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Wide-range of business leaders talk #SkillsOnTheHill for 2019 Business Leaders United fly in

Business Leaders United (BLU) hosted nearly 100 industry leaders last month to make the business case for better skills policy in Washington. During Business Leaders United on the Hill, employers across a range of sectors, representing twenty-three states, joined us in the nation’s capital on November 20th for an industry-led discussion of federal policy opportunities around higher educationwork-based learning, and investments in skills training. The following day, they brought that message to over seventy-five legislative offices, including the White House, the Department of Labor, and leadership offices in both the House and the Senate.

For this event, leaders of small businesses like R & R Transportation in North Carolina and Diego and Son Printing in California came alongside businesses with a nationwide presence, such as Atlanta-based Holder Construction and Genesis Healthcare, based in Pennsylvania. Major metro area chambers of commerce representing communities like DallasPhiladelphiaAtlantaNashville, and Los Angeles joined with chambers serving smaller metros and communities—like Charlottesville, Virginia, and Topeka, Kansas as well as York and Lancaster counties in central Pennsylvania. This diverse audience of business community leaders from across the country brought one simple message to Washington: we need our nation’s policymakers to invest—aggressively and effectively—in the skills of America’s workers.

Each business, industry, and community demands a different set of solutions in their struggle to find skilled workers for the high demand jobs of the 21st Century economy, and BLU’s Industry-Driven Skills Agenda lays out a policy framework that would equip employers with the tools they need to develop those solutions in their local communities. Those tools include investments in a workforce system that is driven by local industry partnerships, as well as improving and expanding work-based learning and apprenticeship opportunitiesmodernizing higher education so that it is more responsive to the needs of businesses and working adults, and tax credits that incentivize businesses—especially small and midsize businesses—to invest in the skills of their workers. Each of these opportunities is designed to leverage the shared need of both major nationwide corporations and hometown entrepreneurs trying to grow a small business, harnessing the scale of partnerships and the impact of local collaboration.

The most impactful element of the Industry-Driven Skills Agenda is the unparalleled bipartisan support it receives. With over 80 Republicans and 100 Democrats in Congress cosponsoring portions of this agenda, these commonsense solutions are gaining traction on the Hill at a time when bipartisanship can seem a bygone element of federal policymaking. Instead, Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) and Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) spoke at breakfast to Business Leaders United on the Hill attendees, thanking them for lending the voice of industry to these critical issues. As the original cosponsors of the JOBS Act and the BUILDS Act—which would allow high quality short-term training programs to be Pell eligible and expand apprenticeship opportunities within infrastructure industries, respectively—Senators Portman and Kaine stressed the importance of industry voice advocating for these issues, as they continue to champion them side-by-side among their own colleagues in the Senate.

As these business leaders return to their home states and communitiesyou can join them in raising your voice for skills policy that works for business. Here are a few ways that you can take action today:

  • Sign up to be a Voice for Skills today to raise awareness about the importance of better skills policy 

  • Sign our petition calling on debate moderators to ask candidates about skills 

  • Reach out to to hear about more opportunities to engage in advocacy with BLU. 

Posted In: Sector Partnerships
A galvanizing moment: Census 2020 provides new opportunity to invest in skills

The 2020 Census is around the corner. The first census enumerators will begin gathering data in rural Alaska just four weeks from now in January 2020, while Americans nationwide will receive Census mailings beginning in March. The stakes are high: In FY 2017, the US government relied on Census-derived data to distribute more than $1.5 trillion in funding to states, localities, organizations, and individuals.

One area isn’t getting as much press, but is equally important: The role of the Census in prodding policymakers to take action on skills issues.

In particular, the upcoming Census provides skills advocates with a galvanizing moment to help policymakers grasp the importance of investing in digital literacy and other foundational skills. In the near term, policymakers can take action on skills as part of broader Census engagement efforts; in the longer term, investments in skills should be a key part of any Future of Work policy agenda.

The Census and skills: Connecting the dots for state and local policymakers

While many states and localities are busy setting up Complete Count Committees and otherwise hustling to fund outreach and ensure that hard-to-count communities are included in the Census, relatively less attention has been paid to the skills needed for the Census. These fall into two categories:

  • Skills needed by individuals who are responding to the Census
  • Skills needed by individuals who are seeking jobs with the Census Bureau as enumerators or other frontline positions

Skills advocates can educate local and state policymakers about both kinds of upskilling needs among their constituents. For the general public, traditional literacy and digital literacy skills are important to ensure that families can complete Census forms accurately and be included in the count. For jobseekers, traditional literacy and digital literacy skills are necessary to be eligible for the hundreds of thousands of enumerator and other Census jobs available through the spring and summer of 2020.

Why does the Census require digital literacy skills?

For the first time, the US is pursuing an internet-first Census. That means that typical households will receive three mailings – an invitation to respond, a reminder letter, and a postcard reminder -- inviting them to self-respond via the official Census website. Only if households fail to respond to the first three mailings will they receive a paper form in the fourth mailing from the Census Bureau.

(While online responses were an option back in the 2010 Census, they were not the default. This time around, online response is framed as a default for almost all households. Individuals can also call in by phone to respond, though this option is often avoided by respondents because it can be time-consuming.)

Online responses can be submitted via laptop or desktop computer, tablet, or smart phone. 

What can skills advocates ask policymakers to do?

There are some steps that advocates can take immediately. These are outlined below. In 2020, National Skills Coalition will be releasing a new data analysis of digital literacy skill gaps and an expanded set of policy recommendations as part of our overall Future of Work agenda.

At the state and local level:

  • Introduce state-level legislation or an administrative policy mirroring the federal Digital Equity Act (see below). Investing in digital skill-building helps ensure that all adults have the ability to participate in important civic requirements such as the Census, while also equipping them for a labor market that increasingly demands digital skills even for entry-level positions – such as Census enumerator jobs.
  • Provide resources and technical assistance for adult education programs that serve Census respondents and jobseekers. Existing state investments in adult education vary widely. All states should consider increasing investments in programs serving adult learners, including professional development to help adult educators themselves build the digital fluency needed to equip learners with necessary skills. In terms of technical assistance, California has led the way in issuing an array of programmatic materials including curricula and other Census materials for adult education programs. Advocates can also take advantage of Census resources from the National Coalition for Literacy and the American Library Association to educate policymakers and service providers alike.

At the federal level:

  • Co-sponsor and support the Digital Equity Act, recently introduced by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and colleagues. This legislation, now under consideration in Congress, would create two new federal grant programs to support digital literacy. States would be required to develop digital inclusion plans that outline how partners such as nonprofit organizations, workforce and adult education providers, and libraries would help to ensure that all state residents have equitable access to digital skill-building opportunities. 
    • The legislation would include:
      • A $125 million formula grant program, distributed to all states
      • A $125 million discretionary grant program, distributed only to states that win a competitive proposal process

  • Increase investment in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Currently, Title II funds programs serving approximately 1.5 million adult learners each year -- including classes in adult basic education, adult secondary education (also known as high school equivalency), and English language acquisition. Digital literacy is mentioned as an authorized activity under WIOA, although there is no dedicated funding for such classes. Funding WIOA at its full authorized level is a vital component of helping individuals build digital literacy skills.


Posted In: Higher Education Access, Federal Funding, Work-Based Learning
National Skills Coalition Announces Dr. Girard Melancon as Board Member

National Skills Coalition is pleased to announce the addition of Dr. Girard Melancon, Vice Chancellor for Workforce Solutions at Baton Rouge Community College, as the newest member of NSC's Board of Directors.

Dr. Melancon has spent over two decades developing effective sector-based workforce training programs to help meet the needs of workers and businesses in Louisiana. During his tenure at Baton Rouge Community College, he has grown its workforce education department from serving 350 students to more than 2,500 students yearly.

As a current member of NSC's National Advisory Panel on postsecondary education, Dr. Melancon has helped shape the organization’s Community College Compact (CCC) –  a set of four postsecondary policy proposals developed by National Skills Coalition, in consultation with several academic institutions, employers, community-based organizations and workforce development boards, and supported by voters and business leaders. He has been a steward of NSC’s advocacy efforts to get those four policies included in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

Dr. Melancon has also been instrumental in helping NSC build out its workforce development policy agenda and advocacy efforts in the South. He has regularly testified before Congress at briefings on Capitol Hill and is also a strong advocate for the organization’s Voices for Skills campaign. Earlier this year, he received NSC’s 2019 Skills Champion Award for his strong leadership and commitment to advancing meaningful skills policy.

“We are very fortunate to have Girard as a member of our board,” said Andy Van Kleunen, CEO of National Skills Coalition. “His voice, leadership, and wealth of experience in developing education and training programs is a tremendous asset to our organization’s mission to expand educational and economic opportunities for working families, help meet the workforce needs of businesses, and keep America competitive in a 21st century economy.”

As a former Board President of the National Council for Workforce Education (NCWE), Dr. Melancon helped develop a strategic partnership between NCWE and NSC to build out the Business Leaders United (BLU) network by engaging the business partners of NCWE’s member colleges to advocate for higher education policies that are more responsive to the needs of students and businesses.

“This is a great honor for me,” said Dr. Girard Melancon. “I have the utmost respect for Andy and this dynamic and progressive board. The ongoing partnership between NSC and NCWE is key to helping us create more effective policies for all our workforce communities and industries. Most of all, everyone at NSC inspires me to do more in my local community and I look forward to working with the board to ensure that every worker, every industry, and every community has the support they need to succeed.”

About Dr. Girard Melancon

Skills training helps veterans find stable careers

  ·   By The Voices for Skills Team
Skills training helps veterans find stable careers

Every year, 200,000 service members transition to civilian careers, yet 41% of veterans say they didn’t feel well prepared to enter the job market after returning from active duty.

Skills training, however, can help veterans find good paying jobs in growing industries like manufacturing, IT, and healthcare. Our new nationwide poll shows that veterans are almost unanimous in their belief that skills training would benefit them (92%) and that expanding skills training would benefit vets (64%) more than workers generally (52%).

Skills training and work-based learning programs are already changing the lives of vets across the country. After 14 years on active duty, U.S. Army veteran Arthur “Patt” Patterson enrolled in an apprenticeship program offered by Minneapolis-based company Ajax Metal Forming Solutions. In just under six years, Patt went from filling boxes to supervising a team of machining experts.

95% of veterans strongly support increased investment in skills training, and 86% believe that we should invest in skills and technical training at the same level we invest in college. As we take time to honor our nation's military, let us also reflect on what we can do to better support veterans returning to the civilian workforce.

You can become a #VoiceForSkills today at

Posted In: Work Based Learning, Career and Technical Education
New federal immigrant integration bill includes NSC-recommended workforce and education components

Legislation introduced last week in the U.S. House of Representatives would significantly increase federal investment in immigrant integration. Key elements of the bill, known as the New Deal for New Americans, reflect recommendations made by National Skills Coalition.

The legislation was introduced by Representatives Grace Meng (D-NY), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL).

Unlike the majority of federal legislation related to immigrants, which typically focuses on immigration policy such as how many individuals to admit to the U.S. and which types of visas to make available, the new bill is instead focused on the integration of immigrant newcomers into American communities. It reflects significant advances made at the state and local level in the field of immigrant integration over the past decade.

This bold, ambitious proposal has already been endorsed by more than 100 immigrant advocacy organizations and other stakeholders. Efforts are now underway to add additional Congressional co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle. Use our action tool to ask your Congressional representative to sign on.

See below for more details about this vital legislation, and watch for additional updates from NSC in the coming months.

New investment in English, proven job training approaches 

The legislation reflects an increased Congressional understanding of the important role that adult education and workforce development policy play in ensuring that immigrant workers can contribute their full talents and abilities, and fill in-demand positions with American businesses. As documented by NSC in a range of publications, immigrants represent 1 in 6 American workers at all levels of the labor market, including in key middle-skill jobs that form the backbone of our economy.

Among the bill’s core elements are several recommendations put forth by National Skills Coalition. In particular, the legislation would:

  • Establish a new $100 million Workforce Development and Prosperity discretionary grant program, to be administered by the US Department of Education, office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE). Programs funded under these grants would be implementing Integrated Education and Training approaches as recommended in NSC’s 2016 policy toolkit and our 2019 Roadmap for Racial Equity. Entities eligible for these grants would include state and local government, educational institutions, and nonprofit organizations, including community-based organizations. Grantees would need to provide a 25% match in non-Federal funding or in-kind support.
  • Establish a new $100 million English as a Gateway to Integration discretionary grant program. Grantees would engage in a range of activities, including preparing individuals to receive a high school diploma or equivalent, enter postsecondary education, improve their digital literacy skills and civic knowledge, and prepare for and secure employment. NSC called for similar investments in our 2013 recommendations on immigration reform legislation. Similar to the workforce grants, these would be awarded by OCTAE. Eligible entities would be the same as those indicated above, and there would be a similar 25% match requirement in non-Federal funds or in-kind support. Unlike the workforce grants, eligibility would be restricted to entities located in either one of the ten states with highest rate of foreign-born residents, or a state that has experienced a large increase in the population of immigrants during the past ten years.
  • Create a federal Office of New Americans located in the White House. NSC called for this office in our 2013 recommendations. Staffing for the office would include a Deputy Director for Workforce and Economy, an important indicator of the value placed on skills policy issues by Congress.
  • Establish a Federal Initiative on New Americans that would bring together cabinet-level officials from a wide range of federal agencies. Among the issue areas to be tackled by this group would be English language learning, adult education and workforce training, postsecondary education, occupational licensure, and economic development. In 2015, NSC provided input to the White House Task Force on New Americans, a similar cross-agency group convened by the Obama administration.

Other aspects of the New Deal for New Americans legislation focus on a pilot program to promote integration at the state and local level through New Immigrant Councils; legal services; the lessening of barriers to US citizenship; refugee resettlement; and voting rights.

Moving from a hands-off to a hands-on federal approach

Because US immigration policy has historically focused on immigrant admissions, the federal government has had a relatively hands-off approach to how best to incorporate immigrants into the American fabric after they arrive. Almost no federal funding is specifically dedicated to immigrant services. The primary exception is refugee resettlement, which receives modest support through the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. However, refugees comprise a very small portion (between 2-7%) of new arrivals to the U.S. each year.

Federal support is also provided indirectly to immigrants via the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Title II. Approximately 600,000 of the 1.5 million adults served under Title II are enrolled in English language classes.

The new bill represents a welcome sea change in how federal legislators are thinking and talking about immigration. Numerous NSC member organizations and allies have helped bring about this shift, including the state immigrant-rights coalitions that comprise the National Partnership for New Americans, such as the MIRA Coalition. NSC helped inform the development of NPNA’s New American Dreams policy platform, which in turn informed the new federal legislation.


Posted In: Immigration