mean a pathway to the digital economy at Byte Back

Several NSC staff took the short trip over to the Capitol Hill neighborhood to visit Byte Back – an organization whose mission is to close the digital divide by providing under-resourced communities an equitable pathway into the digital economy. Byte Back works to achieve this through transformative digital advocacy, digital literacy, and tech certification training. At the visit, NSC staff learned how Byte Back fights for equity for people affected by the digital divide. Their central issues are digital equity, diversity in the tech sector, and living wage careers for all. Their training programs range from basic digital skills training to advanced certifications for IT and administrative careers. Byte Back also provides career guidance for students and partners with a variety of regional employers to help place their students in living-wage jobs.

Photo: Class was in session at Byte Back.


For many staff, the visit really drove home the need for a national, comprehensive policy strategy for digital equity at work that NSC has been calling for in our Digital Equity @ Work Campaign.

This site visit was the first for NSC’s State Network Manager Erin Sheehan since she came on NSC’s staff last year. “I was inspired by Byte Back’s intentional approach to providing digital skills training and tech certifications all with the aim of advancing digital equity and placing workers on pathways to good jobs,” she said. Learning more about the day-to-day work of a non-profit training provider gave me important insight into how good skills policies that invest in quality training programs can advance equity for everyone.”

Check out for more on digital equity – and be sure to visit their typing tutorial to discover a streamlined and fun way to improve one’s keyboarding skills (an important advantage in the digital economy!)


Seeing what holistic support services means to credential completion at Goodwill Excel Center.

A second group of staff visited The Goodwill Excel Center – just a few blocks’ walk from the NSC office in downtown Washington, D.C. The Excel center is a tuition-free adult charter high school that awards industry-recognized certifications and high school diplomas to adult learners in the District of Columbia.

Photo: NSC staff visited a classroom at The Goodwill Excel Center

The Excel Center supports the whole student and responds to the fact that life commitments and circumstances can often stop people from continuing their high school education. Accordingly, the Excel Center offers transportation assistance to support students in getting to class; a child development center that offers free childcare to students while they’re in class; and flexible class schedules tailored to each student’s situation.

Understanding that many students may come into the program with varying skills having been out of the classroom for some time, Excel Center courses are designed to meet students where they are – regardless of level. Students earn credits in eight-week terms held year-round.

During the visit, NSC staff heard from two students and two teachers about their experiences of how the Excel Center intentionally supports student success. “Every day, I’m driven by NSC’s goal to advance policies that support economic mobility. Getting to hear from students and teachers at the Excel Center only further reinforced the importance of this work.” said Yasmin Fallahkhair, one of NSC’s State Network Managers. “Behind all the data, legislation, and advocacy points in my day-to-day work, there are real people whose lives are made better by investments in skills training and wraparound supports. The voices we heard at the Excel Center will continue to motivate me to keep this work going.”

In the debrief after the visit, NSC staff reflected on just how important holistic support services are to increasing access to high-quality skills training and boosting postsecondary credential completion.

Check out the news section on the Excel Center’s website for some inspiring stories of recent graduates.

Diversifying the apprenticeship pipeline at IEC Chesapeake

About an hour’s drive from NSC’s headquarters in Washington, D.C is IEC Chesapeake. Founded in 1982, IEC Chesapeake is the Mid-Atlantic region’s premier electrical and renewable energy contractor association and electrical apprenticeship program provider. IEC Chesapeake is one of the largest chapters of the national Independent Electrical Contractors Association comprised of more than 150 contractors and industry partners and representing more than 10,000 men and women in all facets of the electrical industry.

Photo: Apprentice electricians at IEC Chesapeake get hands-on experience in this lab.


During NSC’s visit to the facility, staff learned that IEC Chesapeake offers “earn while you learn” apprenticeships that combine workplace learning with related technical classroom education. Staff toured the state-of-the-art training facility and learned about the instructors interactive teaching format that offers opportunities for mentorship as well as learning. Graduates of the apprenticeship program leave school employed, with no school debts, and earn, typically, between $40,000 and $80,000 per year.

NSC staff also learned that the job outlook for electricians is expected to grow by an impressive 20% – significantly exceeding the national average for all occupations – and about IEC Chesapeake’s efforts to diversify the talent pipeline for the electrical industry through initiatives focused on recruiting students from communities that, historically, have not had access to apprenticeship programs including veterans, women, people of color, and youth.

Jeran Culina, Manager of NSC’s Business Leaders United initiative attended the site visit. “In my work, I connect with businesses every day, but I’m not usually privy to the training side – where employees enter their careers. This site visit opened my eyes to the significant work the training providers put into ensuring students complete their programs on a pathway to a high-quality, fulfilling career. Businesses truly can’t do the work without great partners like these”

If someone you know is thinking about becoming an electrician, tell them to check out the FAQ section of IEC Chesapeake’s website.


Meeting demand for skilled workers in growing industries at Northern Virginia Community College

NSC staff also visited Northern Virginia Community College – the largest supplier of talent in Northern Virginia and one of the largest community colleges in the United States, comprised of nearly 75,000 students and more than 3,000 faculty and staff members throughout six campuses. NOVA offers more than 100 associates degree and certificate programs, including distance learning programs online and continuing education courses through Workforce Development.

NSC Staff visited the college’s medical laboratory technology program and the automotive technology program. In the medical laboratory program, students learn to perform lab testing on blood and body fluids critical to the detection, diagnosis, and treatment of disease. Program graduates are eligible to take the American Society for Clinical Pathology Board of Certification exam and other national certification exams for technicians. The automotive technology program is designed to prepare students for full time employment as line technicians, to work in new car make-ready, or become customer service representatives.

Photo: NSC staff in the medical laboratory at Northern Virginia Community College.


NOVA has a neat career prospects “calculator” for both their automotive and health care programs. Prospective students can see what their career could look like if they earned one of these in-demand credentials. They can peruse potential careers; measure exactly how in-demand the skills they would learn would be (in the DC area and around the country); see potential salaries; and understand how many former students have landed jobs in the field soon after graduation. It’s a taste of the informed decision-making all potential students would have access to if our country passed policies (like the College Transparency Act) designed to make the outcomes of higher education and workforce training programs transparent – so people have the data to understand which programs lead to good jobs.

“As a California community college graduate, I was so excited to visit one of the largest community college systems in the country,” said Karina Paredes-Arzola, one of NSC’s State Network Managers. “I was amazed by NOVA’s data-driven strategies and their close partnerships with employers – all to offer their students career pathways where – with a click of a button – they can select a potential employer and see what programs they need to complete to get a guaranteed interview.”

After these site visits concluded, NSC staff discussed our reactions at our staff retreat, discussing in-depth how the opportunity to see these programs first hand really drove home how real-world examples can both inform and advance our policy agenda; highlighted the impacts that NSC’s policy work has on working people and the businesses that hire them; shined a light on how important equity is in all of our work; and generally allowed all of us to recenter ourselves and connect to NSC’s vision and mission.

Thank you to the staff to these four coalition partners for making these site visits possible and sharing our passion for skills training and workforce development policy.