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Kaine, Portman Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Support Infrastructure Workforce

On July 20, Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced bipartisan legislation, the Building U.S. Infrastructure by Leveraging Demands for Skills (BUILDS) Act, that would support grants to industry partnerships in transportation, construction, energy, and other infrastructure sectors. The grants, which would be administered by the U.S. Department of Labor in consultation with the Departments of Transportation, Energy, and other federal agencies, would allow local partnerships to develop work-based learning programming, such as apprenticeships, that help workers and businesses get the skills they need to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure.

The BUILDS Act coincides with strong political interest in infrastructure investments. As National Skills Coalition highlighted in our recent issue brief, “Building America’s Infrastructure Workforce,” both President Trump and Senate Democrats have released plans to incentivize or support up to $1 trillion in new funding for construction and related projects, investments that could lead to as many as 11 million new jobs. President Trump also designated an “Infrastructure Week” earlier this year, during which the administration set a goal of infrastructure investment leading to one million new apprentices in two years, and signed an executive order on July 19th establishing the Presidential Advisory Council on Infrastructure.

Even before new investments, businesses in infrastructure face intense labor shortages because of impending retirements, a lack of diversity in the workforce, and overall skill shortages in growth industries. According to a report by the Departments of Education and Labor, there are 68 percent more projected job openings in infrastructure jobs over the next five years than there are students training for these jobs and According to a member survey conducted by the Aeronautical Repair Station Association, its members poised to lose out on close to $200 million in revenues this year due to unfilled technical jobs.

The BUILDS Act would help businesses in targeted industries grow and maintain the workforce necessary to keep up with demand, while also ensuring that a diverse range of workers could access the training and credentials needed to find sustainable, family-supporting jobs in these fields. The bill is consistent with the broader recommendations outlined in NSC’s Skills for Good Jobs agenda released last November.

The BUILDS Act would support implementation grants of up to $2.5 million over three years – and renewal grants of up to $1.5 million - to partnerships comprised of multiple employers in a target industry, education or training providers, labor organizations, local workforce boards, and other stakeholders where appropriate. Partnerships would be required to carry out business engagement activities that support the development of short- and long-term talent pipelines, including:

  • Assistance in navigating the registration process for registered apprenticeship;
  • Connecting businesses and education providers for development of classroom curriculum to complement on-the-job learning;
  •  Serving as employers of record for participants in work-based learning programs for a transitional period;
  • Training managers and front-line workers to serve as mentors to work-based learning participants; and
  • Helping businesses recruit individuals for work-based learning, particularly individuals being served in the workforce system or by other human service agencies.

Partnerships would also provide support services to ensure participant success in work based learning. These services would be divided between three stages:

  • Pre-employment: prior to a work-based learning participant entering employment, the members of the partnership would provide support and training necessary to ensure the worker was prepared to enter a work-based learning or apprenticeship program. At this stage, the partnership may provide skills training, work attire and tools necessary for the work site, wrap around services such as childcare and transportation and job placement assistance;
  • Early employment: During the first six months of the participant’s connection to the employer, the partnership would provide continued support to ease the transition for both the worker and the business. For example, a partnership could serve as an employer of record for a transitional period and provide subsidized wages from grant funds, as well as provide continuing case management and support services, mentoring, and training necessary to ensure the participant’s continued connection to the program; and
  • Continuing employment: after the participant is on-boarded to the company, the grant recipient would provide at least 6 months of continuing support necessary to ensure participants are able to succeed in work-based learning programs.

Partnerships would focus on apprenticeship and other work-based learning programming during which workers earn wages while obtaining specific occupational skills and credentials along a career pathways in key industries that help advance workers into higher-paying jobs.

National Skills Coalition applauds Senators Kaine and Portman for their leadership on this issue, and we look forward to working to working to advance the BUILDS Act as part of broader efforts to enhance our nation’s infrastructure. 

Posted In: Work Based Learning, Transportation, Sector Partnerships

Senators Introduce Dream Act; Includes Middle-Skill Pathway

  ·   By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock,
Senators Introduce Dream Act; Includes Middle-Skill Pathway

Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) today introduced the Dream Act of 2017. The bill would provide a path to legal immigration status and eventual U.S. citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and meet eligibility requirements. Notably, the bill includes a provision that would enable immigrants who earn certain middle-skill credentials to obtain legal status. NSC has long advocated for this provision, which ensures that the Dream Act is responsive to current US labor market needs. As described below, American businesses across all fifty states show strong and continuing demand for workers who are trained at the middle-skill level.

What the Bill Includes

The Dream Act introduced today is similar in its general outline to earlier versions introduced in Congress over the past 15 years, but has been modernized in numerous respects to better reflect today’s labor market and other considerations. Individuals who apply for status under the Dream Act of 2017 would need to complete a three-step process.

First, applicants would have to meet initial criteria and apply for conditional permanent resident status. Second, those who receive conditional status would have the opportunity to apply for lawful permanent resident status (known colloquially as a “green card”). Finally, those who have green cards would be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship.

In order to earn permanent resident status, individuals would need to meet a range of eligibility criteria, including but not limited to:

  • Graduating from high school or obtaining high school equivalency;
  • Pursuing higher education (including certain middle-skill educational pathways); working lawfully for at least 3 years, or serving in the military;
  • Demonstrating proficiency in the English language and a knowledge of United States history; and
  • Passing security and law enforcement background checks

Why A Middle-Skill Pathway Matters

Middle-skill occupations are those that require more than a high school diploma, but less than a bachelor’s degree. A National Skills Coalition analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data found there are not enough workers in the U.S. trained for middle-skill jobs: Fully 54% of jobs in the labor market are middle skill, but only 44% of workers are trained to that level.

There is robust demand for middle-skill workers across the 50 states, as NSC’s state-by-state fact sheets demonstrate. Immigrant Dreamers can play an important role in helping their states meet the demand for these workers. Research on Dreamers has shown that many are already obtaining middle-skill credentials.

In recognition of this labor market demand, NSC has long advocated for a middle-skills pathway in the Dream Act. Our Missing in Action report outlines policy recommendations in this area. The new Dream Act being introduced by Senators Durbin and Graham incorporates our core recommendation, and would allow individuals who earn certain middle-skill credentials to qualify for legal status.

How Many People Would Be Affected 

While estimates of the exact number of individuals who would be eligible for the new Dream Act is are not yet available, data from a related effort can help shed light on the potential universe of applicants.

That data comes from the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, which issued estimates indicating that 1.9 million young people could be eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

DACA was implemented through executive action by the Obama administration in 2012 and allows eligible young undocumented immigrants to obtain temporary protection from deportation and a 2-year renewable work permit. DACA eligibility requirements are similar but not identical to those for the first step of the Dream Act.

To date, approximately 800,000 individuals have been granted DACA status. Under the newly introduced Dream Act, people who had already received DACA would automatically be granted the first step in the Dream Act process -- conditional permanent resident status – unless they have engaged in conduct subsequent to receiving DACA that would make them ineligible.

A Permanent Resolution Versus a Temporary Fix

While the DACA program has provided a temporary fix for many young immigrant Dreamers, no president has the authority to grant permanent immigration status. Only Congress has the power to provide a path to permanent legal status and citizenship.

Introduction of the new Dream Act comes as the Trump administration is facing a challenge from states that want the DACA program to be abolished. A group of 10 states, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, has set a September 2017 deadline for the administration to “phase out” the DACA program or face legal action. 

Posted In: Immigration
House subcommittee proposes steep cuts to workforce, education programs for FY 2018

Yesterday, the House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) Subcommittee released its draft of the Fiscal Year 2018 (FY 2018) Labor-Health and Human Services-Education appropriations bill. The bill cuts funding across all three agencies - Department of Labor funding would be cut by $1 billion, or about 8 percent relative to current FY 2017 levels; the Department of Education would be cut by about $2.4 billion (about 3.5 percent lower than current levels); and the overall budget Health and Human Services would be cut by $542 million, about 7 percent lower than current levels.

Department of Labor

Department of Labor programs would see varying levels of spending reductions under the House bill. Funding for Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Title I state formula grants would be cut by approximately $86 million overall, or about 3 percent below current levels, though cuts would disproportionately impact the adult and youth funding streams, which are reduced by nearly five percent relative to FY 2017 appropriations. While the Dislocated Worker state formula program is not as heavily impacted by cuts, the bill does propose significant reductions to the DW national reserve fund, cutting the FY 2018 appropriation by nearly $90 million compared to FY 2017, and rescinding $200 million in DW national reserve funds that were appropriated in the FY 2017 bill, for a combined cut of nearly $300 million.

The draft bill eliminates funding for Title III Wagner-Peyser Employment Services (ES) state grants, a cut of $671 million. If enacted, such a cut would have a dramatic impact on the ability of states and local communities to provide critical job search and reemployment services for the more than 13 million individuals participating in ES each year. The draft bill also eliminates $95 million in funding for apprenticeship expansion, and does not renew $6 million in funding for the Workforce Data Quality Initiative, just weeks after the White House released an Executive Order prioritizing apprenticeship as a strategy to improve workforce education and training, and calling for federal agencies to evaluate workforce programs they administer.

Some national programs under DOL would also be impacted, with migrant and seasonal farmworker programs cut by nearly $10 million, ex-offender grants cut by about $6 million, and Job Corps cur by $16 million. The Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) would also be transferred from DOL to Health and Human Services, and funding for the program would be cut by $100 million, to $300 million.

Department of Education

The Department of Education generally sees fewer cuts to key workforce programs under the House bill, as Perkins Career and Technical Education (CTE) state grants, and Adult Education and Family Literacy state grants under WIOA Title II would be funded at current levels. The President’s FY 2018 budget request had called for cuts of 15 percent to state CTE grants and 16 percent to adult education programs, in addition to steep cuts to DOL programs.

The bill does propose rescinding $3.3 billion from the Pell reserve, on top of $1.3 billion rescinded from the Pell reserve in the FY 2017 omnibus appropriations bill. While this does not directly impact award levels for students in the upcoming academic year – the maximum award remains flat at $5,920 - it potentially undermines the fiscal sustainability of the program in the long term by reducing the ability to respond to increased enrollments.  

The subcommittee will mark up the bill this afternoon, and the full House Appropriations Committee is expected to vote on the bill on July 19th. The Senate is not as far along in the appropriations process as the House and is not expected to begin marking up appropriations bills prior to the August recess. Fiscal Year 2017 ends September 30th, so Congress needs to pass a spending bill or approve continued funding at 2017 levels by that time. 

National Skills Coalition strongly opposes the proposed cuts to critical education and workforce programs, and we will work with our national, state, and local partners to ensure that lawmakers understand the importance of these investments for U.S. workers and businesses. We will provide updates to the field as new information becomes available and provide opportunities for advocates in the field to communicate with their policymakers when our voices can have the greatest impact.

Selected Education and Workforce Programs

FY 2017 Omnibus

FY 2018 House Labor-HHS-ED bill

Difference FY 2017 – FY 2018

Department of Labor

Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Title I – State Formula Grants




WIOA Adult




WIOA Dislocated Worker (includes national reserve)

$1,241,719,000 (pre-rescission);

$1,041,719,000 (post-rescission)


State formula grants reduced by $5,530,000; DW National Reserve cut by $90,859,000 relative to enacted FY ’17 levels

WIOA Youth




Wagner-Peyser/Employment Service Grants




Workforce Data Quality Initiative grants




Apprenticeship Grants




Native American Programs




Ex-Offender Activities




Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers




Youth Build




Department of Education

Career and Technical Education State Grants




Adult Education and Family Literacy State Grants




Posted In: Federal Funding

USDA launches SNAP E&T data grants

  ·   By Christina Pena
USDA launches SNAP E&T data grants

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced a new grant opportunity for states to improve their data collection and reporting systems for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Employment and Training (SNAP E&T).

All 53 state agencies that administer SNAP may apply for this competitive grant. USDA will select up to nine states to receive awards of $300,000 to $1 million each. Selected states may use the funds over a three-year period to accomplish one or more of the following activities:

  • Training and capacity building, including improving data quality;
  • Developing IT systems to support the collection, reporting, and analysis of data; and/or,
  • Conducting other program improvements that help participants move toward stable, good jobs.  

These activities can help states develop their data systems to meet SNAP E&T national reporting requirements that were set forth last spring. In particular, USDA aims to strengthen states’ ability to use administrative data, including quarterly wage record information, to more efficiently capture the employment and wage outcomes of SNAP E&T participants to monitor program success.

Applications are due by July 31, 2017. For complete information and application instructions, see Funding Opportunity Number SNAP-ETDATA-2017 at

*Workforce Data Quality Campaign is a project of National Skills Coalition. This blog was originally posted on the WDQC website. 

Posted In: Workforce Data Quality Campaign

Iowa law expands high school equivalency diploma options for students

  ·   By Rachel Hirsch, Renee Miller, and Dave Stone
Iowa law expands high school equivalency diploma options for students

On April 20, 2017, Iowa’s then-Governor Terry Branstad signed House File 473 into law. This legislation expands pathways to achieving a high school equivalency diploma beyond the traditional assessment tests. In particular, it empowers the state board of education to develop rules for competency-based assessment of individuals’ skills.

The legislation was developed by the High School Equivalency Diploma Task Force (HSED Task Force), which had been assembled by the Iowa Department of Education in 2016 to advance policy in this area and was co-chaired by United Way of Central Iowa. United Way of Central Iowa and several other state partners were involved in this successful legislative effort.

An impetus for the legislation was the recognition that many Iowans lack the skills and credentials that will enable them to meet the state’s demand for middle-skilled workers. By 2025, 68 percent of all jobs in Iowa will require some postsecondary training or education. Despite this, more than 200,000 Iowans over age 18 currently do not have a high school diploma or equivalency.

Prior to the passage of House File 473, the only way for Iowans to achieve high school equivalency was by taking High School Equivalency Test (HiSET) classes and passing the HiSET assessment of five core competency areas. (HiSET is one of three tests used nationally to assess high school equivalency; the others are known as the GED Test and the TASC. Some states allow the use of all three tests, while other states restrict eligibility to only one or two tests.)

The HSED Task Force successfully argued that providing additional competency-based options will expand access to an equivalency diploma for a diverse population of Iowans.

Now that House File 473 has been signed into law, students can gain their high school equivalency through programs like the adult diploma at Iowa community colleges. These programs bundle prior high school coursework with secondary or postsecondary education courses. According to the Iowa Department of Education, 40 percent of Iowans who have dropped out of high school are less than one course away from attaining their high school diploma. This new law creates opportunities for students to receive credit for their prior coursework and focus on the competencies in which they are deficient, all while starting on a pathway to postsecondary training. Such pathways are especially helpful for students who need to enter the workforce as soon as possible, or who are balancing their education with other commitments such as work and supporting a family.

United Way of Central Iowa’s Bridges to Success initiative is working to help 10,000 central Iowans earn their high school equivalency diploma by the year 2020. This partnership with Des Moines Area Community College offers free classes, books, testing, and career coaching to adult students. With the passage of House File 473, Bridges to Success will be expanding in the coming years to include more options for students to earn their equivalency diploma.

National Skills Coalition is a strong proponent of policies that help to expand equitable access to middle-skill credentials and careers, including for the millions of Americans who lack a high school diploma or its equivalent. Establishing multiple pathways to attaining a high school diploma or equivalent, such as those allowed by Iowa House File 473, are one tool that states can use to help people with limited skills earn a secondary degree and continue on a path to a middle-skill credential.

Such programs also benefit employers who are seeking skilled workers. Like many states, Iowa faces a middle-skill gap. Middle-skill jobs account for 56 percent of Iowa’s labor market, but only 50 percent of the state’s workers are trained to the middle skill level. By providing workers with limited skills better access to education and training, states like Iowa can close the gap.


This blogpost was co-authored by National Skills Coalition and United Way of Central Iowa. Since 1917, United Way of Central Iowa (UWCI) has brought together individuals, employers, and organizations from throughout central Iowa to create and implement initiatives focused on making lasting impact in the areas of education, income, and health. UWCI is a "Collective Impact" organization, bringing together nonprofits, businesses, government, and community leaders to collaborate and implement solutions to tackle our community's most critical issues. Learn more at

Posted In: Job-Driven Investments, Iowa