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NSC’s new SkillSPAN will increase skills & job training opportunities for thousands in 25 states over next five years

Today, National Skills Coalition launches SkillSPAN (Skills State Policy Advocacy Network), a first-ever nationwide network of non-partisan coalitions that will bring skills and job training opportunities to thousands of people through policy changes in 25 states over the next five years.

SkillSPAN and NSC’s new Business Leaders United (BLU) state affiliate network will pass policies in the postsecondary education, workforce training, adult education, career and technical education, and safety net arenas to expand economic opportunities for workers and their families while boosting local business capacity.

We are launching this network at a critical time: skills training is a popular, bipartisan issue and many of the country’s governors ran on skills training as a critical plank in their education and economic platforms. SkillSPAN and BLU are poised to help these and other state leaders deliver on their skills training promises and address key economic challenges in their states.

SkillSPAN coalitions will include policy organizations, workforce advocates, community colleges, community-based organizations, businesses, unions, and others advocating for a shared agenda.

Ten state coalitions will join SkillSPAN in 2019, with an additional ten joining in 2020, and further growth in 2021. Fifteen states will have BLU affiliates by 2020. With an initial $3 million grant from Ballmer Group, NSC will provide grants to SkillSPAN coalitions and BLU state affiliates, along with an infrastructure to support cross-state learning and technical assistance.

Seizing an economic and political moment

Despite economic, political, and geographic differences, every state in the nation faces a common labor market challenge: jobs that require education and training beyond high school but not a bachelor’s degree make up the largest portion of the labor market; yet too few workers have access to training for these jobs, many of which pay family-supporting wages.

With unemployment at a record low and technology changing the way we work now and in the future, everyone who wants to build their skills – from people who are looking for a job to low-wage workers who want to upgrade their skills and take the next step in their career — should have the opportunity to do so. Training is important for people who want good jobs that can support their families, for businesses looking to adapt to continual industry changes, and for states whose economic growth and competitiveness depends on building a skilled and inclusive workforce.   

Across political parties and regions of the country, people have called on policy leaders to recognize this need and include skills training in education and jobs proposals. As governors and state legislators begin new terms this month, they are looking to respond.

SkillSPAN and the BLU affiliate network will provide capacity and infrastructure to seize these economic and political opportunities. In every statehouse, policymakers can support workers and businesses while strengthening the economy by investing in the skills of people – from the father who wants to train for a new career after being laid off to the young woman who wants to take on an apprenticeship instead of college debt.

As a national network, SkillSPAN will leverage the combined expertise of state coalition members and amplify their collective voices in state capitols across the nation.


Scaling what works for workers and business

SkillSPAN coalitions will advance policy changes that impact workers and businesses across a range of areas, including:

  • Protecting and increasing vital funding for successful skills training programs
  • Turning back efforts to impose work requirements in safety net programs and replacing them with polices to provide job training and supports to low‐income people, including those utilizing TANF, SNAP, and other income supports
  • Expanding apprenticeship and other forms of wage‐earning, work‐based learning, particularly for low‐income working adults and out‐of‐school youth
  • Making financial aid available to working people and creating new pathways into college programs for low‐skilled workers, along with support services
  • Helping states invest in sector partnerships so that participating companies—particularly small‐ and medium‐sized businesses— inform training and higher education efforts connected to their industry
  • Creating new opportunities for low‐wage workers with limited basic or English skills to acquire these skills in partnership with their employers, as well as local schools, community organizations, community colleges and unions
  • Expanding state data systems and publicly-available data tools so that policymakers and the public can know which programs place people in jobs and raise their incomes

Across these issues, SkillSPAN coalitions will work to ensure that policy changes advance racial equity in the workforce.

Inaugural coalitions

In 2019, coalitions in 10 states will join SkillSPAN. Despite a wide range of political and policy environments, these states share a need for comprehensive policies that secure a skilled workforce and a strong economic future for all residents. NSC has selected a nonprofit organization to lead each state coalition. The 2019 states and coalition lead organizations are:

  • California: California EDGE Coalition
  • Georgia: Georgia Budget & Policy Institute
  • Illinois: Chicago Jobs Council
  • Indiana: Indiana Institute for Working Families
  • Iowa: United Way of Central Iowa
  • Massachusetts: SkillWorks
  • Michigan: United Way for Southeast Michigan
  • North Carolina: North Carolina Justice Center
  • Tennessee: Complete Tennessee
  • Washington state

As they work to advance skills policies, SkillSPAN coalitions will leverage the voice of businesses in their states through NSC’s new BLU state affiliate network. In March 2019, National Skills Coalition will announce the members of that network in partnership with the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives. BLU is supported by NSC and National Fund for Workforce Solutions, and includes businesses from a range of industries who are working with local partners to train and hire residents for skilled jobs, or upskill their existing workforce, and who want policymakers to follow their lead and invest in workers’ skills. By working in partnership on shared agenda items, SkillSPAN coalitions and BLU affiliates will achieve policy wins for workers, businesses, and the economy.

Posted In: Massachusetts, Michigan, California, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, North Carolina, Tennessee, 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
NSC announces Work-Based Learning Academy state teams

National Skills Coalition is pleased to announce the five state teams that have been selected to participate in our 2018-2019 Work-Based Learning Academy: Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Oklahoma, and Washington. Through the Academy, state teams will advance state policies to expand work-based learning opportunities for low-income communities. Teams will work together with faculty advisors and participate in peer-to-peer learning.

Work-based learning helps workers build new skills while earning a paycheck. Through work-based learning models like apprenticeship, the skills that workers build can translate into higher wages and industry-recognized credentials. Work-based learning is an issue of increasing interest among state policy leaders, spurred by federal investment, attention to apprenticeship by the previous and current Presidential administrations, and state-level technical assistance projects. While some states have adopted policies to support apprenticeship, few have policies aimed at expanding work-based learning opportunities for low-income adults and out-of-school youth. Expanding work-based learning to these communities would allow low-wage workers to advance to good jobs and help employers train a skilled workforce.

Some state teams will work on state programs to support work-based learning intermediaries. Intermediaries can help employers establish apprenticeship and work-based learning programs; they also serve as the connection point between business, education and training programs, and workers to streamline services and increase capacity to serve more people. Other teams will focus on state polices to provide support services, like childcare, transportation, and career navigation, to help people succeed in work-based learning.

The selected five state teams are:

  • Connecticut 
    • Connecticut Business and Industry Association’s Education and Workforce Partnership
    • Connecticut Department of Labor
    • Capital Workforce Partners
    • Connecticut State Colleges and University System
    • Connecticut Technical Education and Career System


  • Illinois
    • Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership
    • Associated Builders and Contractors
    • Young Invincibles
    • Chicago Jobs Council
    • Harold Washington College


  • Indiana
    • Indiana Institute for Working Families
    • Indiana Department of Workforce Development
    • REAL Services Inc.
    • United Way of Howard County
    • Indiana Family and Social Services Administration


  • Oklahoma
    • Oklahoma Office of Workforce Development
    • Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy
    • Dell
    • Oklahoma City Black Chamber of Commerce
    • Oklahoma Association of Community Action Agencies


  • Washington
    • Washington State Department of Social and Health Services
    • Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges
    • Construction Center of Excellence

Teams will be partnered with faculty advisors who are experienced in their field of interest. The Academy’s faculty advisors are:

  • Earl Buford, Partner4Work
  • Susan Crane, SkillUp Washington
  • Mark Kessenich, Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership
  • Pat Steele, Central Iowa Works
  • Matt Williams, Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative

The Work-Based Learning Academy will begin with a kick-off event in Milwaukee, WI on June 5-6, which will include a site visit at Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership. The Academy will run from June 2018 – June 2019. If you are interested in learning more about the Academy or NSC’s work on work-based learning in the states, please contact state network manager Rachel Hirsch at

Posted In: Work-Based Learning, Washington, Oklahoma, Indiana, Illinois, Connecticut
Department of Education calls for second round of applications for Performance Partnership Pilots

On April 26, the Department of Education announced the availability of funding for the second round of up to 10 Performance Partnership Pilots (P3s) to develop innovative strategies to engage and improve outcomes for youth who are out of school and not working. The P3 program provides these partnerships with flexibility in spending funds from the departments of Education, Labor, Health and Human Services and Justice, and Housing and Urban Development. The flexibility is meant to encourage better alignment and integration in spending funds at the state and local level.

Pilots that target disconnected youth living in communities that have experienced civil unrest, rural communities, Promise Zones, in one or more Indian tribes, and who have significant barriers to education and employment such as youth with disabilities, those living in neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty or those involved in the justice system will be given priority. Partnerships are also given priority under the request for applications if they provide disconnected youth with work-based learning opportunities.

Under the first round of the P3 initiative, pilots were launched in the following areas:

  • Baton Rouge, Louisiana
  • Broward County, Florida
  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Indianapolis, Indiana
  • Los Angeles, California
  • The State of Oklahoma
  • Seattle, Washington
  • Southeastern Kentucky, including Bell, Clay, Harlan, Knox, Leslie, Letcher, and Perry Counties
  • Ysleta del Sur Pueblo

Applications for this second round will be accepted through June 27, 2016 and a call for a third round of applications is anticipated in the next few months. 

Posted In: Federal Funding, Florida, California, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Washington

Data Transforms Workforce Policy

  ·   By Rachel Zinn,
Data Transforms Workforce Policy

This post originally appeared on the Workforce Data Quality Campaign (WDQC) website. Click here to learn more about WDQC.

Local and national leaders shared examples of how they are using data to improve workforce development during a national conference last week at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

The multi-day conference, sponsored by the Atlanta and Kansas City Federal Reserve Banks and the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers, included two panels focused on data, research and evaluation. Workforce Data Quality Campaign Director Rachel Zinn moderated a session titled “Intelligent Workforce Development Systems,” which featured:

  • Amanda Cage, National Skills Coalition Leadership Council member and Director of Strategic Initiatives and Policy at the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership. Amanda explained how Chicago is setting up an integrated data system to simplify data collection and reporting across workforce programs. Key lessons from developing the system include the need for: state and local champions of the project, common performance metrics for programs and funders, and a shared vision for the data system that takes into account the needs of front-line staff.
  • David Berman, Director of Program Management and Policy at the New York City Center for Economic Opportunity, who discussed how his organization uses data to build all types of evidence about service effectiveness, ranging from performance outcomes to evaluations with randomized control trials. CEO’s dashboard tools allow its front-line staff to view the data they report in formats that help them better assist their clients.
  • William Mabe, Director of Reseach and Evaluation at the Heldrich Center, who suggested ways the workforce system can improve its use of data, including the refinement of analytic models that predict individuals’ service needs and more use of geospatial data. The Newark Workforce Investment Board looked at mapping of geographic data on occupational training participants and unemployment rates to guide its customer outreach strategies.

Another panel moderated by Demetra Nightingale, chief evaluation officer at the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), explored ways that data can help policymakers and students make good decisions. Demetra noted a DOL clearinghouse on labor research and said the agency is working on multiple studies to determine how to effectively present data so students and workers choose high-quality training that leads to employment.

Posted In: Illinois, Workforce Data Quality Campaign
Sen. Durbin Visits Job Training Center: Lessons in Cultivating Policymaker Champions

On September 30, 2014, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) visited Jane Addams Resource Corporation (JARC) at their new training facility in Addison, IL. Senator Durbin toured the facility and spoke with several trainees to learn more about their struggles to find good jobs while supporting themselves and their families. He also spoke with staff to better understand how JARC is preparing unemployed, low-income and disadvantaged jobseekers in Chicago’s western suburbs for good-paying jobs in manufacturing.

Senator Durbin has been an outspoken advocate for job-driven training and workforce development efforts, but this has not happened on its own. JARC, along with other key stakeholders in Illinois, has done a tremendous job of keeping their congressional delegation informed and educated on Illinois’ middle-skill gap, the innovative training practices and partnerships they’ve developed to impact this challenge, and key ways federal policy can better support the state’s workers and employers. By coordinating site visits (this was Senator Durbin’s second visit to JARC in the last five years), meeting with staff on the Hill (Guy Loudon, Executive Director of JARC, has been a regular visitor to the Hill through the NSC Skills Summit), and maintaining ongoing formal and informal conversations with local and DC staff, JARC keeps their members of Congress informed and in the loop.

NSC encourages all of our partners to maintain active engagement with policymakers. It’s one of the only methods that we as a field have to cultivate true champions on the Hill that understand the importance of job-driven training. These champions will work at the federal and state level to ensure that effective strategies and measured investments are embedded in the framework of all training and education policy.

If you’re looking for ways to frame the message with your own policymakers, check out the Middle-Skill Jobs Fact Sheet for your state. We also facilitate regular calls with partners in the field and the staff of their members of Congress; if this is something in which you’d be interested, feel free to reach out to Ashley Shaw, our Field Coordinator. And if you have employer partners that can speak passionately on pipeline challenges and collaborative solutions, consider connecting them with Business Leaders United. Together we can continue to elevate what’s working and change what isn’t.

Photo Credit: Jane Addams Resource Corporation

Posted In: Illinois, Business Leaders United

Leadership Spotlight: Guy Loudon

  ·   By Yuri Chang
Leadership Spotlight: Guy Loudon

Guy Loudon is the Executive Director of the Jane Addams Resource Corporation, a center for working families based in Chicago, Illinois. JARC has been an active Skills Summit attendee since 2008 and was recently selected to be featured in the White House’s Ready to Work Action Plan as an exemplary job-training and workforce development program. Guy joined NSC last week at the White House to attend the President’s signing of WIOA.

In the interview below, Guy discusses how involvement with NSC has helped to advance JARC’s mission. He also shares his take on the evolution of workforce development and best practices learned from his work in the field.

Can you tell us a little about your professional background and how you came to focus on workforce development?

Prior to joining JARC in 1995, I worked in the manufacturing sector as a machinist and also worked as a GED instructor. I then went on to join JARC as a manufacturing trades instructor for our worker training programs. The position allowed me to combine my love of machining with my love of teaching; it was a life-changing opportunity for me. When I first started at JARC, we were launching incumbent worker training programs in partnership with manufacturing employers. From there, we went on to develop job training and employment programs for unemployed adults. The timing and the context were neat; JARC was in its infancy but we were already viewed as a pioneering leader in the emerging sectoral approach to job training and workforce development. Even though I was very young, I was aware of being a part of an emerging trend in workforce that was very important, and we all felt like we were part of a learning community.

What has been your more significant accomplishment as executive director of JARC?

Right now it’s a very exciting time to be at JARC; we just finished up a successful strategic plan focused on organizational growth. We managed to grow significantly but remain very true to our mission and values by focusing on quality, synergy and sustainability—we stressed those themes over and over from every perspective - programmatic, operational, etc. In fact, we’re a better organization today. In our new strategic plan we are significantly scaling our impact through a combination of strategies including geographic expansion, replication with strategic partners, and even growing vertically in our existing training facility.

You were present at the WIOA signing at the White House. What was that experience like, and how do you expect JARC will be affected by the reauthorization?

It was very exciting being at the White House! One of my impressions of the event was how the President and the other officials seemed to be in such a light mood. For the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act to pass by such a landslide, in comparison to the usual lack of bipartisanship, it was great thing to witness. The overwhelming majority of votes from both parties really shows that workforce development is a bipartisan issue. It confirms that businesses as well as low-income workers are all very concerned about skills training and workforce development.

Since I’ve been doing this work with National Skills Coalition, I’ve seen a total evolution in the conversation about the important of workforce development. The passage of WIOA really signals that the workforce training is starting to get the attention it deserves on the Hill. For years, workforce development was in the defensive mode, which was not exactly the best environment for putting forward new ideas. The content of the new law as well as the spirit of the Vice President’s commission all point to the idea that our nation’s workforce efforts need to be aligned with skill and opportunity in the labor market. This validation allows JARC to really focus on training people and putting them into jobs that are aligned with employer demand.

How has JARC’s strategies changed and developed throughout the years?

JARC has made a number of significant, pioneering innovations in the area of job training and employment services. We run our job training programs like a simulated work environment, and the curriculum is structured around industry credentials. It’s based on an open-entry, open-exit policy which allows real-time job training and employment services for the job seekers, a real-time pull system for the employer, and increases capacity for the workforce system. Another change is that ARC now provides bundled financial support services, including income supports and financial coaching. With these bundled support services, our participants not only get jobs but are also moving toward self-sufficiency by paying off debt, improving credit scores and opening bank accounts.

When did JARC get involved with NSC? How has your partnership with NSC helped to support JARC’s work?

JARC’s involvement with NSC actually goes back to my predecessor, Ray Prendergast, who first attended NSC’s Skills Summit in 2008. JARC initially got involved with NSC because it wanted to start advocating for workforce development, from the national, state and local levels. JARC continues to advocate for best practices to make sure our workforce system is relevant and high-performing, and NSC continues to be an effective space to operate in carrying out that mission. JARC also actively participates in the Illinois delegation at NSC’s annual Skills Summit. The Illinois delegation—which includes the Chicago Jobs Council, City Colleges of Chicago, and several other workforce organizations—is experienced, well-rounded and effective at going out on the Hill and talking about workforce issues. Through NSC, we can promote best practices from our on-the-ground experience in areas such as bridge programming, sectoral strategies, strategic partnerships with industry, and industry certifications.

Posted In: Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act Implementation, Illinois

New WDQC report and e-news.

  ·   By Rachel Zinn,

This post originally appeared on the Workforce Data Quality Campaign (WDQC) website. Click here to learn more about WDQC.

Today, WDQC is releasing a report, Credential Data Pioneers: Forging New Partnerships to Measure Certifications and Licenses, which highlights states and schools that have taken steps to broker data-sharing agreements with certification bodies and licensing agencies in order to better understand the attainment and value of selected non-degree credentials.

The report focuses on case studies from the states of Indiana, Illinois, North Carolina and California that illustrate partnerships at various stages of implementation.

WDQC will host a webinar on Tuesday, April 22, 2014 at 2:00 p.m. ET to discuss the case studies highlighted in the publication and how other states and schools can use those examples to help inform their own non-degree credential tracking efforts.

Today also marks the launch of the new bimonthly WDQC e-newsletter, which will provide a summary of our reports, presentations and other activities. Sign up here to receive future e-newsletters in your inbox.

Posted In: Data and Credentials, Indiana, Illinois, California, North Carolina, Workforce Data Quality Campaign

On December 2, Illinois advocates, led by Women Employed, a member of National Skills Coalition, scored a huge victory for low-income students. Despite the pronounced state budget deficit, advocates fought for and won the reinstatement of $33.5 million back into the Monetary Award Program (MAP) for the current academic year. The additional funding covers both the initial cut of $17.2 million under the Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 state budget passed in May and raises the program’s overall appropriation by $20 million from previous years.

MAP is Illinois’ signature financial aid program, and is often heralded as a model for other states because it is open to non-traditional students, including working adults and those attending less-than-half time. Eligible participants must attend approved Illinois colleges and demonstrate financial need, based on the information provided on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The program is often seen as the essential glue for helping students enroll and finish postsecondary education programs because it fills in the gaps left behind after federal financial aid has been used.

Women Employed used a powerful mix of organizing and advocacy strategies to bring MAP funding to fruition. Mobilizing students who depend on MAP and getting them in front of policymakers was a vital component. The organization’s Student Advocates for Success (SAS) program provides community college students with tools and resources to advocate on their own behalf for financial aid funding. The students wrote hundreds of letters to legislators, sharing how cuts to MAP would force them to drop out or take fewer classes. Face to face meetings with lawmakers at their district offices were also crucial. And the use of new media in conjunction with traditional action alerts also kept the pressure on legislators to reverse the cuts. Action alerts and emails sent by constituents to legislators included a link to a video of students who talked about the impacts of the cuts. 

“Ultimately, it was these student voices that inspired legislators into action. Not just any students carried the message. Women Employed specifically enlisted students who were in school, benefiting from MAP, and in danger of dropping out or cutting back if their financial awards were curtailed. This strategy ultimately got lawmakers to see past the budget numbers to the education aspirations of these students,” remarked Sarah Labadie, Policy Associate for the organization.

An urgent message, a variety of strategies to get the message out, and compelling messengers saved MAP, and most likely, these students’ futures too.


Posted In: Higher Education Access, Illinois