Join Our Mailing List

News > Skills Blog

New Fact Sheet: The Business Case for Investing in Upskilling

  ·   By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock,
New Fact Sheet: The Business Case for Investing in Upskilling

Businesses have a powerful stake in the skills of their frontline employees. That’s the message of a new fact sheet, one of two publications being released today by National Skills Coalition.

The Business Case for Upskilling highlights findings from NSC’s recent report on service-sector workers who have limited literacy, numeracy, or digital problem-solving skills. Among the findings emphasized in the fact sheet: A majority (58%) of these workers have been with their employer for at least three years, and 39% have recently pursued additional education and training.

Companies can help workers overcome their skill gaps through a variety of mechanisms, including partnering with training providers to offer classes and providing paid release time for employees to participate in learning activities.

An on-the-ground example of such collaboration is provided in the story of the Hyatt Regency at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), which identified employee language skills as a key barrier hampering the hotel’s efforts to become a four-star facility. Through a partnership with labor, workforce, and other stakeholders, the hotel has been able to upgrade worker skills and obtain the coveted four-star rating.

Also being released today is a second fact sheet, which distills key findings from NSC’s report for a general audience. Low Skills are Widespread in the Service Sector, But Investments in Worker Upskilling Can Pay Off also summarizes key employer and policy recommendations.

Both fact sheets accompany NSC’s Foundational Skills in the Service Sector report, released last month. Slides from NSC’s webinar on the report are also available. 

Posted In: Adult Basic Education
Trump Administration Proposes Cuts to Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 Appropriations

Various media outlets are reporting today on a set of proposed cuts to Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 spending levels circulated by the Office of Management and Budget that would include significant cuts to Pell Grants and certain Department of Labor training programs. The proposed cuts are in addition to the cuts outlined in President Trump’s FY 2018 “skinny budget” released earlier this month, and would be used to offset proposed increases in defense and border wall construction costs.

Most federal programs – including programs at DOL and the Department of Education – are currently being funded through a temporary stopgap known as a “continuing resolution,” (CR) which largely maintains funding at prior year levels. The current CR was enacted in December, and runs through April 28th. Congress had been expected to finalize FY 2017 appropriations before the start of the new year, but had been asked to delay the process to allow the incoming Trump administration to weigh in on overall spending levels.

The chart circulated by OMB includes a rescission of $1.3 billion in unobligated spending from the Pell Grant program, on top of the nearly $4 billion cut proposed in the administration’s FY 2018 proposal. The chart also calls for eliminating funding for the Senior Community Service Employment Program and the Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker Program under DOL, as well as cutting $100 million from the Dislocated Worker National Reserve.

With Congress currently scheduled to be out of session for the holiday recess for most of April, there is relatively little time for appropriators to revise final spending levels in response to the Administration’s requests, and it is not expected that many of these proposed cuts will ultimately be adopted. However, the new request further underscores the disconnect between the Administration’s rhetoric on the importance of job training in addressing worker and business skill needs, and their efforts to cut funding for those same programs.

National Skills Coalition joined with more than 30 other national organizations as part of the Campaign to Invest in America’s Workforce in a letter to House and Senate Appropriations Committees on February 27th, calling for sustained funding for key education and workforce programs, and a letter to OMB director Mick Mulvaney earlier this month in response to proposed cuts under the FY’18 budget proposal. We will continue to work with our national, state, and local partners to education policymakers on the vital role these investments play for industries and jobseekers across the country, and to reject cuts that would reduce our nation’s ability to compete in a global economy.   

White House announces focus in workforce development

To hear President Trump and administration officials discuss it, it seems like workforce education and training will be a major part of this administration’s domestic agenda. Recently, at a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and German and American companies, President Trump described workforce development and vocational training as “very important” and has said the U.S. should try to create 5 million new apprenticeships in the next five years. Ivanka Trump recently announced the launch of a taskforce on workforce development. The President has convened industry leaders to inform policy priorities through a Manufacturing Jobs Initiative and both President Trump and Ivanka Trump have taken to social media to promote the issue.

In addition, Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, emphasized the importance of partnerships between the educational community, the business community, and the government in ensuring the success of career and technical education. And Vice President Pence committed to strengthening and expanding opportunities for career and technical training and apprenticeship across the country.

Finally, the Senate began Labor Secretary Nominee Alexander Acosta’s confirmation hearing on Wednesday. In his opening comments, he mentioned the importance of job training having a substantial positive impact on American workers, but noted a better effort must be made to align training with the skills employers demand.

Unfortunately, the proposals in the President’s “skinny budget” cut approximately $2.5 billion in funding from the Department of Labor (DOL) and $9 billion from the Department of Education. A more detailed version of the President’s budget is expected in May, meaning the Administration still has the opportunity to prioritize the training programs receiving praise from senior officials. With nearly $2 billion in cuts unaccounted for in the released version of DOL’s budget, though, bipartisan groups of Governors and practitioners are expressing concern that key workforce education and training programs may not receive the funding they need to meet demand and support local businesses.

It’s especially critical to invest in education and training while the economy is good – this creates a pipeline of skilled workers to support the growth of businesses and our economy. These investments also expand access for low-skilled workers to move into higher skilled (and better paying) positions. A recent NSC study  shows that businesses in nearly every state aren’t able to find the workers with the skills they need. At the same time, there are more low-skilled workers than there are low-skilled jobs available. This mismatch costs businesses money and workers opportunity.

Minority staff at the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations estimate that proposed cuts in the budget would result in a 35 percent decrease in funding for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), the law governing workforce development activities. It was passed in 2014 with overwhelming bipartisan support, and adequate funding is key to state and local areas’ ability to deliver on Congress’ bipartisan mandate.

Under WIOA, local areas are required to implement – and the majority of funding goes to support – evidence-based  strategies, such as supporting sector partnerships, and investing in career pathways. Local areas are also required to more deeply align their work with the apprenticeship system – a key opportunity for meeting the President’s goal of 5 million more apprenticeships in this country. A failure to adequately invest would undermine these local and state activities and progress towards implementing new comprehensive plans to align employment and training programs with regional economic development strategies that benefit businesses and workers alike.

As the budget process for next year continues, the Administration and Congress have the chance to support the programs at the foundation of the President’s promise to create jobs. And there will be a robust chorus of advocates in states across the country making the call for them to do so and ready to jump into action when they do.    

Urge your Members of Congress to support workforce education and training programs in the next fiscal year.  

Posted In: Federal Funding
New York state funds “community navigators” project for low-income immigrants

A recent Request for Applications (RFA) from the New York State Office for New Americans represents an innovative approach to improving low-income immigrants’ access to career pathways and other workforce and social services for which they are eligible.

The RFA proposes to use just over $1 million in Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) funds to support full-time Community Navigator staff positions at 14 organizations.  Grants of approximately $75,000 are expected to be made to each selected organization. Once awarded, the year-long grants may be renewed for up to two additional years, subject to the availability of funds.  

Per the RFA, the goal of the project is to “maximize the participation of low-income immigrant community members in New York State’s civic and economic life.” The project is not intended to directly provide services. Rather, each community navigator will function as a sort of air-traffic controller, overseeing a corps of volunteers in their local region who will help eligible immigrants to discover and access already-existing services. Navigators will also be responsible for a set of convening and coordinating activities meant to deepen local understanding of immigrant integration, particularly around workforce and economic issues.

Why the project was created

The New York State Office for New Americans (ONA) explains the rationale behind this project in the introduction to its RFA:

There is a chronic lack of accessible information about publicly available services and programs in low-income immigrant communities throughout New York State. Low-income New American communities in New York State often lack reliable information regarding workforce development opportunities and other opportunities open to all New Yorkers to fully participate in our State’s civic and economic life. Meanwhile, the complex relationship between immigrants and government has further left newcomers at a deficit for reliable, trusted information.

Taken together, this has left New York State’s new American population ignored for career pathways, vulnerable to financial frauds and at an access deficit for possible ladders of opportunities. Dedicated outreach and community welcoming efforts are needed to help low-income immigrants gain access to the same opportunities available to all others in the State and country. To address this need, the New York State Office for New Americans (ONA) is seeking local leadership to coordinate and conduct outreach to low-income immigrant communities, and to create a grassroots community navigators program to help low-income New Americans.

Who is eligible to apply

Organizations eligible to apply for these funds include Community Action Agencies and other nonprofits who meet the New York State definition of community-based organization (CBO).

Notably, this statewide initiative is not limited to New York City. Just three of the anticipated 14 grantees will be located in the city. The other 11 grantees will be spread out across the remainder of the state, including two dedicated to the upstate area known as “North Country.”

What activities are required under the project

Each grantee organization will be required to carry out a similar slate of activities. These activities will be led by the full-time staff member (“Community Navigator”) funded under the grant. They include:

  • Establishing and leading a monthly Immigrant Integration Roundtable in their local community
  • Conducting a survey of local immigrants regarding important economic and workforce issues facing immigrants in the region, and producing an accompanying research report
  • Collaborating with nonprofit and other partners to develop and implement 10 employment/workforce development workshops and other events each year
  • Developing and overseeing a program to recruit and train community members to become volunteer Community Navigators assisting low-income immigrants in accessing services and resources for which they are eligible
  • Creating curricula and providing bimonthly trainings for volunteer Community Navigators

Each grantee’s staff member will also be responsible for hosting Community Conversations about immigrant integration, leading quarterly tours to help local stakeholders learn more about immigrant integration issues, and coordinating the dissemination of relevant announcements to ethnic media outlets.

How success will be measured

Grant applicants are required to demonstrate that their funded work will address one or more of the CSBG National Performance Goals and Indicators. Most relevant from a workforce perspective is Goal 1: “Low-income people become more self-sufficient.”

Indicators collected for this goal include individuals who obtained or maintained a job; obtained wage or benefit increase; achieved “living wage” employment; obtained skills/competencies required for employment; completed Adult Basic Education or High School Equivalency and received a certificate or diploma; or completed a postsecondary education program and obtained certificate or diploma.

The broader context for this project

New York is one of a handful of states in recent years that have created Offices for New Americans. Such offices are intended to improve the integration of immigrant newcomers into the fabric of their communities, and often focus on economic and workforce-related issues.

Among the activities undertaken by the New York State ONA include the funding of 27 ONA Neighborhood-Based Opportunity Centers around the state, and of legal counsels that will provide legal technical assistance to ONA Opportunity Centers. The ONA also supports activities that are specifically workforce-focused, including a program to help immigrants with STEM backgrounds to find skill-appropriate jobs in the U.S.

Posted In: Adult Basic Education, Immigration, New York
California releases policy brief on serving English learners in the workforce system

A recent brief from the California Workforce Development Board and the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency is providing guidance for the state’s local workforce agencies on improving services to English language learners (ELLs).

The brief, released in January, provides local workforce stakeholders with detailed examples and resources to inform their development and implementation of local/regional WIOA plans.  While focused on California, many of the recommendations in the brief are equally applicable to other states and localities.

These recommendations are especially important given the relatively low number of ELLs who participate in WIOA-funded training services. Just 1.5 percent of such participants nationwide are ELLs, and the number rises only slightly to 4 percent for California. In comparison, ELLs comprise a full 10 percent of the US workforce.*

Of special note to immigrant workforce advocates are three items:

First, the brief includes a recommendation from the State Board that local boards work with WIOA Title II and California Adult Education Block Grant (AEBG) providers to convene an ad hoc committee on immigrant and ELL workforce issues, noting:

These ad hoc committees can help strategize how to better serve local and regional ELL individuals and identify ways adult education partners and community-based organizations (CBOs) can braid resources to provide supportive services to program participants.

The State Board further recommends that ad hoc committees build on existing organizational structures, as appropriate, to avoid duplication of effort.  

This recommendation is significant because it acknowledges the importance of collaborative planning and braiding resources across the adult education and workforce development worlds, factors that are crucial to ensuring that jobseekers and adult learners get access to the full range of support services needed to successfully achieve their goals.

Second, the brief emphasizes the importance of demand-driven employer engagement, particularly with regard to identifying businesses whose need for bilingual employees or workers with international trade experience can be met by qualified immigrant jobseekers.

This recommendation is particularly relevant because it helps stakeholders to flip the conversation from a deficit-oriented model into one that recognizes the assets that many immigrant jobseekers bring to the table.

Finally, the brief urges workforce boards to consider the pipeline that brings ELL participants to job training programs and “examine [their] recruitment and intake processes to ensure that ELL individuals are able to get the information and tools needed to learn about their educational and vocational options and start them on a career pathway.”

This recommendation is especially valuable because it addresses a common concern among immigrant and adult education advocates: that entrance requirements for job-training programs may unnecessarily exclude or screen out qualified immigrant or ELL applicants.

Other resources provided in the brief include:

  • Statistical information on the demographics of immigrant and ELL jobseekers and workers in California, and links to resources on how many immigrants and ELLs may qualify for WIOA-funded services
  • Affirmation of work-authorized immigrants’ eligibility for WIOA Title I services, including young immigrants who have received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Links to relevant federal policy guidance are provided. (NSC has written frequently about this issue, including in our policy Q&A on Dreamers and WIOA.)
  • Resources and program models that can ensure that immigrants with credentials from abroad can access English language instruction and find skill-appropriate employment.
  • Reminders on CA state requirements for addressing ELL needs and incorporating partners from immigrant-serving organizations and the adult education field as part of local WIOA planning.
  • Examples of partnerships between immigrant and/or adult education service providers with local workforce systems, such as this one in Lancaster, PA. The brief also encourages partnerships with public libraries, labor-management partnerships, and other stakeholders.

Among the program models featured in the brief are several that have been previously spotlighted by National Skills Coalition, including Building Skills Partnership and the Seattle Ready to Work program.


*Source: NSC analysis of data from the WIASRD Data Book and US Census Bureau/American Community Survey.