National Skills Coalition Releases Workforce Policy Goals to Help Build an Inclusive Economic Recovery

By Ayobami Olugbemiga, September 09, 2020

Washington, D.C. — Workers of color, immigrants, and workers with a high school degree or less have suffered the greatest job losses during this pandemic and are overrepresented in jobs that have been hardest hit by the economic downturn. Yet policymakers still have not developed a national workforce and re-employment strategy that focuses on the workers and small businesses that have been most impacted by the economic crisis. To address that need, National Skills Coalition today released a report outlining set of policy goals, principles, and a call to action for state and federal policymakers to leverage skills policy to help build an inclusive economic recovery.

“The success of our economic recovery can’t just be about the national unemployment rate going down, GDP going up, or the stock market rebounding – the real test is about how successful we are in building a recovery that is inclusive and equitable,” said Andy Van Kleunen, CEO of National Skills Coalition. “This would mean that workers and businesses who were most impacted by this recession, as well as workers who were previously held back by structural barriers of discrimination or lack of opportunity, are empowered to equitably participate in and benefit from the economy’s expansion and restructuring.”

Guided by this vision and a set of six principles, National Skills Coalition developed eight policy goals that federal and state policymakers should commit to in order to support the millions of workers and small businesses who have shouldered the greatest impacts from the downturn and have been traditionally left out of past recovery efforts.

  1. Remove barriers to our nation’s safety net for all workers and make it a foundation for new career pathways. Forcing people into low-wage jobs as a condition of safety net programs hurts workers, limits their access to education and training, and stymies businesses looking to hire trained workers. Safety net programs should support workers’ long-term pathway to a successful career.
  2. Guarantee income, healthcare, training and re-employment support for displaced workers. Millions of displaced workers – particularly workers of color, immigrants, and workers with a high school degree or less – are in companies and industries that may never return. Those workers need access to health care, job training, income support, and other services to help them transition into better jobs and sustainable careers in new industries.
  3. Ensure publicly funded job creation programs include training and support service investments. Policymakers should ensure that state and federal investments in physical, digital, and clean energy infrastructure, as well as contact tracing, includes dedicated funding for job training and support services – with a focus on local workers most impacted by the pandemic, particularly people of color, immigrants, and women.
  4. Invest in local businesses to avert more layoffs and encourage upskilling. The economic disruption from the first four months of the pandemic alone could cause 1.4 million to 2.1 million small businesses to close for good, according to a recent study by McKinsey. Policymakers should invest more in small and mid-sized businesses to avert layoffs, keep their employees paid, and support employee re-training.
  5. Support sector partnerships to drive industry-specific training and hiring strategies. Policymakers should invest in industry partnerships – between local employers, educators, training providers, and community organizations – to develop strategies to help train and re-employ local residents who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Public investments in these partnerships should include resources, technical assistance, and policy guidance that advance racial equity and inclusion in local companies.
  6. Expand access to digital learning for all workers. Covid-19 has put a spotlight on the digital divide facing students and workers, and the racially inequitable financial consequences of that divide. Policymakers should expand access to digital learning and ensure that it is high-quality, equitable, and inclusive.
  7. Increase workforce system capacity to support increased demand for reemployment and training services. As with past major economic disruptions, the demand for training will significantly increase as workers try to return to the workforce. During the 2008 recession, the workforce system experienced more than a 200 percent increase in the number of Americans seeking reemployment and training services. Policymakers must significantly increase investments in the workforce system to support increased demand for reemployment services.
  8. Provide data transparency and accountability regarding who is being included in the recovery. Policymakers must track and publicly provide data – disaggregated by race and gender, as well as by community and industry – to determine which workers, businesses, and industries actually benefited from public investments so that inequities can be addressed.

Achieving these goals requires making generation-defining public investments in our workforce system. Congress has passed more than $3 trillion in Covid relief since the pandemic began but only $345 million has been dedicated to workforce funding, which amounts to less than six dollars in skill-building and re-employment services for each person who has been laid off since late March. State and federal officials should not wait until the worst of the crisis is over before investing in the inclusive, post-pandemic economy that our country needs.

America, unfortunately, has a poor track record when it comes to equitable economic recovery policy. Racial discrimination marked the New Deal programs of the 1930s. The GI Bill of the 1940s denied Black workers and their families the opportunity to accumulate wealth (through home mortgage subsidies) or human capital (through postsecondary education and training).

The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act spent more on college-bound students and long-term unemployed workers with college degrees than it did on retraining workers without a bachelor’s degree for a new career coming out of that recession. The Recovery Act also picked winners and losers when it chose which industries (e.g. “green jobs” in energy industry) to target for job training investments instead of creating real pathways to prosperity for everyone.

“Our ongoing national response to this crisis must do better,” said Van Kleunen. “We have a chance to get it right, to empower workers and businesses that were failed by our past so they can shape and benefit from the growth of America’s economic future. A pragmatic, inclusive vision for skills policy is essential to that future. America can’t train its way out of this crisis, nor can workforce policy alone dismantle structural racism, bring economic security to every worker, or ignite sustainable growth for every small business. But workforce policy must be part of the path forward.”

Download the report here