NSC’s SkillSPAN Network Put Workers Front and Center of Policymaking Decisions in 2021

By Melissa Johnson, Yasmin Fallahkhair, December 14, 2021

In 2020, policymakers, service providers, and advocates worked quickly to provide immediate relief to individuals and families in response to the COVID19 pandemic. In 2021, these leaders began to shift their attention and priorities from crisis relief to long-term recovery. Driven by the efforts of NSC’s SkillSPAN network, several new investments and advancements were achieved across the country in support of an inclusive economic recovery.

SkillSPAN is the first-ever nationwide network of non-partisan coalitions working to expand state skills training policies. Made up of 20 state coalitions, this network aims to promote policies that support all workers’ career aspirations, boost local businesses, and help states build strong, inclusive economies. The power of NSC’s SkillSPAN network is best reflected by the impact of these coalitions over the last 12 months in expanding economic opportunities for workers. Below is a sampling of the network’s achievements in 2021.

Expanding access to quality childcare for workers and students

Iowa‘s SkillSPAN coalition leveraged member voices, including childcare providers and businesses, to advocate for two new laws passed by the state legislature that address barriers to affordable childcare. Georgia’s coalition reinforced childcare as a critical issue facing families with low incomes, leading lawmakers to approve a $3.5 million increase in state spending for the state’s childcare assistance program. In North Carolina, the coalition worked with representatives to introduce a bill to increase subsidy reimbursement rates.

Increasing digital equity

Alabama and Ohio’s SkillSPAN coalitions increased digital equity by lifting up the importance of and deploying resources to expand access to broadband, echoing one of five principles NSC believes should guide policymakers as they work to close the digital divide. Alabama passed a Senate Bill deploying additional resources for broadband while Ohio’s vehicle to increase access was the state budget. The Texas SkillSPAN coalition joined forces with state and local partners to educate lawmakers on the digital barriers faced by individuals and families. In response, the legislature passed a new law committing to the creation of a state broadband office, state broadband plan, and a grant program to improve broadband infrastructure across communities.

Dedicated funding for workforce and training

Representing one of the largest memberships in NSC’s SkillSPAN network, California’s coalition secured significant investments in aid for community colleges, adult learner programs, career technical education, and apprenticeships. Massachusetts’ SkillSPAN coalition leveraged data on the pandemic’s impact to commit the state legislature to an astounding increase of $37.3 million in workforce development investments. And in Wisconsin, partnership between the state’s SkillSPAN coalition and BLU coalition led to $140 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to be dedicated to workforce development investments in the form of innovation grants. Colorado’s coalition was able to successfully advocate for the passage of a bill appropriating three million dollars in state funding to enhance SNAP employment and training and provide more innovative opportunities to SNAP recipients.

In Connecticut, the SkillSPAN coalition helped secure an investment of $110 million over the next three years in short-term workforce training programs designed to help unemployed or underemployed residents earn high-paying jobs in high-demand industries such as healthcare, IT, manufacturing, and clean energy. The Louisiana coalition also helped obtain an $11 million increase in GO grants, one of the state’s key financial aid programs. Also lifting up the importance of financial aid was the Michigan SkillSPAN coalition who successfully pushed for $80 million for both MI Reconnect and Futures for Frontliners programs in fiscal year 2022. In Maryland, the SkillSPAN coalition also helped secure an $8.5 million investment in the EARN workforce development grant program, representing a $1 million increase from the prior year. Finally, members of New York’s SkillSPAN coalition convened more than 200 summer youth employment providers and helped to save a summer youth employment program from elimination in the state budget this year.

Supportive services

The Illinois SkillSPAN coalition successfully advocated for $52 million in federal CARES and ARPA act investments to be committed to barrier reduction funds, which equip providers with the resources necessary to address emergency needs that prevent individuals from remaining employed or in skills training programs. And in Oregon, advocacy efforts by the SkillSPAN coalition led the legislature to dedicate funding to create a benefits navigator position at every community college and public university. Navigators are charged with helping students access SNAP food and E&T benefits, housing assistance, and other basic need resources. The Indiana coalition advanced a bill that would have expanded access to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families work and cash assistance program and increased benefit levels.

Virtual convenings

Tennessee’s SkillSPAN coalition facilitated discussions with Chambers of Commerce and workforce organizations on key priorities around the upcoming reauthorization of WIOA. The flexibility allowed by CARES and ARPA investments has prompted service providers and advocates to reimagine how future federal funding can better serve individuals navigating workforce and education systems. Washington’s coalition held an Immigrant & Refugee Workforce Summit that brought together over 125 stakeholders, comprised of immigrant & refugee community leaders, government officials, refugee resettlement agencies, nonprofits, and funders to inform and advance immigrant, refugee & BIPOC workforce strategies in Seattle and King County.