Learning group: Workforce advocates apply racial equity lens to their organizing and policy efforts

By Michael Richardson, August 01, 2023

NSC has wrapped up its first Racial Equity Learning Group. Launched in 2021, the group’s participants engaged in community sessions and individualized coaching to learn how to apply a racial equity lens in their work with a goal of advancing state skills training policies that promote racial equity. Leaders from NSC’s Business Leaders United initiative and SkillSPAN Network (NSC’s State Policy Advocacy Network) in six states: California, Indiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina and Ohio participated in the learning group.

Members developed at least one goal that would bring an REI lens to their coalition building, policy work, and/or advocacy efforts in their states. Throughout the year, the learning group participated in in-person and virtual learning community sessions to learn more about how to apply a racial equity lens to workforce development policy and build equitable skills policy frameworks; to develop a more clear understanding of why advancing transformation policies and practices in workforce development cannot happen without a racial equity lens or focus; and to understand racism’s impact on the workforce system and what structures need to be dismantled in order to achieve racial equity in workforce development policy. They also participated in peer-to-peer learning to learn, support and build community with one another through the course of the program.

Participants learned how structural racism has negatively impacted workforce policies and our workforce system and contributed to economic inequality – from Black workers being excluded from college-to-career programs like the G.I. Bill in 1944 to today when Black and brown workers are disproportionately enrolled in WIOA – our nation’s least-resourced workforce development program. They also discussed the moral and economic imperative to dismantle structural racism within the workforce education and training system.

They learned that creating intentionally inclusive skills policies is just one step toward building a truly inclusive economy – one where workers and businesses who are most impacted by economic shifts, as well as workers who face structural barriers of discrimination or lack of opportunity are empowered to equitably participate in – and benefit from – a growing economy.

Participants met with racial equity consultants every month for individualized coaching sessions to receive support and assistance with applying and advancing their goals. During their work together, group members quickly learned that navigating the terrain of advancing racial equity in their work was complex and challenging and found the learning group community beneficial in providing support and a safe space to discuss challenges and barriers as they worked to advance their goals.

“I learned so much from my national peers and incredible coaches about what it means to truly center racial equity in workforce development and public policy” said Stephanie Keinath, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce. “I’ve been able to use the racial equity lens that was fostered during the Racial Equity Learning Group to examine the workforce development policies, programs, and opportunities that we engage in on a daily basis. Perhaps most importantly, the experience provided me with tangible tactics and best practices for improving the quality of the work we do, and greater support for educating and resourcing our businesses to ensure more equitable outcomes for our community and workforce.”

NSC fights for skills policies that purposefully promote equitable opportunities and outcomes for workers of color – so that all workers, businesses, and the economy can thrive. Some of our racial equity resources include Creating an Equitable, Resilient Workforce System, The Roadmap for Racial Equity, Skills for an Inclusive Economic Recovery. The Racial Equity Learning Group builds upon these efforts and provide SkillSPAN coalitions and BLU state affiliates with a supportive community, knowledge, and tools to advocate for policies and that advance racial equity in the workforce development system.

Here is a brief overview of what participating states were able to accomplish over the year:

North Carolina’s SkillSPAN coalition worked to advance racial equity in the state’s digital equity planning process. Based on their learnings from the Racial Equity Learning Group, the coalition coordinated with North Carolina’s Division of Digital Equity and Literacy to incorporate metrics related to race and income that they will use to evaluate and publish results on the impact of the current round of digital equity grants. They will also incorporate these metrics in the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program and Digital Equity Grant spending.

Massachusetts’ SkillSPAN coalition formed a racial equity subcommittee tasked with brainstorming, developing, and driving the group’s racial equity agenda. The subcommittee presented the coalition’s Board with NSC’s definition of racial equity and strategies for how it can be applied to the organization’s effort, ultimately leading the Board to adopt the definition and vision. The subcommittee is now fully absorbed into coalition’s executive team to ensure racial equity is a consistent and core focus of the coalition’s strategy, advocacy priorities, and agenda. In 2023, this work included budget advocacy to ensure appropriations are being deployed in an equitable manner and that programs are benefiting the people, programs, industries, and regions that need it most.

Ohio’s SkillSPAN and BLU leads worked together with other state leaders to collect data disaggregated by race and ethnicity on the benefits cliff – when a small increase in earnings, which can be caused by promotion due to skill gain, causes an unexpected decrease in public benefits. This work culminated in the release of When Working Isn’t Enough: Wages and Public Benefits in Ohio. The coalition plans to leverage the report to advocate for quality jobs and additional access to disaggregated data.

New York’s SkillSPAN launched the Statewide Workforce Equity Analysis Tool, a first-of-its kind comprehensive tool that examined the racial equity gaps that exist within the workforce development sector and the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion efforts taking place across the state. These findings were presented to the coalition and broader partners across New York through a discussion that reinforced the opportunity and imperative to improve racial equity within the workforce development sector to better serve individuals supported by the field.

California’s SkillSPAN and BLU both set goals to support legislation and budget items that intentionally advanced racial equity. Some of these goals resulted in wins. One being a budget win of $11.6 million for the Integrated Education and Training for the English Language Learners (ELL) program. Also, $60 million for the CA Youth Leadership Corps which provides earn-and-learn training opportunities and resources for underserved students of color. the CA Youth Leadership Corps which provides earn-and-learn training opportunities and resources for underserved students of color.

Indiana’s BLU Affiliate set a goal of building a pilot program to engage companies in a learning cohort around implementing best practices within their operations to shrink racial equity gaps. With thought partnership from RELG consultants, the Chamber launched a pilot program with 19 companies. Through this pilot, companies will have access to resources that help them take action to address inequity in the workforce. Through the Business Equity for Indy Workforce Pilot, companies will be equipped with strategies and resources to develop equitable talent pipelines, enhance inclusive hiring practices, and support the health and wellbeing of a diverse workforce.