Listen to Skilled America Podcast Episode 9: Skills for an Inclusive Economic Recovery

On the latest episode of Skilled America, I talk with National Skills Coalition CEO Andy Van Kleunen about the state of our workforce, the lessons we've learned from the recessions of our distant - and not-so-distant - past, and how National Skills Coalition envisions an inclusive economic recovery that benefits every worker and every industry in the post-pandemic economy.

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In remembrance of a true workforce champion

  ·   By Andy Van Kleunen
In remembrance of a true workforce champion

Friends –

Yesterday, National Skills Coalition was heartbroken to learn of the passing of Alma Salazar. Alma was so many things to NSC and to the people she championed. She was a tireless advocate for young people and working adults in southern California and nationally. She was a long-time NSC Board member, currently serving as its Vice-Chair. She was a key bridge builder with the business and Chamber of Commerce communities. She was an unwavering voice for racial equity, whether in conversation with local community advocates or local business leaders. She was our friend. She was an inspiration, a strong and calm voice for what is right.

It’s that strong, calm and reassuring voice for which I’ll most remember Alma. She was clear about what she believed in, and at the same time committed to working with folks from a range of perspectives to find some common cause in that fight. I was so proud to have the chance this past February to present to Alma, on behalf of our entire Coalition, our annual Skills Champion award. The reaction from folks there in the ballroom in Washington DC, and from California and around the country on social media, confirmed that this was an honor well deserved. You can watch it all here.

Our hearts go out to Alma’s family, her six-year-old son, Noah, and partner, Gene. Our condolences to her colleagues at Unite-LA, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, the Skills for CA Network, the REAL Coalition, the California Economic Summit, and the many other efforts in which she was a respected leader. We will all miss her. And when we eventually dig in again on the fight to help those marginalized by this pandemic and longer-standing structural injustices, may we do so with the memory of Alma’s calm resolve and never-tiring advocacy in our hearts.


In accordance with her family’s wishes, UNITE-LA is establishing a scholarship in Alma’s name. If you would like to honor Alma, please reach out to Natalie Pitman, UNITE-LA's Director of Operations and Strategy, or you can send a contribution directly with a note indicating, Alma Salazar Scholarship, to UNITE-LA (1055 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1750, Los Angeles, CA 90017).

Business leaders tell Congress: The pandemic has accelerated the need for aggressive, effective skills training investments

At 11 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, the CEO of a Boston-area manufacturing company stepped off the shop floor to join a virtual room of 130 business leaders from across the country. The group had gathered to deliver an urgent message to their elected officials in Washington, DC: The pandemic has accelerated the need for aggressive, effective investments in skills training – a need Congress has so far failed to address. 

“America’s people are the backbone of our economy and the future of both depend on the investments we make today,” said Mike Tamasi of Accurounds. “An inclusive economic recovery begins with equipping all workers with the skills and supports they need to succeed.” 

Tamasi is chair of Business Leaders United (BLU), an employer-led initiative of National Skills Coalition that supports small and mid-sized business owners in asking policymakers to partner with them in investing in a skilled workforce. Signaling the importance of skills training to their survival as job creators, these business leaders had stepped away from their day to day operations to attend BLU on the Hill, two days of conversations with over 60 federal officials. 

Before the pandemic, small businesses provided nearly half of all private sector jobs, employing close to 59 million people. And many were already facing a structural workforce challenge: due to lack of public investment, not enough people in their communities had the opportunity or support to train for skilled jobs. And while the impacts of the pandemic on small business have differed by industry, the need to rapidly train existing and new workers in new technologies, safety protocols, and service delivery models is a shared challenge. A challenge that members of BLU were calling on Congress to help them address. 

BLU executive committee member Traci Tapani of Wyoming Machine in Minnesota indicated that her company needs CNC machinists and that across her industry there is a need for building digital literacy skills. But current efforts to train and upskill workers have stalled because economic uncertainty and lack of funding have led to class cancellations.  

“There has never been a more important time for our nation to invest in workforce training,” Tapani said. 

Elected officials who have championed workforce development addressed the business leaders, urging them to take their stories and recommendations to their colleagues in congress. 

Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) told the business owners,“I’m so pleased that even with the ongoing challenges of the coronavirus, there’s so many industry professionals who are coming together to advocate for something that is really important to all of us.”  

Portman thanked BLU for helping develop and advance his bi-partisan JOBS Act (co-sponsored by Senator Tim Kaine, D-VA) which would allow workers to use Pell grants for high-quality, short-term programs that can help them quickly retrain fora new career. 

In addition to calling for more support for short-term training programs, the business leaders spoke to the urgent need for greater local capacity to quickly adapt training programs in light of accelerated demand for re-skilling and upskilling brought on by the pandemic. Ninety percent of attendees indicated that they participate in local sector partnerships that provide this support to their industry, but currently there is no dedicated federal support for this essential capacity. 

“We need congress to invest in sector partnerships right now in this struggling economy,” said Edwin Parra with Anning-Johnson Construction in Atlanta. “We need these workers. They need us. We need Congress to help connect the dots by investing in sector partnerships.” 

The business leaders also spoke to the need to eliminate barriers to training in their communities. Gerard Camacho with Atrium Health in North Carolina pointed to the number of individuals in his community who can’t afford tuition or the other costs that come with enrolling in training like transportation, food and childcare.  

“We need to eliminate barriers to access to training to support an inclusive economic recovery,” Camacho said. “We need Congress to invest in supportive services so businesses can find, train and retain the workforce they need.” 

In their remarks to the group, Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR-1) and Brett Guthrie (R-KY-2) from the House Education and Labor Committee affirmed the important role of skills training in responding to the pandemic’s economic fallout. The two are co-sponsors of the bi-partisan PARTNERS Act which invests in local sector partnerships to develop work based learning programs and provide wrap around support services. 

On Wednesday, the business leaders met individually with over 60 members of congress asking for support of their Legislative BLUprint for Economic Recovery. The platform identifies tangible steps policymakers can take to help advance national skills policies that work for businesses, workers, and theeconomy. 

Josh Harrold of Appteon, Inc. in Virginia said devoting two days to educating policymakers about what’s happening in his/her company and community wasn’t a luxury. It was essential.  

“This is about more than my company’s bottom line,” he said. “It’s about our collective future. It’s about our ability to fill existing, good-paying jobs, create new jobs, and help restore our local economies by being equitable employers. Our organization is creating an apprenticeship program focused on supporting veterans, women, and communities of color.  I’m so grateful to BLU for giving us a platform to share this message with congress.” 

“Workforce development is key to restoring our economy,” Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) affirmedin his address to the business leaders in attendance.Business leaders have to invest and congress has to advance the goals of workforce development.”  

Tamasi agreed. “As business leaders, we are making investments in our workforce every day. But we can’t do it alone. We need policymakers to be our partners in this effort.”  

Business Leaders United is made possible by support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Cognizant U.S. Foundation, JPMorgan Chase, and Lumina Foundation.Videos from BLU on the Hill are available here. 

Business Leaders United is one of four networks convened by National Skills Coalition. Together with our national network of workforce development practitioners; our network of 25 state policy coalitions (SkillSPAN); and our network of 30,000 grassroots advocates (Voice for Skills), BLU is helping to advance the vision and goals in National Skills Coalition’s Skills for an Inclusive Economic Recovery. 

Posted In: Business Leaders United
Louisiana becomes fourth state to adopt National Skills Coalition’s criteria on quality non-degree credentials

On September 23, Louisiana’s Board of Regents became the fourth state to adopt National Skills Coalition’s criteria on quality non-degree credentials, building on their participation in NSC’s Quality Postsecondary Credentials State Policy Academy.  

A leadership team comprised of representatives of the Louisiana Board of Regents, Louisiana Community and Technical College System, Louisiana Workforce CommissionLouisiana Economic Development and Louisiana Department of Education, along with various other agencies and organizations, has developed criteria to define quality credentials for Louisiana. For Louisiana, a certificate or industry-based certification will be considered a quality postsecondary credential of value if it meets the consensus criteria and leads directly to an occupation that, at a minimum, maintains a 20% wage premium over a high school diploma in Louisiana. 

Their work is particularly timely as states are looking to develop quality training programs in response to COVID-19’s impact on the economy. The consensus criteria were developed through NSC’s work with agency leaders from twelve states and national workforce and higher education stakeholders. The criteria should allow state policymakers to be comfortable supporting these programs with public funds as the economy recovers from the COVID-19 recession, students to be confident about selecting high-quality training, and employers to understand which programs are effectively preparing students for careers. 

Louisiana also developed two categories of credentials through this process, acknowledging that individuals start their postsecondary pathways at different points: “Quality Postsecondary Credentials of Value” and “On-Ramp Credentials.” Though an on-ramp credential does not meet credential of value standards, it provides a means for individuals with lower skills to get on a training pathway and build toward a higher-level credential. Colorado and Oregon are also considering operationalizing an on-ramp credential definition.  

Through the Academy, state agency teams from six states are working together to advance a high-quality postsecondary skills strategy so more residents can attain quality credentials. The four consensus criteria that should be considered for a credential to be identified as quality are: 1) evidence of substantial job opportunities; 2) evidence of the competencies mastered by credential holders; and 3) evidence of the employment and earnings outcomes of individuals after obtaining the credential. The fourth criterion is that the credentials would ideally stack to additional education or training.  

To date, Alabama, Colorado, Louisiana, and Oregon have adopted the consensus quality criteria with NSC’s assistance. The criteria have been adjusted to account for the unique needs and circumstances of each state.    

Oregon’s multi-stakeholder Adult Learner Advisory Committee, a part of Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Committee,including staff from relevant agencies and leaders from the community formally adopted the criteria over the summer and is now operationalizing the definition. The state is trying to discern whether to use the Self Sufficiency Standard developed by the University of Washington, as part of its wage threshold criteria. The Standard is a budget-based measure of the real cost of living and an alternative to the official poverty measure. Oregon leaders find it better captureshousing costs.  

Colorado’s policy academy team, which includes multiple governmentcommunity stakeholders, and NSC’s local partner, Colorado Skills2Competehas adopted the criteria and is considering using the MIT Living Wage calculator in discerning adequate wage gains as evidence of sufficient earnings outcomes. Colorado also added an additional criterionportability—as has Oregon.   

Like Louisiana, Alabama included stakeholders from different government education and workforce agencies in the adoption of their its criteria, which is led by Governor Kay Ivey’s Office of Education and Workforce TransformationAlabama’s Committee on Credentialing and Career Pathways adopted the NSC consensus criteria, as well as a requirement of portability across or within an industry sector to create their Compendium of Valuable Credentials, or list of quality credentials. Like the other states, Alabama sees its quality credential work helping the state meet its goal of adding 500,000 credential holders to the workforce by 2025.

Posted In: Work Based Learning

Department of Labor Announces $150 Million Solicitation for Sector Partnerships

  ·   By Kermit Kaleba,
Department of Labor Announces $150 Million Solicitation for Sector Partnerships

Last week, the U.S. Department of Labor announced the availability of $150 million in grants to support public/private “H-1B One Workforce Partnerships” to expand training opportunities in three key sectors - information technology, manufacturing, and transportation – that are being impacted by technological changes and automation. Funds under these four-year grants may be used for a range of different activities, including:

  • Implementing or expanding sector partnerships

  • Establishing new or expanding existing career pathways within target industries

  • Providing training opportunities to move workers in target industries from middle- to high-skill jobs

  • Providing support services to individuals in training; building or expanding data systems

  • Creating or leveraging strategies to sustain programs following the life of the grant.

The agency anticipates that it will award between 15-30 grants under this solicitation, with awards ranging from $500,000 to $10 million.

Eligible entities must be led by one of four applicant types:

1) Businesses or business-related non-profit organizations, such as industry or trade associations, acting as intermediaries for the target industry;

2) education and training providers, which may include community colleges, community-based organizations, and for-profit institutions;

3) entities involved in administering the public workforce system under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), including state workforce agencies, and state and local workforce development boards; and

4) state, regional, or local economic development agencies.

Regardless of which type of entity serves as the lead, all grants must support partnerships that include representatives from business, education and training providers, and workforce development entities. Optional partners may include (among others) labor- management partnerships, foundations and philanthropic organizations, faith-based organizations, and agencies administering relevant federal funding or programs.

Projects must be focused on training opportunities within the IT, advanced manufacturing, and transportation sectors, and may be operated at the local, state, or national level. Programs must incorporate career pathways as part of their overall design: while training may be provided for entry-level occupations, they must lead to employment in middle- and high-skilled occupations within the target industry. Applicants are also strongly encouraged to consider the use of work-based learning strategies such as apprenticeship, on-the-job training, paid internships, or incumbent worker training. Up to 10 percent of grant funds may be used for support services for participants, including transportation, child care, housing, and needs-related payments. All participants in training under these grants must be at least 17 years old and not currently enrolled in secondary education.

While the grants do not require cost sharing or matching, applicants must demonstrate that they will be able to leverage funds outside the grant equal to at least 25 percent of total amount requested. Leveraged resources can come from a variety of sources, and can include other federal funds – such as Pell Grants, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program education and training (SNAP E&T) funding, and federal work-study funds - if leveraged to support the project being supported through the grant.

Applications must be received by November 12, 2020; the full solicitation and supporting materials may be found here.

National Skills Coalition applauds DOL’s continued support for industry and sector partnerships, which have long been established as a best practice in helping businesses address skills shortages and helping workers advance within key industries. We urge Congress to build on these investments through further dedicated investments in these critical partnerships, including through expanded funding for transportation sector partnerships as provided in the bipartisan BUILDS Act, and funding for partnerships between community colleges, businesses, and other stakeholders as provided in the bipartisan ACCESS Act.  

Posted In: Federal Funding