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The 6 things states can do to build a diverse and effective contact tracing workforce

Public health experts agree: Contact tracing is critical to stopping the spread of Covid-19, which has caused more than 160,000 deaths in the United States and an economic recession with devastating impacts for millions of workers– particularly workers of color and those without a college degree. Yet few states have developed intentional strategies to ensure workers can train for contact tracing jobs, especially in communities most impacted by the virus. 

Our latest report – “Add to Contacts” – outlines concrete steps that states should take to build and support a contact tracing workforce to contain the spread of the virus while also creating quality, long-term career pathways in health-related fields for these essential, frontline health workers 

Contact tracing, much like workforce development initiatives, should be a local process. States should take a community-based approach by recruiting and training local health workers, prioritizing Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and other communities of color who have been hardest hit by the pandemic due to structural racismHealth workers with deep knowledge of their local community are more likely to be successful in building trust and connecting patients to the right resources and services. And voters agree, with the majority of Black, Latinx, and Asian American respondents in a recent poll saying they want contact tracers to come from these impacted communities. 

States must also focus on connecting this diverse contact tracing workforce with longer-term quality careers in health-related fields by providing career pathway training grants and investing in partnerships between local health employers, local education and training providers, and local community organizationsThese additional training opportunities should lead to family-supporting careers and advance equity within the workforce. 

Such investments are crucial to addressing current health workforce shortages, and growing the diverse and equitable health workforce our country needs. Racial and ethnic diversity in the workforce helps healthcare systems increase their cultural and linguistic competencies and patient satisfaction, which in turn can increase the effectiveness of care and associated health outcomes. 

The recent surge in COVID-19 cases and delays in testing have hampered contact tracing efforts in recent weeks. But long term, contact tracing will continue to be one of a number of key strategies that states and localities will need to use to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, safely reopen communities, and get the economy back on trackThose who are already at the frontlines of tracking the virus –along with future contact tracers –deserve support to step into for quality careers once COVID-19 contact tracing subsides. 

With this in mind, here are the six things states can do to build a diverse and effective contact tracing workforce, as outlined in Add to Contacts: 

  1. Recruit, train, and hire contact tracers from local communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the Covid-19 crisis, particularly communities of color. 

  1. Set standards for contact tracing jobs to ensure they create economic opportunity for workers and their families while also building a talent pipeline for other health-related careers. 

  1. Fund and support industry partnerships to develop career pathways to quality healthcare careers that will remain in the labor market when contact tracing declines. 

  1. Provide contact tracers with career pathways training grants so they can continue their training and transition to their next job. 

  1. Create supportive service funds that provide contact tracers with time-limited financial assistance. 

  1. Provide transparency on the training and job placement of workers in contact tracer jobs. 

You can read the full report here.


Posted In: Skills Equity
New report charts path to reemployment for workers left behind by nation’s pandemic response

The recent health crisis - and unprecedented, rapid job loss associated with it - has illuminated how unprepared the United States is to help workers who lose their jobs reskill to prepare for and successfully enter new employment. Policy responses to the current crisis – while critical – have fallen short of addressing challenges workers and businesses face. In a new report, National Skills Coalition outlines an aligned, comprehensive, reemployment accord to respond to current challenges and prepare for an inclusive economic recovery that addresses prior policy shortcomings and moves all workers and businesses towards success in the 21st century.

This path forward, outlined in A 21st Century Reemployment Accord, includes four key pieces:

  1. Expand access to skills training by making workers who lose their jobs eligible for a Dislocation Training Account, providing up to $15,000 in public funds to invest in training through an apprenticeship program, with a community organization or at a community or technical college. Studies suggest financial concerns are the largest barrier to workers succeeding in training. Reskilling for jobs of the twenty-first century will require short and longer-term training, frequently outside of traditional degree programs, yet today’s workers are often unable to access public funds to support training for quality non-degree credentials.

  2. Launch a federal “Reemployment Distribution Fund,” providing access to income support, through robust unemployment insurance and wage-replacement subsidies, that mitigate the financial impact of job loss on workers, their families, and communities. An initial investment of $20 billion as well as sustainable funding, should empower states to draw down funds to cover the length of training and job search necessary for workers to access a job of the twenty-first century. A first step for Congress to accomplish these goals would be to expand Trade Adjustment Assistance to cover a far larger set of workers, such as those who lose their jobs permanently due to automation.

  3. Create a network of “Twenty-First Century Industry Partnerships” among businesses, education providers, the public workforce system, and community organizations to ensure the significant public and private investments necessary to respond to worker dislocation caused by technological changes in the workplace align with employment opportunities in in-demand industries. Industry and sector partnerships are a best practice across the country but need to be expanded to more industries in more local areas to reach the scale necessary to respond to challenges associated with technological change in the workplace. This expansion will mean a dedicated federal investment.

  4. Maximize eligibility for and access to other support services under existing federal programs for workers during the reemployment process. Barriers to accessing childcare, transportation, and other support services — such as eligibility that doesn’t permit workers to access subsidies while in training programs, underfunding that leads to long waiting lists, or the fact that our social safety net programs reach too few people — make it harder for workers to succeed in training programs necessary for reemployment. To maximize retention and success in a new job, these services should be available to workers during the transition period in a new job, as well. Any federal response to job loss caused by technological change needs to provide workers with access to comprehensive, robust support services that improve worker success and retention.

The new report is the second in several publications National Skills Coalition is releasing this summer detailing recommendations for an inclusive and equitable economic recovery from Covid-19. Read the full brief for more detail on how to modernize reemployment to serve workers and businesses.

Posted In: Federal Funding, Career and Technical Education, Work Based Learning, Future of Work
Digital literacy skills are necessary for an equitable economic recovery from Covid-19, new report finds

A new report from National Skills Coalition provides recommendations for policymakers on how to ensure that businesses and workers have the digital literacy skills needed for an equitable recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and recession. In-demand careers increasingly require digital literacy skills, including essential frontline occupations such as home health aides and janitors. For many occupations, digital skills are now entry-level competencies for new hires and incumbent workers alike. Digital skills investments must help to build broad-based foundational skills as well as more occupationally specific skills needed for the workplace.

The new brief, Digital Skills for an Equitable Recovery, is the first in several publications National Skills Coalition will release this summer detailing recommendations for an inclusive and equitable economic recovery from Covid-19.

While digital skill gaps exist in every industry and every demographic group, workers of color are disproportionately affected, in large part due to structural factors that are the product of longstanding inequities in American society. As public policy decisions have played a key role in forming skill gaps, including those that are racially inequitable, they must now be an integral part of the solution. Thus, Digital Skills for an Equitable Recovery outlines key recommendations for federal policymakers, as well as a new definition to describe occupational digital literacy and problem-solving skills.

Read the full report today.

Posted In: Federal Funding, Work Based Learning
The 4 Workforce Issues Congress Must Address in the Next Stimulus

Over the past 5 months, Congress has passed three Covid response packages, the House has advanced a fourth (the HEROES Act), and the House and Senate have started their annual appropriations process. In each of these cases, Congress has undervalued skills training programs as an important element of both addressing our current crisis and its current and future economic impact.

As lawmakers negotiate what is likely to be the final coronavirus stimulus package this year, they must recognize that new jobs – and public investment in job creation – are a critical part of our response to the largest economic downturn in the past century. It will be necessary to ensuring employment opportunities for workers most impacted by the health crisis and its economic impact – people of color, those without a high school diploma, and those who were already disconnected from work or school prior to the downturn.

To fill those jobs, though, Congress will need to do something policymakers have yet to accomplish up to this point: adequately investing in skills so workers can access and succeed in in-demand careers.

Any Covid response package needs to include key investments necessary to helping workers reengage in the workforce, upskill, and be successful in these newly created jobs. Here are the four workforce issues Congress must address in the next stimulus package:

Issue 1: Reskilling workers who have lost their jobs due to Covid-19 for industries that are hiring

While some of the 40 million workers who have lost their jobs over the past few months will return to the same job or industry once communities begin to reopen, a significant number of workers will need retraining to successfully transition to in-demand occupations in other fields. And, an overwhelming majority of workers recognize the value of – and prefer – short-term training programs to make this transition efficiently.

Federal funding for skills training has seen substantial cuts over the last two decades

Unfortunately, federal investments in skills training have been cut by nearly 40% over the last two decades. Our public workforce and adult and postsecondary education systems can help connect workers to this kind of training but need investments today to make that possible.

Solution: Congress must invest at least $2.5 billion each in formula grants for Adults, Dislocated Workers, and Youth under WIOA, at least $1 billion in our Wagner-Peyser Employment Services, and $1 billion each in both Career and Technical Education and Adult Education.

Contact your Representatives today and tell them to invest in our recovery NOW by investing in America's workers

Issue 2: Upskilling workers who are still on the job so they can maintain employment and advance in their industries

To address the current economic crisis and minimize further job loss associated with future economic impacts of Covid-19, we need to invest in keeping workers on the job and empowering businesses to upskill current workers with the digital and occupational skills necessary to succeed in 21st century careers.

Current WIOA Incumbent Worker Training is difficult to scale without adequate business engagement. We need industry partnerships that bring together businesses, education providers, the workforce system, and community organizations to build capacity for businesses to both be engaged in developing training offered by education providers and in training workers on the job.

Solution: Congress must invest $1 billion in a new Incumbent Worker Training formula fund that supports these industry partnerships to scale and empower incumbent worker training , as well as $1 billion in grants to support digital literacy skills for the 1/3 of our workforce who needs digital skills.

Issue 3: Adequately preparing workers for in-demand jobs by supporting partnerships between educators, community organizations, and local business

To address our unprecedented unemployment, empower businesses to safely and rapidly reopen, and ensure that workers with the greatest skills needs – who are also most likely to have lost their jobs during this crisis – have access to the kinds of programs that lead to family sustaining jobs, we need to support partnerships between education providers, community organizations, and the industry partners that are hiring.

Solution: Congress must invest $2 billion over the next four years to provide capacity for our country’s network of 1,050 community and technical colleges to better partner with businesses to rapidly upskill and reskill workers to meet current industry demands.

Issue 4: Connecting workers to long-term careers by training and deploying a contact tracing workforce to slow the spread of the virus

The U.S. is estimated to need 100,000 contact tracers to respond to our current crisis, a role that does not require a four-year degree. By connecting our workforce system with our public health system, we can train workers to fill those roles with a focus on workers from communities hardest hit by the current crisis – communities of color.

We need to invest public dollars in training workers, ensuring they have digital skills, and support services necessary to succeed in roles necessary to track and contain the spread of Covid-19. By connecting those workers to long-term employment once the current health pandemic subsides, Congress will both speed up an efficient, safe and effective reopening of our economy and address the disproportionate impact workers of color have experienced from this crisis.

Solution: Congress must invest at least $500 million in preparing, supporting, and advancing the careers of a contact tracing workforce.


Despite many opportunities to help workers access the skills they need during this pandemic, Congress has fallen short on investments that would connect them to family-supporting, in-demand jobs.

Without public pressure, the current – critical, but far from sufficient – proposals could be slashed to even lower levels in order to reach a bipartisan and bicameral agreement on a Covid response package. Members of Congress need to hear from workforce, education, labor, business, and other advocates today that investments in skills are necessary for an inclusive economic recovery.

Contact your Representatives today and tell them to invest in our recovery NOW by investing in America's workers

Posted In: Federal Funding
Listen to Skilled America Podcast Episode 8: Directing the Flow of Talent

Many of the nation’s water infrastructure assets are in urgent need of repair, maintenance and restoration. And according to the Brookings Institute, water occupations pay more on average compared to all occupations nationally… but water workers tend to be older and lacking in gender and racial diversity.

Juliet Ellis of SFPUC and Elizabeth Toups of JVS joined Skilled America to talk about their efforts – started long before the pandemic hit – to rethink the water utility workforce in the San Francisco Bay Area and how they're reshaping the workforce pipeline into a staple of the communities they serve.