By Laura Walling, GII senior director of government affairs, advocacy & legislative affairs
I recently had the opportunity to attend the annual Skills in the States Forum for Policy, Advocacy, and Impact convened by the National Skills Coalition. It was refreshing to leave Washington, DC to learn more about the ways in which businesses, colleges, unions, researchers, and service providers are working together in state capitols across the country to shape skills training policies. I was inspired to hear directly from individuals who have received skills training which put them on a career pathway. The forum also provided an opportunity to connect with several representatives from local Goodwill® organizations around the country who are part networks looking to expand skills training opportunities for thousands of individuals through state policy changes.
Why is this work important? Jobs that require skills training beyond high school are essential to the American economy. As our nations’ workers are looking for opportunities to get ahead, we need skills training that reflect people’s career aspirations and their desire to compete in the changing workforce and succeed in the economy – while meeting the needs of employers. With more than 93% of voters signifying support for an increased investment in skills training and education, it is in the interest of elected officials to take these issues to heart as a priority for their communities.
Racial equity was another theme throughout the forum as by 2050, most of the U.S. workforce will be people of color, including a significant and growing share of immigrants. Candid conversations where had in formal sessions and the halls, noting how public policy decisions have played a role in creating racial inequities in education, employment, and income. As we look to advance policies that that create opportunity for all, we need workforce policies that proactively advance racial equity to be an integral part of the solution.
Legislation often moves more quickly at the state and local level than at the national level where partisan bickering of late seems to be slowing down progress. However, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) which establishes many programs for our nation’s workforce system is due for Congressional reauthorization soon. Goodwill Industries International will be at the table as federal lawmakers examine what is working well within WIOA and where skills training policies can be improved, and we’ll be drawing upon the experiences of local Goodwill organizations and lessons learning in convenings like these forum to help inform the conversations.