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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
Nearly 1 in 3 workers lack foundational digital skills, new report finds

Note: NSC will be hosting a webinar exploring findings from this report on June 3, 2020. Register now.

A new report from National Skills Coalition provides hard data to illustrate the uneven landscape of US workers’ digital literacy skills, and outlines opportunities to invest in digital skill-building as part of an inclusive economic recovery.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought home the importance of digital skills for workers in virtually every industry and occupation. Throughout the United States, people are scrambling to adapt to a new reality in which paramedics are triaging patients via telehealth technology; retail workers are using customized apps to process inventory; and educators are moving their classes online. But even before the pandemic, many workers lacked the foundational digital skills necessary to quickly adapt and upskill as their jobs evolve.

Overall, nearly one in three workers lack foundational digital skills, according to the report, The New Landscape of Digital Literacy: How workers’ uneven digital skills affect economic mobility and business competitiveness, and what policymakers can do about it. In particular, 13 percent have no digital skills and 18 percent have very limited skills. Another 35 percent have achieved a baseline level of proficiency, and the final 33 percent have advanced skills. The data refers to workers ages 16-64 who were employed at the time of the survey. (For more information about the data source, see “Where does this data come from?” below.)

How are digital skills being defined?

For this report, National Skills Coalition defined four levels of foundational digital skills:

  • No digital skills: People with no digital skills failed to meet one or more of the three baseline criteria to even take the full digital skills assessment: 1) prior computer use, 2) willingness to take the computer-based assessment, or 3) ability to complete four out of six very basic computer tasks, such as using a mouse or highlighting text on screen. 

  • Limited digital skills: People with limited digital skills can complete only very simple digital tasks that have a generic interface and just a few steps. As an example, people at this level would have a difficult time sorting email responses to an event invitation into pre-existing folders to keep track of who can and cannot attend an event. 

  • Proficient digital skills: People at this level would typically struggle with tasks that require the use of both generic and specific technology applications. For example, a person might not be able to complete a task involving with the use of a new type of online form, and the need to navigate across multiple pages and applications to answer the test question. This task may have multiple steps, and may require the use of tools (such as the “sort” function) to solve the problem. The person may have to identify the goal themselves, and engage in higher-level reasoning to solve the problem.

  • Advanced digital skills: At this level, a person might have to make use of an online form that they are encountering for the first time. In doing so, they might have to define for themselves the goal of the problem they are solving, and use inferential reasoning in solving the problem. They might need to navigate across different online pages and applications, carry out multiple steps of a task, and evaluate the relevance of a set of items to discard distractors.

How do digital skill gaps differ by industry?

Digital skill gaps occur across all industries. However, they are especially high in the construction, transportation, and storage sectors, where fully half (50 percent) of all workers have limited or no digital skills. More than one-third of workers in several other major industries also have digital skill gaps, including retail (37 percent), hospitality (36 percent), manufacturing (35 percent) and health and social work (33 percent).

The number of workers with significant skill gaps is lower, but still concerning, in the finance, insurance, and real estate sector (where 19 percent have limited or no digital skills), and education sector (15 percent).

A full list of digital skill gaps by industry sector and broad occupational category is included in the report being released today. In addition, National Skills Coalition previously released five industry-specific fact sheets on digital literacy.

What do we know about digital skills on the job?

Many workers who have serious digital skill gaps are nevertheless employed in jobs that require them to use computers. NSC’s analysis found that fully 38 percent of workers with no digital skills have jobs that require either moderate or complex computer skills. An even higher percentage of workers with limited skills (43 percent) are employed in jobs that require moderate or complex computer usage.

Previous research on foundational skills conducted by NSC found that workers’ skill gaps are an invisible drag on productivity, and that people often spend considerable extra time and effort covering for their skill gaps or “muddling through” work tasks. Tactics include relying on help from co-workers or family members and delaying or avoiding tasks that require digital skills, among others.

A lack of skills is not just a problem for workers themselves. NSC’s new report found that one-fifth (20 percent) of workers with no digital skills are supervising other workers. Among workers with limited skills, an even higher percentage (33 percent) are supervisors. Supervisors’ own digital skill gaps can act as a productivity bottleneck that delays adoption or usage of new digital tools by entire teams. 

How does fragmented knowledge affect digital upskilling approaches?

It may seem surprising that in this day and age some workers have few or no digital skills. It is important to note that many of these workers may have fragmented knowledge: That is, they may be comfortable using a mobile phone to text a photo, but not be familiar with how to operate a mouse or upload a job application.

This is particularly true for individuals who do not own a desktop or laptop computer at home (23 percent of US households fall into this category) and/or who have smartphone-only internet access—that is, they don’t have home broadband internet access. A 2019 Pew Research Center survey showed that people of color are more likely to have smartphone-only internet access, with 23 percent of Black respondents and 25 percent of Latino respondents falling into this category, compared to just 12 percent of whites.

Policymakers and advocates seeking to help these workers upskill should be careful not to underestimate their ingenuity and expertise. Leaders should ensure that workers have a voice in identifying what skill-building opportunities they need, what support is necessary to ensure their success, and how their employers can most effectively be engaged in upskilling conversations.

Understanding the phenomenon of fragmented knowledge can help leaders avoid making assumptions about who lacks digital skills and why, and which interventions can help people make bridges between the skills they have and the skills they need.

How do demographics affect digital skill gaps?

Due in large measure to structural forces in American society, digital skill gaps are closely correlated with several demographic variables. In particular, individuals with limited or no digital skills are likely to have a high school education or less; to have low earnings; and to have limited literacy skills.

Notably, younger workers are far from immune to digital skills gaps. Indeed, individuals under the age of 35 make up fully one-quarter (25 percent) of workers with no digital skills, and 29 percent of those with limited skills.

While white workers are a plurality of those with digital skill gaps, workers of color are disproportionately likely to face such gaps. Those facing barriers include both US-born workers and immigrants. NSC explores these issues at length in a recent fact sheet, Applying a Racial Equity Lens to Digital Literacy.

How can policymakers and advocates take action?

Policymakers, business leaders, educators, and workforce advocates can use the information provided in this report to inform their efforts to upskill US workers and equip employers with the skilled workforce they need.

Key steps that policymakers should take include:

  • Embedding digital literacy and problem-solving skills as allowable or required activities under existing workforce development, adult education, and higher education policies

  • Investing in new Digital Literacy Upskilling grants to expand access to high quality digital skills instruction that meets industry and worker needs. These grants should support the development and implementation of programs that embed digital literacy skills as part of broader occupational skills training, integrated education and training, and other accelerated learning strategies.

    • One model for this is the Digital Equity Act, now under consideration in Congress, which would create two new federal grant programs to support digital literacy.

    • At the state level, policymakers can introduce state-level legislation or an administrative policy mirroring the federal-facing Digital Equity Act, but should also provide resources and technical assistance for adult education programs that serve workers and learners. These programs are an important existing avenue for digital skill-building.

    • Incentivizing private investment in digital skills training, instruction, and upskilling opportunities for incumbent workers by expanding the scope of existing tax policies like the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) to allow employers to provide essential upskilling opportunities, both in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and over the longer term.

More detailed recommendations on how state and federal policy can support digital upskilling will be available in a future publication from National Skills Coalition, forthcoming in July 2020.

Where does the data come from?

Data used in this report comes from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Survey of Adult Skills. The US portion of the survey, also known as the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, or PIAAC, is administered by the U.S. Department of Education.

The survey gathered data from a representative sample of U.S. adults. NSC’s analysis, conducted in collaboration with the American Institutes for Research, looked at combined 2012-14 data on US workers ages 16-64 who were employed at the time of the survey. (Learn more about AIR’s work and see other studies at the PIAAC Gateway.)

The PIAAC survey includes a cognitive assessment in English measuring the three domains of literacy, numeracy, and “problem-solving in technology-rich environments,” or PS-TRE.

Individuals described in NSC’s report as having “no” digital skills are those without PS-TRE scores; “limited” skills refers to workers with scores below PS-TRE Level 1; “proficient” refers to those who scored at Level 1, and “advanced” combines data from workers who scored at Level 2 or Level 3. 

Note: An additional round of U.S. PIAAC data collection was completed in 2017. While 2017 data is not reflected in this report due to the timing of its release to the public, it is largely consistent with earlier years. Learn more about the 2017 data here:

Posted In: Work Based Learning
COVID-19 shines a spotlight on digital skills: Updates and key questions for advocates and policymakers

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown into stark relief the importance of digital literacy for American workers and students alike. National Skills Coalition is providing this overview to help education and workforce advocates understand 1) what changes are occurring, 2) how organizations are responding, and 3) what questions advocates and policymakers should be asking to inform their responses over the short and mid-term.

For more resources on digital skills, check out our industry-specific fact sheets on health workers, manufacturing, hospitality, retail, construction and transportation, as well as Applying a racial equity lens to digital literacy. You can also read further details on Medium and register for our May 5th webinar. 

The current snapshot: Major changes in the education and workforce landscape

In just a few short weeks, millions of Americans have shifted rapidly to a new way of working – remote, separated from their colleagues by distance and sometimes by time zone, tasked with quickly getting up to speed on an array of digital tools with which they may not have had any previous experience.

Meanwhile, millions of other workers are still at work on job sites across the country, including many frontline workers whose jobs require extensive contact with the public. Now they too are being asked to use mobile apps, online reporting mechanisms, and related tools in order to keep their jobs and adapt to new customer and employer demands for contactless interactions and improved health and safety amidst a pandemic.

All of this is occurring while key institutions that have traditionally helped Americans build digital skills are staggering under the weight of new responsibilities in this quickly changing landscape. Many public libraries, which have long been at the forefront of digital skill-building, are closed to the public. Librarians are scrambling to identify the best ways to ensure that WiFi hotspots remain accessible to the public even during building closures.

Thousands of adult education programs, many of which were already providing digital skill-building before the pandemic, have had to convert almost overnight into fully online learning experiences. Higher education institutions are facing similar demands. Teachers and administrators are being forced by circumstance to upskill themselves in the moment, while also assisting learners who may lack a computer, reliable internet access, or the skills to participate. 

Families are struggling to support children, youth, and adults whose educational institutions have moved classes and coursework online. Professors and other instructors are wrestling with converting in-person formats into digitally interactive ones overnight, while trying to ensure equity for students with disabilities and/or limited tech access.

The weight of all of these developments is falling unequally on Americans who are more marginalized, more vulnerable, and less connected than their peers. Workers who are able to work from home are disproportionately Asian or White, leaving Black and Latinx workers more likely to be on the front lines. Households without broadband access are also more likely to be comprised of people of color. Rural communities that lacked broadband access before the crisis are now facing additional ripple effects from those digital gaps -- affecting their workforce, businesses, and broader economies. Compelling new evidence indicates that students with smartphone-only internet access face major academic disadvantages compared to their peers who have home broadband access.

Hitting the ground running: How education and workforce leaders are responding

Education and workforce practitioners have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic with a combination of rapid-response and mid-term solutions. In the immediate term, many organizations have temporarily closed their physical offices, often due to state or local mandates shutting down non-essential businesses.

But even as physical locations have shut down, services have moved quickly online. Staff are working feverishly to assess the digital capacity of their learners and jobseekers, even while trying to ensure that their own personnel are equipped to provide (some) services remotely. At the state level, officials are hurrying to provide guidance to local program administrators amidst a quickly evolving landscape.

These are just a handful of the many hundreds of examples of how skills advocates are responding: 

Program level:

  • From Washington DC, the Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School, a major provider of adult education and workforce development programs, reports that “From quickly developing distance learning materials and making creative online spaces to connect; to establishing additional phone lines answered by Student Services team members to provide supports in English, Spanish, Amharic, and French; to holding classes via Zoom, Schoology, and QR-code enabled smartphone lessons; our mantra is: We’ve got this!”

  • From South Texas near the US-Mexico border, Maria Cris Gonzalez of the state’s Region 1 Adult Education Program notes that she has done a rapid-response survey to understand staff technology gaps among the 85 teachers serving 3500 adult learners in her programs. Teachers with varying degrees of digital literacy skills have been racing to get up to speed with tools such as Zoom and WebEx. Meanwhile, the Integrated Education and Training welding program is still on track; their community college partner has helped shift it to an online format. Despite the epidemic, adult learners are persisting, Gonzalez adds: "I have students who live in cars. I have students who live in homes with dirt floors. But they are still attending class via their cell phones." 

  • From San Diego, Tech Hire has teamed up with ServiceNow and the San Diego Workforce Partnership to offer a new 5-week intensive virtual training for IT Service Managers. The training will help participants earn two certifications, preparing them to hit the ground running in IT careers.

  • From Illinois, Becky Raymond of the Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition notes: “Our recent work in the Illinois Digital Learning Lab (IDLL) showed that 85% of the adult learners participating in the program tested below a proficient level on basic computer skills. Now more than ever, I am heartened by the work that CCLC’s team has done to bridge this divide. Through our technology projects, low-scoring adults have been connected to critical apps and websites such as Chi311, MedlinePlus and the Center for Disease Control’s online resources…. Over the past year, it has been inspiring to work with adult educators across the state to help them set up online learning platforms for their students. We didn’t realize how critical these platforms would be in continuing connection and learning for low-scoring adults during this time. We understand that many adult educators will not be able to implement an easy switch to distance education and we are committed now more than ever to helping adult education programs and instructors facilitate learning at a distance.”

State level:

  • California’s Adult Education Program has reminded its providers that recipients of the state’s $500 million adult education funding stream (as distinct from federal adult ed funds) are funded based on need, rather than seat time or testing results, thus relieving them of concerns about providing in-person testing at a time when many locations are closed. CAEP also provided a list of resources for adult educators who are needing to convert their classes to an online format. OTAN, one of the state’s technical assistance providers for adult education programs, has set up a Field Support resource page.

  • Maine Governor Janet Mills has signed an executive order suspending certain restrictions on job training funds managed by the Maine Community College System’s Maine Quality Center (MQC) program. Suspending those restrictions, such as eligibility and employer matching funds, gives the MQC program more flexibility to rapidly provide free online training to people who have been displaced by the recent effects of COVID-19. “So many people have lost their jobs because of COIVD-19. But overnight there is a huge demand for workers in certain jobs, such as medical assisting and pharmaceutical technicians,” notes Maine Community College System President David Daigler notes. “We need to give people the training and skills they need to step into those jobs as quickly as possible.”

National level:

  • The US Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education (OCTAE) has issued guidance for WIOA Title II-funded adult education programs as many make a shift to distance learning formats

  • The federal LINCS bulletin board is hosting a lively discussion among adult educators on how to move to online education

  • The EdTech Center at World Education has launched the Tips for Distance Learning website to assist adult basic education programs in launching or improving their distance learning program.

  • The International Society for Technology in Education has created an educator help desk

  • The National Digital Inclusion Alliance has created a COVID-19 resources page


Key questions for advocates and policymakers to be asking

As the pandemic evolves, both skills advocates and policymakers will be called upon to develop effective and evidence-informed responses to quickly changing needs of businesses and workers. Below, we outline key questions to consider as these decisions are being made.  

  • How are new digital demands in specific industries such as healthcare or transportation, distribution and logistics affecting workers’ ability to function effectively in the current environment? What reskilling or upskilling interventions need to be provided to assist them? (Note: An industry snapshot released by National Skills Coalition before the pandemic highlighted the stark need for digital literacy skills among healthcare workers.)

  • How are new state investments in COVID-19 rapid response supporting education and workforce development activities? How could they be strengthened?

  • How is existing expertise in digital skill-building -- whether from experienced adult educators, higher education instructors, or other partners -- being drawn upon to inform future program design and funding decisions?

  • How are digital skill-building efforts being woven into existing upskilling programs and policies? In particular, how can workforce development and higher education providers ensure that explicit digital skill-building activities are incorporated, as appropriate, in their programs?

  • How do digital skill-building policies and programs connect to the other “two legs of the stool” on digital inclusion – namely, broadband internet access and digital devices such as laptops and tablet computers?

  • What lessons learned or evaluation results can be captured from recent events to help illuminate the pros and cons of online learning for specific populations of workers, such as those with limited literacy or English skills?


Posted In: Work Based Learning, Future of Work
New Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Regulations fall short of standards to which we hold Registered Apprenticeship, but could still be valuable workforce programs

On March 10th, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) released final regulations on the roles and responsibilities of newly created Standards Recognition Entities (SREs) as an effort to implement a new Industry Recognized Apprenticeship system. Under the rule, SREs are nongovernmental entities who will have oversight role for ensuring Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Programs (IRAPs) meet quality standards defined within the regulatory language. SREs will stand in a role similar to that DOL and State Apprenticeship Agencies (SAAs) play in the registered system, and IRAPs are intended to operate parallel to registered apprenticeships – sharing the goal of helping workers access industry-recognized credentials while learning on the job and meeting industry demand for skills, but removing DOL from the role of validating individual program components and practices.

The regulations define IRAPs as “high-quality apprenticeship programs, wherein an individual obtains workplace-relevant knowledge and progressively advancing skills, that include a paid-work component and an educational or instructional component and that result in an industry-recognized credential” and additional analysis, below, details the rule’s distinctions between IRAPs and registered programs.

When evaluated as on-the-job learning programs, IRAPs stand to offer opportunity to workers to access industry driven credentials while earning a wage and to support business engagement for training workers. When evaluated next to the standards to which DOL holds registered programs, however, IRAPs are provided significant flexibility in program structure, wage progression, oversight and interaction with the public workforce system that seem counterproductive to protecting workers or meeting industry demand.

What is in the final rule

The final rule includes regulations on the process for becoming an SRE, the oversight and support role of SREs to the programs they recognize, required structure of IRAPs and incorporates several recommendations made by National Skills Coalition and our national partners. It also, however, fails to require several hallmarks of the registered program – including wage increases commensurate with skills gains, alignment with other state oversight of nondegree credentials, and robust equal employment opportunity provisions.

Registered apprenticeship – and now the newly created Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Programs – are governed by the National Apprenticeship Act (NAA), a six-paragraph piece of legislation that has been subject to only minimal Congressional updates over the past eighty years. Instead of through Congressional reauthorization, much of the policy and practice of apprenticeship in the U.S. is regulated through agency rulemaking.

The final rule updates those regulations, splitting them into subpart A (substantively the same as current regulations covering registered apprenticeship programs) and subpart B (creating and governing Standards Recognition Entities who will have oversight of Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Programs).

In creating SREs, the Department’s stated goal was to provide “additional flexibility necessary to scale the apprenticeship model into new industries and to address the diverse workforce needs of different industries and occupations.” This goal serves as the foundation of key differences between IRAPs and registered programs, including an exclusion in the final rule prohibiting SREs from recognizing IRAPs in the construction industry.

This carve out was absent in the draft regulations released last year, and the subject of a massive campaign by the building trades unions in responding to those draft regulations. According to proponents of the construction industry exclusion, and the Department in their justification of excluding construction in the final IRAP rule, the fact that the majority of U.S. apprenticeships are in the construction industry is evidence the model is effective for the industry and that expanding IRAPs to construction is not necessary to meet the goal of expanding apprenticeships in the U.S.

The regulations included a severability clause, allowing the remainder of the final rule to be implemented even if the exclusion of the construction industry is subject to legal action that would delay it being implemented.

Establishing Standards Recognition Entities (SRE)

The regulations detail who is eligible to become an SRE, including business associations, local agencies, educational institutions, community-based organizations, unions, labor management partnerships or a consortium of those entities. To qualify, entities must show expertise in an industry necessary to evaluate training, structure and curricula of programs and capacity to assess program quality, defined as ensuring programs meet the definition of industry recognized programs offered below. SREs would be recognized for five years. 

This section of the final regs contains few significant changes from the proposed rule, but the department adds additional language around removing conflicts of interest between SREs and the IRAPs they recognize and a new requirement that SREs ensure IRAPs maintain an apprenticeship agreement with each apprentice in its program.

Between the release of the final rule and its implementation on May 11th, DOL anticipates conducting technical assistance with entities who are interested in applying to be an SRE to prepare them to apply for recognition.

SRE oversight of IRAPs

SREs are tasked with ensuring IRAPs under their recognition train apprentices for jobs that require specialized knowledge, language that is similar to, but not quite as restrictive as the language governing registered programs. SREs must also ensure programs have a written apprenticeship plan, that apprentices receive credit for prior knowledge, if relevant, and lead to industry-recognized credentials. SREs also must ensure programs provide workers safe work environments, access to mentoring, adherence to EEO laws.

Integration of NSC comments into the final rule

The final regulations offer several updates to a draft version of the rule released last summer, including accepting and acknowledging many of the comments NSC submitted both individually and with a group of other national organizations. These updates include:

  • Improved transparency of the credentials apprentices will earn in programs and the process for earning them. The final rule requires IRAPs to have training plans and apprenticeship agreements with each participant. This responds to NSC’s recommendations that programs need to offer transparency to workers and businesses on industry credentials workers will earn and how they will do so. This transparency is critical to workers being informed about the impact of their programs and to ensuring programs meet industry demand. This transparency is a step towards ensuring businesses utilizing IRAPs have clarity and understanding about the programs run for and by them and will level the playing field for competitors in a local area. Transparency is also critical for workers’ ability to align their own career and education goals within opportunities of training programs.


  • Improved reporting and performance measures for programs, including the requirement that SREs both report on attainment of industry-recognized credentials and apprentices’ average earnings and make this information publicly available. This change responds to NSC comments urging DOL to publicly share a list of all SREs and to include the information on program employment outcomes at 2nd and 4th quarter after program completion, attainment of industry-recognized credentials, and post-program wages. This publicly available information helps map credential attainment and measure outcomes of IRAPs comparatively to how we measure other workforce programs. NSC urged the department to disaggregate the data collected on each of these measures, but the narrative and regulations do not address this comment. At the same time, the final rule does not establish a system for reporting and publicizing this data. NSC encourages DOL to release guidance on how SREs will be required to make this data regularly and publicly available to businesses and workers.


Even with these changes, however, when compared to the quality standards and processes required of registered apprenticeship programs, the final rule creates seemingly unnecessary distinctions between the two types of apprenticeship. Some of these challenges include:

  • IRAPs are not required to provide workers with guaranteed wage increases commensurate with skills gains, a hallmark of the registered apprenticeship system and a key retention tool for businesses running programs. NSC submitted comments that urged DOL to update the definition of IRAPs to include clearly defined wage structures with increase commensurate with skills gains or credential attainment. NSC urges DOL to issue guidance and provide SREs with technical assistance on best practices for providing apprentices with wage increases commensurate with skills gains or credential attainment, including the business justification for doing so.


  • The final rules do not adequately map out the role of states in administering workforce programs within their borders. Unlike most other training or education programming – like that run with federal WIOA, Higher Education Act or Career and Technical Education funding – the final rule does not include a required role for the state in oversight or approval of programs. Several of NSC’s state agency partners highlighted a concern that without an explicit role for the state, programs stood to be disjointed from each other and disconnected from the larger state plan and priorities for addressing worker and business skill needs. NSC urges the department to issue guidance, prior to the implementation of the final rules, that provide state agencies, including but not limited to State Apprenticeship Agencies, with information on how to best support high quality programs in their state.


  • The regulations would not apply the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) protections applied to registered programs to IRAPs. The rule also does not require SREs to disaggregate data on participation and completion rates to evaluate how well programs serve women, people of color and people with disabilities, along with other workers underrepresented in apprenticeship programs. The final rule, like the draft rule, seems to conflate state and federal EEO laws with the standard of outreach and retention efforts required of registered apprenticeship programs. Under the regulations governing registered programs, those with more than 5 apprentices are required to do analysis of workers available in their local area and evaluate the demographic composition of their program against available workers. Programs that are not representative of their local area are then tasked with targeted outreach and retention efforts to expand the pool of workers who have access to – and success in – registered programs. These outreach and retention efforts are separate from EEO laws that govern harassment on the job, and are intended – in addition to protecting the welfare of apprentices – to ensure businesses have access to the broadest pipeline of potential workers. Given the overwhelming mismatch between skills workers can access and those businesses need, it seems inefficient and contrary to supporting business expansion of apprenticeship to not require those running IRAPs to adhere to these established best practices. The regulations governing EEO in registered programs were last updated in 2015 and are still being fully implemented. NSC strongly encourages DOL to issue guidance connecting SREs to those processes as applied to registered programs.


Congressional Context for the Final Rule

This final rule comes in the context of increasingly partisan conversations about how to modernize apprenticeship in the U.S., based on bipartisan support for the strategy but differing plans for how to expand it. Democrats on the Hill are, largely, defenders of the registered process – and associated modernization that system would require to address workforce needs in the 21st century – while Republicans have increasingly dedicated attention to the capacity of this new IRAP model to scale apprenticeship. At the same time, there are several bipartisan efforts among members of Congress to expand both registered apprenticeship and work-based learning programs and Congress has increased appropriations over the past 5 years to support registered apprenticeship.

While the issue is not completely polarized, these final regulations and any appropriations to support their implementation is likely a nonstarter with Congressional Democrats. House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Workforce and Higher Education Chair, Susan Davis (D-CA), released a discussion draft of a bill to expand registered apprenticeship earlier in March, the product of bipartisan negotiations. Republicans have since stepped away from negotiations on the bill, however, in part because it did not include provisions on Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Programs. Without bipartisan agreement in the House, the bill is unlikely to see progress in the Senate both because of similar resistance from Republicans to excluding IRAPs and because the HELP Committee has made Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization a priority. With an already shortened Congressional calendar in an election year and HELP Committee Chairman Alexander (R-TN) poised to retire at the end of 2020, the committee’s bandwidth will likely focus first on HEA, leaving insufficient time to negotiate a bipartisan apprenticeship expansion.

Posted In: Work Based Learning
Analysis: What the House Democrats' draft bill to modernize apprenticeship means for workers and businesses

On March 3rd, Chair of the House Education and Labor Committee’s Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Investment, Representative Susan Davis (D-CA) released a discussion draft of a bill to reauthorize the National Apprenticeship Act (NAA), which would authorize significant new funding to expand apprenticeship, pre-apprenticeship, and youth apprenticeship in the United States. The NAA has never been substantively updated, since being enacted more than eighty years ago. The U.S. also has drastically lower rates of apprenticeship utilization compared to international peers, although there has been important progress towards expanding apprenticeship in recent years.

Congress has also steadily increased appropriations for apprenticeship over the past five years – evidence of bipartisan interest in the workforce strategy. This discussion draft is an important first step towards both modernizing apprenticeship and providing Congress the opportunity to put scaffolding around how the Department of Labor spends the increasing appropriations.  

Even though the discussion draft isn’t bipartisan, it represents discussions between Education and Labor committee Democrats and Republicans. It also includes elements of several bipartisan bills, including those with strong support from National Skills Coalition.

The bill, for example, supports local partnerships between businesses, education and training providers, human service organizations, and labor and labor management partnerships, consistent with the bipartisan PARTNERS Act, introduced by Representatives Bonamici (D-OR), Ferguson (R-GA), Davis (D-CA) and Guthrie (R-KY). These partnerships are critical to expanding apprenticeship and bringing together entities with the knowledge, experience and ability to best serve workers and businesses, and leverage new and existing public investments in apprenticeship. Recent national polling shows that 92 percent of voters and 77 percent of businesses support bringing together industry and local practitioners to train local residents for in-demand jobs.

The bill also prioritizes access to pre-apprenticeship, support services, and post-employment supports consistent with the bipartisan BUILDS Act, introduced by Representatives Mitchell (R-MI), Bonamici (D-OR), Thompson (R-PA) and Langevin (D-RI). More than 80 percent of voters support increasing government funding for support services to help people finish skills training programs and 64 percent of businesses say this will help their businesses.

Finally, the bill is consistent with many of the priorities set forward by the Apprentices Forward Collaborative – a network of national organizations, including NSC, committed to expanding apprenticeship –  in our Definition and Principles for Expanding Quality Apprenticeship in the U.S.  These principles were developed in partnership with fourteen other national organizations.

Bill details

As currently drafted, the NAA provides significant deference to the Secretary of Labor to promulgate rules necessary to support the expansion of apprenticeship programs. The current National Apprenticeship Act is about a six-paragraph instruction for the Secretary of Labor to promote and further standards of apprenticeship. Given this brevity, most of the governance of apprenticeship comes through state apprenticeship agencies (found in half of the states) and the Department of Labor’s regulatory language.

The discussion draft would codify both existing regulations and practical components of how apprenticeship has evolved over the past eighty years. It would also authorize funding to support the administration and expansion of apprenticeship – up to $400 million in Fiscal Year 2021 and $800 million by FY2025  for grants and contracts to partnerships between workforce and education stakeholders. 

Program administration

The bill includes language from the regulations currently governing registered apprenticeship, including components of defining which occupations are appropriate to be registered, the role of the Federal sub-agency in the Employment and Training Administration with jurisdiction over apprenticeship, the Office of Apprenticeship, and state level State Apprenticeship Agencies to both administer and oversee registered apprenticeship programs.

Title I of the discussion draft includes authorized appropriations of $75 million to states to run state apprenticeship agencies and $50 million to the Office of Apprenticeship for federal oversight and technical assistance.

States would be required to use 10 percent of allocated funding to support alignment with both the public workforce system and education system.

Apprenticeship for the 21st Century Grants

Title II of the bill would direct the Administrator of the Office of Apprenticeship to award grants, contracts or agreements to support at least one of four main goals:  

  1. Creating or expanding apprenticeship in new industries, existing apprenticeship programs, pre-apprenticeship, and youth apprenticeship;
  2. Engaging employers in apprenticeship, specifically small and mid-size employers,
  3. Support industry intermediaries; and
  4. Align the apprenticeship system with secondary and postsecondary education.

Applicants for each would be partnerships between state or local workforce boards, education and training providers, a state apprenticeship agency, an Indian Tripe or organization, and industry or sector partnership, a Governor, labor organization associated with the occupation of the program, or a qualified intermediary.

Recipients of grant funds would be required to support outreach, recruitment, and retention strategies for program participants, including supportive services and direct financial support. Recipients will also be required to engage with industry partners and other workforce stakeholders – including workforce boards – to establish industry or sector partnerships.

There are also a broad set of allowable activities under the grants through which recipients could use funding for other services to ensure workers can not only access apprenticeship, pre-apprenticeship and youth apprenticeship programs but also succeed in those programs.

 Next steps

The Democrats’ discussion draft will be the subject of a bipartisan hearing in the Higher Education Subcommittee of the House Education and Labor Committee on Wednesday March 4th. If committee members are able to negotiate across the aisle to a bipartisan bill before formal introduction, there may be a small window of opportunity – as members continue to approach the 2020 elections and significant time out of DC over the next few months – for bicameral  conversations about progress on an apprenticeship bill. 

Given the compressed Congressional timeline because of the elections, and competing priorities, like reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, within the committees of jurisdiction, the bill faces an unlikely, but possible, path forward this Congress.

At the same time, the Trump administration is expected to release their final rule implementing a new Industry Recognized Apprenticeship system, which is intended to stand alongside registered apprenticeship programs. The Industry-recognized system would reduce the oversight role of the Department of Labor, instead creating a system of Standard Recognizing Entities (SREs) who would recognize programs. DOL would then have oversight of these SREs.

The discussion draft does not include any reference to industry-recognized programs, but the timing of the draft and impending final rule means Republicans in the House or Senate may not be willing to negotiate any apprenticeship modernization prior to release – and potentially implementation – of a final rule from the administration.

National Skills Coalition looks forward to working with our partners across the country to inform and move forward legislation that supports local workforce and education stakeholder efforts to help workers access in-demand skills and meet industry needs of the 21st century.

Posted In: Work Based Learning
Representatives Horsford and Guthrie introduce bipartisan SKILL UP Act to empower businesses to invest in workers who need it the most

On February 13th, Representatives Stephen Horsford (D-NV) and Brett Guthrie (R-KY) introduced the bipartisan SKILL UP Act to empower businesses to invest in workers who need it the most.

Millions of jobs remain open because workers don’t have an opportunity to develop necessary skills, but tax policy isn’t currently structured to stimulate businesses to invest in workers who need it the most — including veterans, out-of-school youth, and the long-term unemployed.

Today’s introduction of the SKILL UP Act would help modernize tax policy by amending the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC). As currently structured, WOTC provides businesses with a credit for hiring workers from target populations. SKILL UP Act would update WOTC to better support private investment in upskilling workers in several ways:

  • Provide businesses who hire WOTC eligible hires – and provide them with eligible work-based learning opportunities – up to the maximum credit amount of $9,600 per worker.
  • Allow businesses – including small and mid-size companies and nonprofit employers like those in health care – to apply the credit to their payroll taxes.
  • Expand allowable time for worker certification under the training provision in WOTC to ensure workers have supports to be successful in work-based learning opportunities.

Businesses and workers support these incentives to help upskill workers across
industries. Seventy-four percent of business leaders say their businesses would benefit from targeted tax incentives for investments in skills training for these workers. Ninety percent of likely voters support this kind of incentive to help prepare workers for jobs of the 21st century.  

In December of 2019, Congress passed a one-year extender on WOTC, meaning the provision will be up for negotiations at the end of 2020. Workforce and work-based learning issues continue to be areas of bipartisan interest and priority for members of Congress and National Skills Coalition applauds the Representatives' leadership in the introduction of SKILL UP.

NSC looks forward to working with Representatives Horsford and Guthrie to advance SKILL UP Act and make it easier for businesses to invest in workers’ skills.

Posted In: Work Based Learning

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

The CEA Training Report: Very Wide of the Mark

  ·   By Senior Fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution, LaFarge SJ Professor at the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown and former NSC board member Harry J Holzer
The CEA Training Report: Very Wide of the Mark

By: Senior Fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution, LaFarge SJ Professor at the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown and former NSC board member Harry J Holzer

Georgetown University, August, 13 2019-- The White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) has issued a report that claims to assess the available evidence on government employment and training programs, and to offer policy implications based on this assessment.[1]

But the document is highly flawed. It clearly misrepresents basic facts about federal job training programs in the US, and it misinterprets research evidence; it appears more driven by ideological and political agendas rather than what is best for US workers. In short, it is very wide of the mark as an evaluation of federal training in the US.

For instance, on the fundamental question of how much the US spends on workforce development: Figure 2 of the CEA report implies that federal spending on workforce development has been rising over time. But it does so without adjusting for inflation – an astounding feature in a report written by economists. In the text, it acknowledges “real (i.e., inflation-adjusted) spending in 2018 is nearly unchanged from the 2014 levels;” but it fails to note dramatic declines in such funding over the past four decades (by almost two-thirds), while the US labor force has roughly grown in size by half.[2] It quietly acknowledges that the nearly $19B of federal funding for such programs, constituting less than one-tenth of one percent of US GDP, is a paltry sum in comparison to spending in most European Union countries on “active labor market policy” (which often falls in the range of .5 to 1 percent of GDP, above the numbers it cites), while not acknowledging how low such spending is for an American economy with 160 million workers.[3]

When reviewing evaluation evidence, the report cites a range of studies using widely respected methodologies that show more or less positive results for programs funded by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and its earlier incarnations, with many (including mine) showing positive impacts.[4] Yet the CEA concludes that “Government job training programs (with the exception of apprenticeships) appear to be largely ineffective” (p. 23), in a leap of logic that clearly runs counter to the much more mixed evidence the report provides.

When discussing the most important recent study with negative findings on training – by Fortson et al. in 2017 – the CEA report fails to highlight the evidence that intensive workforce services have positive impacts on worker earnings (of 7-20 percent, depending on the source). These results strongly imply that such services are cost-effective – while federal funding for them remains extremely modest.[5]

And, when discussing the lack of positive training impacts in the Fortson study, the CEA report omits important caveats highlighted in the study itself – like the fact that relatively few workers in the “treatment” group actually received training while many in the “control” group received it with funding from other sources – that render the lack of estimated training impacts very hard to interpret and “inconclusive,” as indicated by the authors. The CEA also ignores other well-known and rigorous studies showing impressive training impacts for adult or dislocated workers.[6]

But the most egregious aspect of the CEA report is that it completely fails to acknowledge a growing evaluation literature on highly effective “sector-based” or “career pathway” programs that show large and lasting impacts on disadvantaged worker earnings. These mostly local (though now spreading) programs – like Per Scholas, Project QUEST, the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership, the Jewish Vocational Services-Boston, and Year Up – have generated large, statistically significant earnings impacts in several randomized controlled evaluation studies.[7] It’s worth noting that these programs all make substantial investments in the skills of their participants, and work closely with employers to ensure those skills are relevant in the labor market. These results offer a strong counterpoint to the somewhat disappointing results for training in the WIOA study. Though they are not explicitly “government” programs, they have received financial support from a range of state and federal (as well as private) sources.[8]    

Given the very clear successes of these programs, a sensible policy discussion would focus on how to replicate and scale the best sector-based efforts at community colleges or other training providers with available or new federal and state funding. Instead, the CEA completely ignores this strong body of evidence on programs that work, while presenting misleading facts on federal job training funding over time and a skewed portrait of evidence on its impacts. Furthermore, the CEA report makes no evidence-informed recommendations for future policy directions in workforce development.

This report should not be taken seriously as the basis for any discussion of federal funding for workforce policy in the future.

[1] Government Employment and Training Programs: Assessing the Evidence on their Performance. The Council of Economic Advisers, Executive Office of the President, June 2019.

[2]CETA Training Programs – Do They Work for Adults? Congressional Budget Office, 1982.

[3] Such policies include training, job placement assistance, and subsidized work experience. See Chad Brown and Caroline Freund. Active Labor Market Policies: Lessons for the US. Peterson Institute for International Economics, 2019.

[4] Frederik Andersson et al. “Does Federally-Funded Job Training Work? Nonexperimental Estimates of WIA Training Impacts Using Longitudinal Data on Workers and Firms.” NBER Working Paper, 2013; and Carolyn Heinrich et al. “New Estimates of Public Employment and Training Program Net Impacts: A Nonexperimental Evaluation of the Workforce Investment Act Program.” IZA Discussion Paper, 2009. Across studies, the estimates of training impacts on earnings per quarter are in the range of $320–$887 per quarter for participants, which indicates fairly strong agreement given the varying study samples and methodologies Estimated effects of training on the probability of employment are also positive and statistically significant across a majority of studies. These estimates of employment increases range from about 5 to 29 percentage points (measured monthly or quarterly), with some differences observed between women and men, and by specific training type and time following program entry. 

[5] See Kenneth Fortson et al. Providing Public Workforce Services to Job Seekers: 30-Month Impacts Findings on the WIA Adults and Dislocated Worker Programs. Mathematica Policy Research, 2017. As the CEA notes, “Wagner-Peyser” funding for such services at over 3000 job centers across the US is under $.7B now and has changed little in recent years despite their clear cost-effectiveness. Providing intensive services increased earnings over the follow-up period by $3,300 to $7,100 (7 to 20 percent) per customer depending on the data source. The benefit-cost analyses demonstrate that providing intensive services is cost-effective from the perspectives of customers, taxpayers, and society as a whole (Fortson et al., 2017).

[6] For instance, see Louis Jacobson et al. “The Impact of Community College Retraining on Older Workers: Can We Teach Old Dogs New Tricks? Industrial and Labor Relations Review, 2005.

[7] See Anne Roder and Mark Elliott, Nine-Year Gains: Quest’s Ongoing Impact, Economic Mobility Corporation, 2018; David Fein and Jill Hamadyck, Bridging the Opportunity Divide for Low-Income Youth: Implementation and Early Impacts of the Year-Up Program, US Department of HHS, 2018; and Sheila Maguire et al. Tuning Into Local Labor Markets, PPV, 2010. To take one example, The Year Up experimental evaluation found that young adults in the treatment group saw a 53% increase in initial earnings, which remained strong over time, with 40% earnings gains two years out.

[8] Public funding sources for these programs have included WIOA (and its predecessor), federal Social Innovation Funds, and state funding for community colleges.

Posted In: Work Based Learning, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, SNAP Employment and Training
Update: JOBS Act momentum continues with House introduction

Today, Representatives Cedric Richmond (D-LA-02), Andy Levin (D-MI-09), Steven Horsford (D-NV-04), Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH-16), Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA-03), and John Katko (R-NY-24) introduced H.R. 3497, the Jumpstarting our Businesses by Supporting Students (JOBS) Act, in the House. This bipartisan legislation is identical to S.839, the Senate version of the JOBS Act, introduced by Senators Kaine (D-VA) and Portman (R-OH) earlier this year. House introduction of this bill underlines the mounting support for extending federal financial aid to short-term education and training programs of high-quality—a policy change that 86% of voters are in favor of. National Skills Coalition applauds the efforts of House and Senate sponsors of this bill and looks forward to working with policymakers on both sides of the aisle to ensure its inclusion in a comprehensive Higher Education Act reauthorization bill.

More on the JOBS Act, from our blog post recognizing the Senate introduction back in March:

Visit our action center and download our fact sheet on the JOBS Act

The bipartisan JOBS Act led by Senators Kaine (D-VA) and Portman (R-OH) would modernize our nation’s higher education system by extending needs-based federal Pell grants to students enrolling in high-quality, short-term training programs offered by community and technical colleges. In today’s economy, 80 percent of jobs require some form of education or training beyond the high school level. Additionally, over half of all jobs can be classified as “middle-skill”—meaning they require more than a high school diploma but not a college degree. This demand for skills has driven more students, including non-traditional students, into the postsecondary education system than ever before, with the goal of getting the skills they need to compete in today’s economy.

Despite this well-documented need for skills, most federal financial aid made available to postsecondary students through the Higher Education Act (HEA) is reserved for programs that are at least 600 clock hours of instruction over a minimum of 15 weeks. This policy is at odds with the realities of today’s postsecondary education landscape, where many students, including workers looking to increase their skills, seek to enroll in sub-degree programs—such as those related to pipefitting, manufacturing and the electrical trades—that can lead to industry-recognized credentials. In fact, community college leaders have pointed out that the lack of federal financial aid for quality noncredit and short-term programs is preventing them from fully meeting the needs of students and employers.

To address this inequity, Senators Kaine (D-VA) and Portman (R-OH) introduced the JOBS Act once again this Congress, which would:

  • Expand Pell grant eligibility to students enrolled in quality short-term education and training programs offered by public institutions of higher education that:
    • Are at least 150 clock hours over 8 weeks of instruction;
    • Provide training aligned with the needs of employers in a state or local area;
    • Are offered by an eligible training provider as defined by Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA);
    • Award program completers with an industry-valued credential;
    • Satisfy any applicable prerequisites for professional licensure or certification;
    • Have been evaluated by an accrediting agency for quality and student outcomes; and
    • Connect to a career pathway when applicable
Posted In: Work Based Learning, Federal Funding
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