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Small business is at the heart of an inclusive economic recovery

No sector was immune to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and recession. But the path to economic recovery will look different on an industry-by-industry basis – some of the jobs lost or furloughed due to the pandemic will simply not come back, some small businesses are struggling to remain afloat, and the outlook on how long it will take business to return to normal grows more uncertain. 

Good skills policies for an inclusive economic recovery must incorporate the needs of businesses so that investments in education and training are tied to labor market demand and leverage best practices, like work-based learning, to train workers for skilled positions.

Sector recovery so far

Payroll employment gains occurred over the last three months, with month-over-month comparisons illustrating what industries are coming back online as states progress along their reopening plans. Yet the announcement of an economic recession with a February 2020 peak in economic activity – coinciding with a near economic stoppage in March – makes for a complex story in how far this recovery must go to regain the 13 million jobs still lost.

Here are some notable highlights in industry employment between February and July 2020:

  • Professional and technical services, down 1.6 million jobs – This industry spans high-skill professional business services – like information technology, engineering, and marketing – to company headquarters and a range of office and administrative services to support businesses. While workers in professional occupations were more likely to telework during the pandemic, the temporary help services sector saw the greatest job losses over the last three month as hiring paused and staffing services were not needed.

  • Retail trade, down 913,000 jobs – Like the leisure and hospitality sector, retail trade businesses were halted in the early months of the pandemic. One notable exception was grocery stores that continued to add jobs to their payroll over the past few months, as these jobs were deemed essential. Yet the headlines have been filled with large retail chains cutting stores or closing altogether. Without retraining and other supportive services, some adults will find it difficult to compete in a labor market saturated with job applicants, especially when one in three retail workers lack digital skills.

Finally, while no sector experienced job growth between February and June 2020, utilities (8,000), mining (93,000) and information (330,000) had the smallest national job losses.

Businesses can drive industry recovery

While the pandemic disproportionately impacted businesses in certain industries, there has also been varying effects by business size. Small businesses are essential to our economy, providing vital services and employment opportunities to local communities and residents. They were also most heavily impacted by the economic disruption of the last five months. Estimates of small business closures already surpassed the 100,000 mark and the number of small businesses open at all was still 20% below their pre-pandemic levels, as of mid-July.

Businesses are an integral part of an inclusive economic recovery. Through local and regional industry sector partnerships, small employers – along with community colleges, the workforce system, unions or labor-management partnerships, and community organizations – can take a leadership role in shaping re-training strategies to meet their skill needs while providing pathways for workers to good jobs in demand. This work already naturally begun during the pandemic to support employers who faced shortages for frontline health workers. And these partnerships should expand to other sectors who need skilled workers and for local businesses who want to advance the skills of their existing workforce to respond to workplace challenges associated with technological change.

An inclusive economic recovery for small businesses must include investments to ensure they – and the communities they call home – return stronger than their pre-pandemic economic conditions. This includes skills policies that provide displaced workers with the occupational mobility to move from contracting industries to skilled jobs in growing ones, supports participation in local sector partnerships, and provides small firms with publicly subsidized on-the-job training, work-based learning, and upskilling for their workers.

Take action

With unprecedented job loss due to the pandemic, displaced workers need a legislative response that invests in our recovery to reskill displaced workers for new jobs in growing industries and support businesses who want to upskill workers still on the job. Yet, the Senate’s recent package includes $1 billion in workforce funding, or only about $20 of re-employment support for each person laid off during the recession.

Stimulus investments also need to help keep workers on the job and empower businesses to upskill current workers with the digital and occupational skills necessary to succeed in 21st century careers. We are calling on Congress to invest $1 billion in a new Incumbent Worker Training formula fund that supports bringing industry partnerships to scale and empower incumbent worker training. 

Make your voice heard: investments in our public workforce system and industry partnerships are necessary for businesses to be a part of an inclusive economic recovery.

Posted In: Federal Funding, Work Based Learning, Sector Partnerships
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 robg@businessleadersunited.org to hear about more opportunities to engage in advocacy with BLU. 

Posted In: Sector Partnerships
Twelve community and technical college systems band together to call on Congress to adopt a job-driven Community College Compact for today’s students

Today, education leaders from twelve community and technical college systems across the country—including those in Arkansas, Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington—sent letters to federal policymakers, urging them to make higher education policy more responsive to the needs of today’s students.

The letters, which were sent to Senate HELP Committee and House Education and Labor Committee leadership, call for the adoption of a job-driven Community College Compact; a set of postsecondary policy proposals developed by National Skills Coalition (NSC) and vetted by a range of stakeholders, including academic institutions, employers, community-based organizations and workforce development boards. If adopted by Congress, these policies would increase access to high-quality education and training programs, crucial support services and transparent information regarding postsecondary programs for students of all ages and backgrounds. Likely 2020 voters and business leaders also strongly support the Compact policies, as demonstrated by recent polling conducted by ALG Research on behalf of NSC.

Community and technical college leaders are voicing their shared support for the Community College Compact in light of the impending reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). The HEA, which is the most comprehensive federal law governing postsecondary institutions and programs, has been eligible for reauthorization by Congress since 2008. Senate HELP Committee Chairman, Lamar Alexander, and Ranking Member, Patty Murray, as well as House Education and Labor Committee Chairman, Bobby Scott, and Ranking Member, Virginia Foxx, have expressed interest in reauthorizing this sweeping legislation before the end of this Congress. Additionally, the White House has named the modernization of the Higher Education Act as one of its top priorities.

The letters urge federal policymakers to consider the following policy changes:

Eliminate the bias against working learners in need of federal financial aid

In today’s economy, approximately 80 percent of all jobs require some form of education or training, and more than 50 percent of jobs can be classified as “middle-skill”—meaning they call for more than a high school diploma but not a four-year degree. As a result, community and technical colleges are working to increase access to high quality, short-term programs that lead to in-demand credentials. However, most federal financial aid available today is reserved for students who are enrolled in programs of study that are at least 600 clock hours over 15 weeks—an outdated policy that fails to account for the training needs of individuals in our 21st century economy.

Therefore, community and technical college leaders are urging lawmakers to consider legislation—such as the Jumpstarting our Businesses by Supporting Students (JOBS) Act (S. 839; H.R. 3497 ) led by Senators Kaine (D-VA) and Portman (R-OH) and Representatives Richmond (D-LA-02), Levin (D-MI-09), Horsford (D-NV-04), Gonzalez (R-OH-16), Herrera-Beutler (R-WA-03) and Katko (R-NY-24)—that would expand Pell grant eligibility to students enrolled in high-quality education and training programs that are at least 150 clock hours of instruction over 8 weeks.

Make higher education and workforce outcomes data comprehensive and transparent

Since higher education is becoming more closely linked with finding success in the labor market, data about the outcomes of postsecondary programs should be available to students, parents, employers and policymakers. However, as community and technical college leaders note in their letters, existing legal restrictions on the collection of student-level data continue to hinder the accessibility of this important information.

To help provide consumers with better data and relieve institutions of duplicative reporting requirements, community and technical college administrators called for action on the College Transparency Act (S.800; H.R. 1766). Introduced by Senators Warren (D-MA), Cassidy (R-LA), Whitehouse (D-RI) and Scott (R-SC) and Representatives Mitchell (R-MI-10), Krishnamoorthi (D-IL-08), Stefanik (R-NY-21) and Harder (D-CA-10), this bipartisan bill aims to establish a secure, privacy-protected postsecondary student level data network administered by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), to which colleges would be able to safely and easily report their data. The data would then be available as a decision-making tool for current and prospective students—making it easier for individuals to improve their lives through education and training.

Ensure the success of today’s college students by strengthening support services

Due to the diversity of the student populations they serve, community and technical college leaders recognize the growing importance of support services such as career counseling, childcare and transportation assistance. While states and higher education administrators across the country are working hard to implement career pathway models that provide nontraditional students with the services they need to succeed in the postsecondary education system, their efforts receive little support at the federal level.

To address this issue, community and technical college leaders are calling for the consideration of the Gateway to Careers Act (S. 1117)—legislation introduced by Senators Hassan (D-NH), Young (R-IN), Kaine (D-VA) and Gardner (R-CO). This bipartisan bill would make federal funding available on a competitive basis to institutions that are working in partnership to serve students experiencing barriers to postsecondary access and completion.

Provide targeted funding for valuable partnerships between community colleges and businesses

Community and technical college leaders work with industry stakeholders every day to provide high-quality training and academic instruction to future workers through sector partnerships. However, Congress has not invested in these partnerships at a scale that would sustain economic competitiveness since the expiration of the Trade Adjustment Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant program in FY 2014. The purpose of the TAAACT grant program, which allocated $2 billion in funding to states from FY 2011-2014, was to increase the capacity of community colleges to address the challenges of today’s workforce through job training for adults and other nontraditional students.

Due to the proven impact of community college-business partnerships, community and technical college leaders are calling for the consideration of legislation that would expand and support these collaboratives, an example of which is the Community College to Career Fund in Higher Education Act (S. 1612; H.R. 2920). Introduced by Senators Duckworth (D-IL), Smith (D-MN), Feinstein (D-CA), Durbin (D-IL), Shaheen (D-NH), Van Hollen (D-MD) and Representative Kelly (D-IL-02), this legislation aims to provide academic institutions and businesses with competitive grant funding so that they can continue to work together to deliver valuable educational or career training programs to students and workers.

Read the letter to the Senate HELP Committee and House Education and Labor Committee, as well as letters of support from Arkansas and Washington.

Posted In: Transportation, Federal Funding, Career and Technical Education, Sector Partnerships, Arkansas, Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Virginia, Washington
New report makes the case for partnerships between businesses and community colleges

In today’s economy, the demand for skilled workers is greater than ever before—with approximately 80 percent of jobs requiring candidates to have some form of education or training beyond the high school level. However, employers across the country in in-demand industries are not exclusively looking to hire individuals with four-year degrees. In fact, over half of all jobs available today are “middle skill”, meaning they require training beyond high school but not a college degree.

In an effort to connect more individuals with the skills they need to succeed in the labor market, employers across a range of industries have been partnering with community college leaders, community-based organizations, workforce development boards (WDBs) and a range of other stakeholders to remove barriers to success and provide flexible career pathways for millions of Americans. These collaboration models, often referred to as sector partnerships, can lead to the increased availability of up-to-date curriculum, professional development, and support services—including transportation, child care, and basic skills instruction—for individuals looking to build marketable skill sets.

Despite the value of these partnerships, Congress has not invested in them at a scale that would sustain economic competitiveness since the expiration of the TAACCCT grant program in FY2014. In a new publication, National Skills Coalition calls on Congress to consider increasing the federal investment in sector partnerships—specifically in the context of a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. 

Additionally, the paper urges Congress to consider supplementing targeted grants for industry partnerships with other policy initiatives, such as those embodied in NSC’s Community College Compact—in order to truly make higher education work for students of all ages and backgrounds. This new publication is also consistent with the proposals highlighted in our Skills for Good Jobs Agenda—which was released in 2016 and updated earlier this year.

The paper makes the case for this proposal by detailing the history of bipartisan support for community college-industry partnerships, describing the positive impact they have on students and employers, and highlighting effective industry partnerships in three states, including:

  • North Baton Rouge Industrial Training Initiative (NBRITI) in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
    • NBRITI is a partnership between ExxonMobil and Baton Rouge Community College (BRCC) that provides North Baton Rouge residents with access to an intensive, short-term training program designed to fast-track them to success in welding, pipefitting, or the electrical trades.

  • M-Powered in Minneapolis, Minnesota
    • M-Powered is an award-winning training program that prepares Minnesotans for manufacturing careers. This program—which was formed by the Precision Metalforming Association, Hennepin Technical College and a community-based organization known as HIRED—primarily serves the unemployed, underemployed and veterans.  

  • Mopar Career Automotive Program (CAP) in Sugar Grove, Illinois
    • Waubonsee Community College in Illinois joined forces with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) and the National Coalition of Certification Centers to establish a Mopar Local CAP training site. This program provides advanced training to students and prepared them to work as Level 1 Automotive Technicians upon graduation.


Posted In: Sector Partnerships, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota
Community college leaders from 10 states endorse fundamentals of NSC’s Community College Compact in letters to Senate HELP Committee

On July 16, 2018, leaders of 10 community college systems across the country—including those in Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Virginia—sent letters to Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander and Ranking Member Patty Murray, urging them to modernize federal higher education policy to better reflect the needs of today’s community college students. The letters emphasize the importance of adopting a job-driven Community College Compact—a set of policy proposals developed by National Skills Coalition with the input of a range of stakeholders; including academic institutions, employers, community-based organization and workforce development boards.

In today’s economy, 80 percent of all jobs require some form of postsecondary education or training—a reality that has led to an influx of individuals enrolling in the higher education system with a different set of objectives than first-time, full-time students. Community colleges serve approximately 9 million students every year of all ages and backgrounds; most of whom can be classified as non-traditional. These individuals often work full or part time, are parents to dependent children, and/or fall in the age range of 28-40.

Given the significant role they play in preparing students for the workforce, community college leaders took the opportunity to outline their shared priorities and urge federal lawmakers to:

Eliminate the bias against working learners in need of federal financial aid

As our economy continues to change, more skilled workers are needed today than ever before. Approximately 80 percent of all jobs require some form of education or training, and more than 50 percent of jobs can be classified as “middle-skill”—meaning they call for more than a high school diploma but not a four-year degree. As a result, many community colleges are aiming to increase access to high quality, short-term programs that lead to in-demand credentials. However, most federal financial aid available today is reserved for students who are enrolled in programs of study that are at least 600 clock hours over 15 weeks—an outdated policy that fails to account for the training needs of individuals in our 21st century economy.

Therefore, community college leaders urged lawmakers to consider legislation—such as the Jumpstarting our Businesses by Supporting Students (JOBS) Act (S. 206) led by Senators Kaine (D-VA) and Portman (R-OH)—that would expand Pell grant eligibility to students enrolled in employer-approved programs that are at least 150 clock hours of instruction over 8 weeks.

Make higher education and workforce outcomes data comprehensive and transparent

Since higher education is becoming more closely linked with finding success in the labor market, data about the outcomes of postsecondary programs should be available to students, parents, employers and policymakers. However, as community college leaders noted in their letters, existing legal restrictions on the collection of student-level data continue to hinder the accessibility of this important information.

To help provide consumers with better data and relieve institutions of duplicative reporting requirements, community college administrators called for action on the College Transparency Act (S. 1121, H.R. 2434). Introduced by Senators Hatch (R-UT), Warren (D-MA), Cassidy (R-LA) and Whitehouse (D-RI) and Representatives Mitchell (R-MI) and Polis (D-CO), this bipartisan bill aims to establish a secure, privacy-protected postsecondary student level data network administered by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), to which colleges would be able to safely and easily report their data. The data would then be available as a decision-making tool for current and prospective students—making it easier for individuals to improve their lives through education and training.

Ensure the success of today’s college students by strengthening support services

Due to the diversity of the student populations they serve, community college leaders recognize the growing importance of support services such as career counseling, childcare and transportation assistance. While states and higher education administrators across the country are working hard to implement career pathway models that provide nontraditional students with the services they need to succeed in the postsecondary education system, their efforts receive little support at the federal level.

To address this issue, community college leaders called for the consideration of the Gateway to Careers Act (S. 2407)—legislation introduced by Senator Hassan (D-NH), along with Senators Kaine (D-VA), Shaheen (D-NH) and Reed (D-RI). This bill would make federal funding available on a competitive basis to institutions that are working in partnership to serve students experiencing barriers to postsecondary access and completion.

Provide targeted funding for valuable partnerships between community colleges and businesses

Community college leaders work with industry stakeholders every day to provide high-quality training and academic instruction to future workers through sector partnerships. However, Congress has not invested in these partnerships partnerships at a scale that would sustain economic competitiveness since the expiration of the Trade Adjustment Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant program in FY 2014. The purpose of the TAAACT grant program, which allocated $2 billion in funding to states from FY 2011-2014, was to increase the capacity of community colleges to address the challenges of today’s workforce through job training for adults and other nontraditional students.

Due to the proven impact of community college-business partnerships, community college leaders called on lawmakers to pass legislation that would increase the resources available for these collaboration models —such as the Community College to Career Fund Act (S. 2390). Introduced by Senators Duckworth (D-IL), Smith (D-MN), Kaine (D-VA) and Feinstein (D-CA), this bill would authorize competitive grant funding, allowing academic institutions and businesses to work together to deliver valuable educational or career training programs to students and workers.

The voices of these and other community college leaders across the country are undeniably important, as Congress looks to reauthorize the Higher Education Act for the first time since 2008. While the House and Senate have not passed Higher Education Act legislation this Congress, action is expected early next year. To view the letter, click here.

Posted In: Higher Education Access, Sector Partnerships, Adult Basic Education, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Virginia
Representatives Mitchell and Ryan introduce BUILDS Act

On February 6th, Representatives Paul Mitchell (R-MI) and Tim Ryan (D-OH), introduced bipartisan legislation, the Building U.S. Infrastructure by Leveraging Demands for Skills (BUILDS) Act (HR4942), that would support grants to industry partnerships in transportation, construction, energy, and other infrastructure industries. The grants, 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 to develop a diverse pipeline of skilled workers. Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced the Senate version of BUILDS in 2017. 

Last summer the administration released a set of  infrastructure principles  that included a goal of training one million new apprentices over two years. The President included a call for infrastructure investments in his State of the Union earlier this year, however, without reiterating the link between that investment and developing a pipeline or workers. 

BUILDS Act would set aside funding from a Congressional infrastructure package for workforce development. Funding would be used to train workers needed to 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. Find more details about the BUILDS Act here

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.

National Skills Coalition applauds Representatives Mitchell and Ryan 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: Sector Partnerships, Federal Funding
Congressional Democrats Highlight Skills Training as Part of “Better Deal”

Congressional Democrats today released details of a new messaging campaign in advance of the 2018 elections that will highlights tax incentives for employer-based training while also boosting federal investments in apprenticeship and public-private partnerships.

The “Better Deal” campaign being rolled out this week will focus on a range of proposals, including efforts to increase federal support for infrastructure, reduce health care costs, and support family leave policies. The campaign also places significant emphasis on the idea of creating up to 10 million full-time jobs, in part by helping U.S. workers get access to skills and credentials that will support career advancement.

The materials released today emphasize three major policy ideas on skills:

  • Expanding registered apprenticeship and work-based learning, specifically by doubling the federal investment in apprenticeship. Congress has appropriated $95 million to support registered apprenticeship expansion as part of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 omnibus spending package approved in May, though the House appropriations committee recently passed an FY’18 spending bill that would eliminate apprenticeship funding next year.
  • Providing a new tax credit for employers who hire and train new workers. This proposal would provide an unspecified tax credit to employers who hire and train new workers, so long as those workers are being paid a good wage and retain full-time employment with the business for a set period of time.
  • Creating a network of partnerships between businesses and career and technical education programs, including at community colleges. The proposal suggests that these investments will include both sector partnerships authorized under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and other partnerships with community and technical colleges and other training providers.


The ideas outlined in the Better Deal agenda are aligned with many of the proposals in National Skills Coalition’s Skills for Good Jobs paper released last November, particularly the focus on work-based learning and expanding partnerships between business and other stakeholders. We applaud Congressional Democrats for their support for these critical investments in skills, and we look forward to working with Congress and the Trump administration to advance policies that will help workers and businesses stay competitive in today’s economy.

 

Posted In: Sector Partnerships, Work Based Learning
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

Briefing on infrastructure illuminates the need for skills

  ·   By Jessica Cardott
Briefing on infrastructure illuminates the need for skills

On June 14th, the Senate Career and Technical Education (CTE) Caucus hosted a briefing in conjunction with Business Leaders United and National Skills Coalition called “Building America’s Infrastructure Workforce.” The briefing explored how the administration’s investment in infrastructure initiatives would create millions of new jobs for Americans who are currently out of work, underemployed, or seeking higher wages. The policy recommendations discussed in the briefing can be found here.

Senator Baldwin, one of the four CTE Caucus co-chairs, opened the briefing with comments on the importance of investing in sector partnerships and apprenticeship in in-demand industries.

Industry leaders and Congressional support

BLU brought together two industry-led workforce partnerships to share best practices and policy recommendations to support workforce development in infrastructure. Dawn Pratt, from The Walbec Group, and Mark Kessenich, from WRTP/Big STEP. The Walbec Group is a family of companies that provide professional infrastructure construction and engineering services.  Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership / Building Industry Group Skilled Trades Employment Program (WRTP/BIG STEP) helps Dawn’s companies run work-based learning programs and develop a skilled pool of construction workers for The Walbec Group’s projects.

Pat Steele, the Site Director for Central Iowa Works and Dr. Matt Bruinekool, a consultant at Master Builders of Iowa completed the panel. Central Iowa Works is a regional sector partnership that has helped local businesses, including those with which Matt works, meet workforce demands by expanding populations of workers with access to training to get the skills necessary for the transportation logistics and distribution jobs in central Iowa.

NSC’s Senior Federal Policy Analyst Katie Spiker facilitated the briefing.

Sector partnership and work-based learning, demystified

The panelists shared how employers and other stakeholders are partnering to develop workforce pipelines in infrastructure sectors and why these partnerships have become vital to their success. Both employers on the panel emphasized the importance of their partnerships with the regional sector partnerships in their area. Dawn described the importance of being able to reach out to just one entity, Mark’s organization, when her companies need new workers or when she was developing training programs and needed to work with community colleges, unions or other stakeholders in the community. Matt added that Pat’s organization provides training before workers were on the job as well as support services once workers were employed, making it possible for his employers to increase productivity and be confident in the skills and retention of their workers.

Both employers also emphasized the importance of the partnerships connecting workers with supportive services. Pat described his organization’s provision of transportation services to new workers, a service that ensures workers can make it to their worksites.

Mark emphasized that while these services are vital to the retention of good workers and continued productivity for WRTP/Big Step’s business partners, work-based learning programming and support services can be expensive. He emphasized the importance of Congressional investments in current job training programs like the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and including investment in workforce development in any upcoming Congressional infrastructure bill.

Together, they started a dialogue about the benefits of investing in human capital and how federal policy can support these innovative strategies.

Exposure and reach

Representatives from more than a dozen Congressional offices attended the briefing. While in DC, Pat and Matt met with Senator Ernst’s office about the importance of supporting workforce training and education programs and including these priorities in upcoming infrastructure legislation. The panelists also took a meeting with the Department of Transportation Senior Program Advisor, Marilyn Shazor, to explain how they have used sector partnerships to fill skilled positions in the industry.

President Trump visited Dawn and Mark’s home state of Wisconsin the day before the briefing to talk about jobs. In response to this visit and the President’s previous call to drastically cut federal investments in job training and education, Dawn and Mark spoke with the Washington Post about their reliance on federal investments to support infrastructure workforce pipelines. 

Posted In: Sector Partnerships, Career and Technical Education, Work Based Learning, Iowa, Wisconsin, Business Leaders United
President Trump Executive Order Calls for Apprenticeship Expansion, directs federal agencies to propose elimination of “ineffective” workforce training programs

Earlier today, President Trump signed an Executive Order (EO), “Expanding Apprenticeships in America,” and announced a new initiative to expand apprenticeship in the U.S. The proposal would provide industry associations, unions, and other stakeholders the flexibility to develop standards for "industry-recognized apprenticeships" (that would complement the existing registered apprenticeship system).

The EO directs the Secretary of Labor, in cooperation with the Secretaries of Commerce and Education, to consider proposing new regulations to support the expansion of industry-recognized apprenticeships through the use of third-party certifying entities. Among other things, the regulations must reflect an assessment of whether to:

  • determine how qualified third parties may provide recognition to industry-recognized apprenticeship programs
  • establish guidelines or requirements that qualified third parties should or must follow to ensure that apprenticeship programs they recognize meet quality standards
  • whether to retain the current Registered Apprenticeship system for current employers; and
  • Establishing review process for industry-certified apprenticeships, including processes for terminating a program.


The Secretary is required to consider and evaluate public comments prior to issuing the new regulations, which will allow for stakeholders to provide input into any final rule.

The EO also establishes a new Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion, which would be chaired by the Secretary of Labor and co-chaired by the Secretaries of Education and Commerce, and would also include representatives from industry, labor, and educational institutions. The task force would be responsible for developing a report to the president detailing:

  • Federal initiatives that can expand apprenticeship;
  • Legislative and administrative reforms necessary to support expansion; and
  • Strategies to create and expand industry-recognized apprenticeships; and
  • Strategies to support private-sector initiatives to promote apprenticeships.

The EO requires the Secretary to use available funding, including funds provided to the Department of Labor under the H-1B visa program, to promote apprenticeship, with a particular focus on expanding participation in apprenticeship for students in accredited secondary and postsecondary institutions, expanding apprenticeship in sectors without sufficient apprenticeship opportunities, and increasing youth participation in apprenticeship. The EO further calls on federal agencies to take steps to promote apprenticeships with targeted populations, including individuals who are currently or formerly incarcerated, disconnected youth, and veterans.

The Trump Administration’s focus on apprenticeship comes on the heels of efforts under President Obama to expand registered apprenticeship programs, including more than $250 million in grants and contracts to states, national intermediaries, and other stakeholders. The EO does not specifically address how the new initiative will be connected to those ongoing investments.

Overall, the president’s proposals with respect to apprenticeship are consistent with National Skills Coalition’s longstanding support for industry-driven partnerships that support work-based learning and other strategies to connect businesses and workers. While there is clearly much still to be decided prior to implementation – including how to ensure that new industry-certified programs meet quality standards and ensuring that workers continue to benefit from wage increases and other protections associated with traditional registered apprenticeship programs – the initiatives outlined in the EO appear to be a good first step toward our goal of getting to five million apprentices. National Skills Coalition looks forward to working with the administration and other stakeholders to make sure that this effort leads to the expansion of high quality programs that meet the needs of workers and employer partners.

Evaluating Federal Workforce and Education Programs

While the apprenticeship components of the EO were generally good, there were some troubling provisions relating to other federal workforce programs. The order directs all Federal agencies with jurisdiction over at least one job training program to evaluate the effectiveness of those programs, and proposes elimination of programs deemed to be “ineffective, redundant, or unnecessary.” In light of the president’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 budget which called for substantial cuts to the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (Perkins), and other workforce, education, and human services programs, the direction to propose further cuts or eliminations is a step in the wrong direction. These important federal programs fund the country's workforce and CTE system and although they have strong bipartisan support in Congress, they are already underfunded after more than a decade of cuts. This trend has frustrated small and medium-sized businesses who struggle to find skilled workers.

Under WIOA, registered apprenticeship programs are automatically eligible to access training funds provided through a state's eligible training provider list, registered apprenticeship representatives are required to participate in strategic and operational activities of the local and state workforce development boards, and reporting requirements are relaxed for these programs compared to the requirements for other training providers. These changes are intended to better align the workforce system with the apprenticeship system. President Trump’s proposed cuts to the workforce system, however, would impact state and local efforts to build these connections, and would likely undermine the administration’s efforts to increase apprenticeship utilization.

National Skills Coalition opposes any efforts to cut needed workforce and education investments, and we will continue to work with our national, state and local partners to resist further cuts to these vital services. 

Read the a statement from Andy Van Kleunen, CEO of NSC on the Expanding Apprenticeships in America Executive Order here.

Posted In: Career and Technical Education, Sector Partnerships, Federal Funding, Adult Basic Education, Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, Work Based Learning
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