State advocates gain inspiration and policy ideas at NSC’s Skills in the States Forum

By Melissa Johnson, October 20, 2021

Earlier this month National Skills Coalition hosted nearly 200 state policy advocates for our 5th annual Skills in the States Forum.

These advocates came together at a critical time: no state has escaped the devastating economic impacts of the COVID-19 recession. State workforce policy is a critical component of an inclusive economic recovery. Since the beginning of the pandemic, states have been forced to make policy decisions that determine the economic fate of millions of workers and small businesses, including decisions that impact the ability of unemployed residents to train for jobs in new industries as well as those created by federal stimulus efforts. For a truly inclusive economic recovery, workers and businesses who were most impacted by this recession, as well as workers who were previously held back by the structural barriers of racism or lack of opportunity must be empowered to equitably participate in and benefit from the recovery.

The Skills in the States Forum gives advocates in NSC’s state networks the chance to:

  • Learn about new policy and advocacy innovations in the states
  • Discuss and understand strategies for moving policies forward that can be included in their advocacy; and
  • Engage with peers in conversations around related advocacy and policy efforts in their respective states

The event kicked off with a plenary session focused on Advancing Racial Equity in the Workforce to Achieve an Inclusive Economic Recovery. Central to this plenary session was a stirring keynote address by Deputy Secretary of Labor and former secretary for the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency Julie A. Su. Deputy Secretary Su struck a particularly powerful note when she shared with attendees how “there can be no sustainable recovery without equity” and followed that up with commitment to build bridges that connect people to good jobs.

Watch Deputy Secretary of Labor Julie A. Su’s keynote remarks here.

Following Deputy Secretary Su’s address, attendees were treated to a equity-focused panel discussion with Luis Quiñones, Director of Adult Education and Workforce Development Programs at UnidosUS; Dr. Noemi Custodia-Lora, Vice President of the Lawrence Campus & Community Relations at Northern Essex Community College Massachusetts; Shana Marbury, General Counsel and Senior Vice President of Talent at the Greater Cleveland Partnership and Alex Camardelle, Director of Workforce at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. Panelists were able to pick up where the Deputy Secretary left off, discussing how crucial equity-advancing policies and practices look on the ground.

The second day of the forum kicked off with a panel discussion between NSC’s Sr. State Network Manager Michael Richardson and Managing Director of Government Affairs Katie Spiker about the current federal landscape and its implications for workforce development policy advocacy.

Participants took to Twitter to discuss the forum – take a look.

Throughout the event, attendees participated in discussions with peer experts engaging in common advocacy efforts across the U.S., including:

  • A look into how Louisiana and Virginia have implemented quality assurance criteria that reflect the consensus criteria for quality non-degree credentials developed by National Skills Coalition and developed policies focused on equity.
  • Practical examples of the various state policy levers that can grow and sustain effective sector partnership models and walk away with ideas for how they can advance such policies in their states, with a focus on creating new opportunities through policy innovation and digital skills.
  • Policy recommendations to expand access to affordable, quality childcare for workers and individuals in skills training
  • Tools to implement and scale SNAP E&T in as part of an inclusive recovery in their states, with a look into Oregon’s efforts and successes.
  • Identifying and braiding federal and state funding streams to have the resources necessary to move towards an inclusive economic recovery.

National Skills Coalition recently launched our Digital Equity @ Work Campaign – our effort to close the digital divide and realize our nation’s economic potential by empowering all workers to adapt to technology’s constant evolution in the workplace. One of the Forum sessions, entitled Sector Partnerships in the Recovery: Creating New Opportunities Through Policy Innovation and Digital Skills gave Forum attendees an opportunity to learn from one another about how they’ve leveraged sector partnerships to respond to the pandemic and its impacts, and the ways sector partnerships can specifically tackle digital skill needs and provide work-based learning opportunities.

All Skills in the States Forum plenaries and sessions are available to watch here.

The event ended with a panel moderated by State Network Manager Yasmin Fallahkhair featuring three formidable Skills State Policy and Advocacy Network (SkillSPAN) leads. During the panel, Melinda Mack with the New York Association of Training and Employment Professionals, Dave Stone with the United Way of Central Iowa and Davante Lewis with the Louisiana Budget Project imparted words of wisdom about successful advocacy strategies they’ve employed in their different state climates.

At the end of the jam-packed two-day conference advocates left with practical ideas for advancing their workforce development policy advocacy in their respective states. The strategies and ideas shared by their peers will fuel them through the year ahead until next year’s conference, and hopefully for years to come.

Are you interested in attending next year’s Skills in the States Forum or getting involved with SkillSPAN? Let us know by signing up to learn more here.