20 Years
of Changing Policies
That Change Lives

Gratitude and
a Call to Action

We hope you feel inspired by and connected to the 20 years of our coalition's impact chronicled in this retrospective. But our coalition has a much bigger history to confront moving forward. We hope you'll join us.

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Who We Are

Jobs that require skills training are the backbone of our economy. National Skills Coalition fights for a national commitment to inclusive, high-quality skills training so that more people have access to a better life, and more local businesses see sustained growth.

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Our Impact

In our first 20 years, we've shaped, won, and helped implement hundreds of policies. These policies have helped to change lives and put people on a path to better jobs. They've helped local businesses grow, create new jobs, and build local economies.

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Our Approach is Our Impact

Our coalition has been effective in changing policies that change lives because of how we do our work. We believe that how we do the work matters:

We've organized and mobilized networks.

We've organized and mobilized tens of thousands of network members who've engaged thousands of policymakers to advance these proposals.

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We've changed the conversation.

We've leveraged public support for skills training to change the conversation about skills in the press and with policymakers.

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We've tackled some of the biggest issues facing our nation and world.

We've rejected policy silos in order to tackle some of the biggest issues facing our nation and world.

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We've responded to crises.

We've been ready to respond when our country is in crisis.

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20 Years
of Changing Policies that Change Lives

NSC was founded as The Workforce Alliance by local practitioners training workers for good jobs.

A Movement is Born

Imagining a different future for America’s workers and employers.

In the late 1990s, federal policymakers established a new framework for disinvesting in America’s people. Now, programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Workforce Investment Act would be driven by a single goal: Rapidly moving people into dead-end, low-paying jobs, while gutting opportunities to train for family supporting careers. Leaders in communities across the country had built innovative, effective training strategies, often despite poorly designed public policy.

But when Congress put forward these punitive, destructive restrictions, they had no organized voice in Washington to fight back. And the consequences were devastating for local workers, businesses, and economies. Out of this crisis, National Skills Coalition was born. A group of leaders from business, labor, community organizations, community colleges, and workforce boards came together in 1998 to imagine a different future for America’s workers and local businesses. Together, they began to chart a new national course for investing in people.

Governor Hickenlooper signs the Skills for Jobs Act as members of NSC's Colorado coalition look on.

Building a Base in the States

Laying the groundwork for a national network of state coalitions.

From the beginning, NSC’s movement to invest in people straddled state capitals and Capitol Hill. Early on, we built a team of organizers to bring together state-based coalitions representing business, labor, colleges, community organizations and the public sector. NSC helped these coalitions craft bi-partisan policy agendas to support and scale their successful local workforce strategies. And NSC supported them in advocating for this agenda with state policymakers.

Two successful organizing drives during Iowa and California’s 2004 gubernatorial races positioned new coalitions in these states to shape skills policy proposals with their incoming governors and state legislatures. And our regionally focused organizing efforts led to state workforce policy coalitions racking up policy wins throughout the Midwest and New England. This was just the beginning of what would become a network of state-based coalitions spanning more than half the country.

Andy Van Kleunen and Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, ask Congress to follow the state's lead and expand Pell grants to working adults.

Making College Work

Crafting higher education policies that work for working people.

Our nation’s higher education policies were first developed to support young, full-time students living on campus with their parents’ financial support. Fast forward fifty years and 70 percent of today’s undergraduates break this mold. Today’s students are more likely to be financially independent, over 25, working, or parenting. Early on, NSC saw this trend and knew our higher education policies had to change to reflect the new traditional student and the accelerated need for lifelong reskilling due to changing technologies. That’s why NSC helped shape and build support for Senator Hillary Clinton’s Nontraditional Student Success Act in 2004. Since then, we’ve worked with our networks to shape state postsecondary policy and to develop four major pieces of bi-partisan federal legislation that would actually make college work for working people. Thanks to relentless advocacy by our networks, all four bills are poised for adoption in the next reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.


A Path Back from Katrina

Supporting locally driven solutions to rebuild the Gulf Coast workforce.

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita wreaked havoc throughout the Gulf Coast, leaving businesses devastated and tens of thousands of people without homes or jobs. While policymakers in Washington, D.C., Baton Rouge, Jackson and Montgomery were focused on how to re-build the area’s infrastructure, few were talking about how to re-build the workforce—the true economic engine that could ultimately drive the Gulf Coast’s rebirth. With local partners, NSC assessed the long-term investments needed in the region’s workforce as part of rebuilding its economic base. With the release of Workforce (Re)Development in the Gulf Coast: An Agenda for Action, NSC offered a plan to invest in the skills, education, and basic needs of local workers—and in the industries that wanted to develop good jobs. And NSC supported its partners to advocate for the agenda in their state capitals and Washington, D.C.


Hitting the Campaign Trail

Changing policies requires changing the conversation.

In 2007, our national education conversation was driven by the notion that a real career required a four-year degree. NSC’s Skills2Compete campaign leveraged the 2008 presidential election cycle to change that narrative, shining a spotlight on jobs that require skills training. With the strength of our coalition’s advocacy and strategic media saturation, we saw a shift from candidate Obama’s call for college for all on the campaign trail, to a newly elected President Obama’s acknowledgement of the dignity and value of skilled careers. In his 2009 joint address to Congress, the President asked every American to commit to at least one year or more of postsecondary education or training including vocational training or an apprenticeship. With the new shift in the nation’s education conversations, NSC worked with the President over the next eight years to ensure equitable opportunities to answer his call to action.


Creating Jobs, Tackling Climate Change

Making the case for an inclusive, clean energy workforce.

Our nation’s efforts to address climate change can create new jobs in the clean energy sector. But equitable access to those jobs is not a given. In 2008, as Congress considered legislation to spark clean energy shifts, NSC called for investments in training local workers – particularly women and people of color – for the jobs that would be created. With Center on Wisconsin Strategy and Apollo Alliance, NSC released Greener Pathways, an agenda for investing in an inclusive, clean energy workforce. But we didn’t just recommend solutions. We leveraged our local partners’ expertise to shape and pass the Pathways out of Poverty provisions of the Green Jobs Act, investing in supports and training for local workers to access clean energy jobs. The Green Jobs Act inspired states to develop and advocate for similar initiatives, and NSC was there to support initiatives in New York, California, Massachusetts, and Washington State.

Members of NSC's networks meet with President Obama about workforce investments.

A Path Back from the Great Recession

Influencing one of the largest infusions of federal workforce dollars in decades.

In 2009, a new President and Congress raced to respond to an economy in freefall from the subprime mortgage crisis. With a speed rarely seen in Washington, D.C., the President signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act less than a month after his inauguration. Because NSC’s Leadership Council presented recommendations for putting people at the center of recovery to the President’s transition team, our coalition helped shape one of the largest infusions of federal workforce dollars in decades. Later that year, when persistent unemployment forced the White House to consider additional measures, NSC’s CEO Andy Van Kleunen joined President Obama’s televised Forum on Jobs and Economic Growth, kicking off the Preparing Workers and Strengthening Main Street workgroup. NSC and our networks were positioned to shape the administration’s response over the next 8 years including the 2014 White House Ready to Work initiative and the direction of White House investments.

NSC's national ad campaign targets congressional appropriators.

A Network Inside the Beltway

Defending billions of dollars in workforce investments over the last two decades.

Until 2010, national organizations representing various skills programs had rarely engaged in joint funding advocacy, putting the workforce development field at a disadvantage compared to other constituencies that had well resourced, jointly staffed coalitions coordinating their budget advocacy efforts. That year, NSC launched the Campaign to Invest in America’s Workforce (CIAW). Comprised of 34 national organizations, CIAW has influenced congressional appropriators and the White House through joint research, press conferences, congressional briefings, paid advertising campaigns, and national coordinated congressional site visits with employers and training providers. Year after year, CIAW has been a part of successful efforts to block draconian cuts to workforce and education programs, impacting thousands of local workers and employers. In 2018 alone, CIAW defended over $2 billion in workforce and education funding from proposed cuts, saving services for 600,000 individuals.

NSC and partners launch Business Leaders United at Clinton Global Initiative America.

Mobilizing the Business Voice

Helping small business partner with policymakers to solve workforce challenges.

Small and mid-sized employers account for half of U.S. jobs, but without an organized voice, they struggle to have their unique needs reflected in workforce and education policy. At the 2011 Clinton Global Initiative America, NSC launched Business Leaders United for Workforce Partnerships (BLU), a network of local business leaders advocating for a national skills strategy. Led by an executive committee of local employers, BLU has provided a platform for thousands of business leaders in 34 states to communicate to state and federal policymakers, the press, and the public about the effective industry-based strategies they’ve developed which could serve as models for skills policy. BLU members have met with presidents, vice presidents, cabinet secretaries, and congressional leaders, shaping major legislation and White House grant initiatives. Now with seven formal state affiliates, BLU is making the case for state policymakers to partner with local employers by investing in training and supports for local workers.

Governor O'Malley launches Skills2Compete-Maryland.

Grabbing Governors’ Attention

Driving a campaign to engage elected officials at the highest level.

Between 2007 and 2012, NSC’s 15 state Skills2Compete campaigns achieved over 30 policy wins including new state funding for local sector partnerships, career pathway initiatives, and efforts to improve workforce data and accountability. The ability of the Skills2Compete campaign to capture the attention of Governors contributed to many of these wins. In 2010, NSC worked with partners in six states to put skills squarely on the radar of gubernatorial candidates during the election cycle through televised gubernatorial forums, editorial board tours, and coalition meetings with campaign staff. And new Governors embraced the campaign vision. For example, in Maryland, Governor O’Malley took ownership of the Skills2Compete-Marlyand brand, setting a new statewide goal for moving a greater percentage of Maryland residents to at least two years of education or training past high school.


Rallying for Data

Recognizing the importance of data since day one.

Data matters. Our coalition has recognized this since day one. Policymakers need data that tells them if their investments in skills are building a more inclusive workforce and helping businesses grow. Workers need data to know if a training program is worth their time and investment. Business leaders need data to know which training programs are preparing workers effectively. And training programs need data to constantly improve. It sounds straightforward, but for too long, this data hasn’t been available. In 2013, NSC launched the Workforce Data Quality Campaign, organizing national partners and state leaders to grow awareness and momentum around the moral and economic imperative of good data. Since then, NSC has worked with advocates, practitioners, and state and federal officials to develop smart data policies, systems and tools that tell us if we’re skilling our workforce and if we’re doing it in an equitable, inclusive way.

NSC members advocate for sector partnerships with Vice President Biden.

No More Train and Pray

Making industry partnerships central to our nation’s workforce investments.

Workforce training was once based on an ineffective model: Train workers and pray the jobs come. The local practitioners who founded NSC rejected this approach. They built partnerships with local employers, labor, community organizations, colleges, and workforce boards to train residents for good jobs. Evaluations showed these sector partnerships led to better pay, benefits, and advancement for workers and higher productivity for companies. But without dedicated support, sector partnerships couldn’t grow beyond a few communities. In 2008, NSC helped create the SECTORS Act to scale this model throughout our nation’s workforce system. Thanks to our coalition’s advocacy, six years later, the SECTORS Act became part of the newly reauthorized Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, setting a new framework for states to formally end train and pray in favor of this locally driven, nationally evaluated model. In addition, NSC successfully advocated for sector partnerships as the cornerstone of Obama Administration’s workforce initiatives.


A Skills Strategy for Immigration Reform

Charting pathways to opportunity on the pathway to citizenship.

Immigration reform is one of the most important employment policy debates facing our nation. But for years, talk of skill development and career pathways was absent from the conversation even as most immigration reform proposals included language, education, and employment mandates. NSC worked with national immigration groups, those in our coalition who serve immigrant populations, and nationally recognized worker centers to develop a policy strategy that could ensure immigrants and U.S.-born citizens impacted by immigration reform have opportunities to build the skills employers need. NSC organized a coalition of national immigration organizations to advocate for this agenda with the Obama administration and Congress, shaping administrative guidance and adding skills training to the educational pathways to citizenship within DREAM Act proposals. These advocates came together again to fight the Trump administration’s Public Charge rule, and NSC’s technical assistance helped organizations continue education and workforce services despite a confusing policy landscape.


Facing the Future of Work

Organizing a national policy response to a future of work that is already here.

The future of work is here. At least 60 percent of today’s jobs will be impacted by new technologies, and workers will require new skills if they are going to work with advanced digital, automated, or intelligent tools. Other jobs are likely to be eliminated entirely. The COVID-19 pandemic only accelerated this structural shift in our labor market. NSC has tackled this shift head on, with extensive analysis of digital literacy in the workforce and polling of business leaders and voters to understand their views on automation and the future of work. We’ve leveraged this information to organize national partners in the business, technology, labor, civil rights, and education sectors to develop a national policy response that recognizes the crucial role of skills training in preparing our nation for a future of work that has arrived.

Members of SkillSPAN meet for the first time in Atlanta, Georgia.

Next Level State Networks

Formalizing a first-ever, funded network of state workforce policy coalitions

From our earliest days, NSC organized state coalitions to develop and advocate for inclusive skills policy. In 2019, NSC formalized this foundational element of our strategy, launching SkillSPAN, a first-ever national network of 25 non-partisan coalitions focused on advancing state skills policies. With financial support and technical assistance from NSC, SkillSPAN coalitions include policy and research organizations, community-based organizations, businesses, unions, community colleges, workforce boards, state and local agencies, and others advocating for a shared agenda. SkillSPAN leverages the combined expertise of state coalition members and amplifies their collective voices in state capitols across the nation. In its first two years, SkillSPAN coalitions recorded over 29 policy wins that expand economic opportunities for workers while boosting local businesses’ capacity.

Panel of workers and businesses at the launch of Voices for Skills.

Raising Worker Voices for Skills

Leveraging broad grassroots support for investing in people.

For almost two decades, NSC’s public opinion research continually showed us one thing: strong support for skills training as a public policy priority among working people across party lines. To leverage this broad, grassroots support, NSC launched Voices for Skills, a campaign to raise the voices of working people to educate policymakers about popular support for skills training. In the first year, Voices for Skills brought in 40,000 new activists and brought the stories of working people to life through videos, stories and media appearances. In 2019, Voices for Skills’ advocacy moved beyond the virtual world as NSC brought working people into Washington, D.C. and state capitals across the country to share the impact that skills training and related supports had on their lives. Voices for Skills advocates are making visible the strong support for skills training among working people in local communities across the nation.


A Roadmap for Racial Equity

Getting explicit about racial equity and workforce development.

The U.S. has perpetuated racial economic disparities through decades of policies that create and maintain structural inequities, including those that have shaped postsecondary education and training. In 2019, NSC invited leaders from our network to join a new Racial Equity National Advisory Panel, which in turn guided the crafting of The Roadmap for Racial Equity: An imperative for workforce advocates. The Roadmap laid the groundwork for NSC to develop tools and internal capacity to bring a more intentional racial equity lens to our organizing, policy development and advocacy efforts. It also became a resource for a growing number of organizations, policymakers, and advocates in NSC’s network to support their own efforts to apply a racial equity lens to their work.

Read CEO Andy Van Kleunen’s statement on racial equity.

NSC shared polling with members of the press as a sponsor of the Iowa Caucuses media filing center.

Cutting Through Election Noise

Leveraging public opinion to turn political influencers into skills champions.

Since its founding, NSC used the visibility of election cycles to highlight voter support for skills training. And 2020 was no different. NSC leveraged public opinion to turn political influencers into champions for skills training as an economic priority. NSC polled voters and business leaders nationally and in key 2020 states to understand their priorities. We shared our analysis, policy agenda, polling, and video storytelling with candidates and policymakers. We amplified the voices of workers and their employers with the press nationally and in key states, including as a sponsor of the media filing center at the Iowa Caucuses. And we organized tens of thousands of petition signers calling on presidential debate moderators to #askaboutskills. Over the course of the primary election cycle, the importance of skills training made it into the stump speeches and agendas of a number of candidates.


Our Vision for the Future

Mobilizing all of our networks toward an inclusive economic recovery.

As the nation went into lockdown to stop the coronavirus, it became immediately clear that the pandemic and its economic consequences were disproportionately impacting workers of color and immigrants, workers with a high school degree or less, and small businesses. NSC immediately got to work documenting the impacts of the overnight economic fallout. Through our Skilled America Podcast, we shared the stories of employers, workers, and training providers responding to the crisis and their ideas for policymakers. We polled voters to understand the solutions they needed. And we mobilized our networks to demand those solutions. In September 2020, we released Skills for an Inclusive Economic Recovery, a framework for our state and federal policy work over the next two years. And we immediately began mobilizing our national network, state network, business network (BLU), and worker network (Voices for Skills) to make this framework for a more inclusive future, a reality.


Thank You

Donors, advocates, and supporters like you made each of these milestones possible. Your support will shape National Skills Coalition for the next 20 years of progress.
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