Upskill America: More Education and Training for Front-line Workers

YouTube video of Vice President Speaking at Upskill

Remarks by Vice President Biden at the March 24, 2015 Upskill Summit.

On April 24, the White House convened nearly 200 employers, labor leaders, foundations, non-profits, educators, workforce leaders and technologists who are answering the President’s call to action to join his Upskill Initiative, a new campaign to help workers of all ages and backgrounds earn a shot at better, higher-paying jobs. The Upskill Initiative is a public-private effort to create clear pathways for the over 20 million workers in front-line jobs who may too often lack the skills or opportunity to progress into higher-paying jobs, and realize their full potential.

Since the President’s call to action in January, the Upskill Initiative has already made significant progress with an initial set of partners and resources already on board:

  • Over 100 leading employers – representing more than 5 million workers – and 30 national and local labor unions answering the President’s call to action
  • Coalition of 10 national business networks partnering together to form Upskill America
  • New tools and resources for workers and employers

Last week’s White House Summit is just the beginning for the Upskill campaign. As the President and Vice President have highlighted, the Initiative’s success will require much more: Employers and labor leaders, philanthropists and tech innovators, educators and workforce leaders, and more committed to unlocking the potential of every American worker.

What is adult education’s role in the Upskill Initiative?

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Job-Driven Training: Next Steps

“This [work] is really about the future of the middle class.” That is how U.S. Secretary of Labor Perez framed the work of The Skills Working Group (Work Group), earlier this week. Secretary Perez brought Cabinet members together to talk about how the Administration can make sure that everyone has the skills they need to get a job or get ahead. Members of the Work Group identified priorities and projects to focus their joint work. They discussed how best to maintain a national focus on skills and maintain interagency collaboration on skills beyond 2016.

In November 2014, Perez launched the Work Group, an effort to keep the momentum of the Job-Driven Training Initiative. This initiative is making sure that youth and adults leaving our education and training programs have the skills businesses need. Thirteen federal agencies, the White House National Economic Council, and the Office of Management and Budget make up the Work Group including the departments of Labor, Education, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, Transportation, Energy, Defense, Justice, Interior, and the Social Security Administration. The Work Group coordinates activities across these various agencies.

Overview of Job-Driven Training Milestones:

Jan. 2014 State of the Union: President Obama announces Job-Driven Training initiative and asks Vice President Biden to lead a federal government wide review of job training programs.

Feb-Jun 2014 Job-Driven Training Review: White House and agencies develop job-driven checklist and review job-training programs across 13 agencies.

July 2014 Ready to Work Job Driven Training Initiative Report: White House releases job-driven training report with the results of the job-driven review and an action plan for moving forward, including:

  • Steps to make competitive and formula program more “job-driven”
  • Collaborative efforts across agencies to better align systems, braid funding, and enhance coordination
  • A call to action around long-term unemployment, upskilling, and tech hiring

Nov. 2014 Skills Working Group Launched: Launch of the interagency Skills Working Group in November 2014 to maintain focus and attention around interagency, collaborative efforts component of job-driven training initiative, as well as emerging opportunities around cross-agency skills coordination.

Dec. 2014 Sub-Committees Meet: Skills Working Group deputies establish sub-committees that met in December and over the holidays to develop initial project work plans.

Jan. 2015 State of the Union: President Obama acknowledges the success of Vice President Biden’s job-driven training initiative and highlights apprenticeship and upskilling.

Members presented the goals, objectives, activities, and expected outcomes developed by interagency work teams focused on four topics. Secretary Perez presented on apprenticeship. Secretary Moniz discussed possible pilots for better coordination around skills in targeted communities. Secretary Pritzker introduced technology innovations. And we discussed efforts to increase the skills of 24 million front-line workers so they can advance to higher-paying jobs. We also talked about ways to get more states involved in creating career pathway programs.

Following these mini-presentations, we spoke about what we are already doing and about what more we can do together.

We left the meeting with a clear sense of direction to develop and implement together a comprehensive strategy to solve America’s skills challenge.

Guest Bloggers: Johan E. Uvin is the Acting Assistant Secretary for Career, Technical, and Adult Education. Carmen Drummond is a Special Assistant and Policy Advisor in the Office of the Assistant Secretary. Uvin and Drummond are facilitating the career pathways and upskilling work stream of The Skills Working Group.

Creating a Clear Path to Better Jobs for Low-Skilled Workers Stuck in Front-line Positions

America is creating millions of jobs. But, too many of these jobs go unfilled – five million to be exact. At the same time, there are roughly 8.7 million Americans looking for work and 24 million front-line workers who could fill these jobs, if they had the skills or were given the opportunity.

As the economy continues to improve, more and more employers struggle to find skilled workers with the requisite skills to fill in-demand jobs. At the same time, between twenty and thirty million workers in low-wage jobs – many of whom could be trained to fill more skilled roles – lack a clear path to a better job and career. According to the OECD, these workers are about half as likely as their high-skilled colleagues to participate in any job-relevant education or training over the course of the year. These workers need expanded opportunities and lowered barriers to gain both basic and technical skills.

In his State of the Union address last Tuesday, the President called on employers across the country to adopt or expand additional measures to help front-line workers gain the training and credentials to advance into better paying jobs – including paying for college education, offering on-the-job training for career progression, and increasing access to technology-enabled learning tools. The day after, the President’s first stop and appearance was at Boise State University in Idaho where he launched an “Upskill America” initiative:

Today, we’re partnering with business across the country to “Upskill America” — to help workers of all ages earn a shot at better, higher-paying jobs, even if they don’t have a higher education.  We want to recruit more companies to help provide apprenticeships and other pathways so that people can upgrade their skills.  We’re all going to have to do that in this new economy.  But it’s hard to do it on your own, especially if you’re already working and supporting a family. 

Many employers have already developed promising approaches to training and credentialing for upskilling front-line workers as part of successful talent strategies. And, we know that many others see the opportunity to benefit their workforce and bottom lines through investments in the skills of their front-line workers. This challenge creates a great opportunity for business, industry, labor, and government to team up and find and support a solution together.

The Administration is working with employers to identify and spread best practices for education, training and credentialing of front-line workers to help with their job progression. Examples of these practices are employers paying for their front-line workers’ college education, identifying clear internal pathways, providing career counseling and coaching, offering on-the-job training that leads to career progression, and providing access to online and technology-enabled education tools so workers can develop their basic and technical skills.

In the coming months, businesses of all sizes will be convened, as well as foundations, education and training non-profits and other partners who are committing to make new investments, to collectively set new goals and change policies that will enable low-skilled front-line workers to progress into better-paying jobs and help employers meet their current and projected unmet demand for skilled labor.

This effort to improve the skills of front-line workers builds on the actions Vice President Biden presented to President Obama on July 22, 2014 as part of his report Ready to Work: Job-Driven Training and American Opportunity. In his 2014 State of the Union address, the President had tasked Vice President Biden with leading a review of federal employment and training programs, with the aim of making them more job-driven. Ready to Work: Job-Driven Training and American Opportunity highlights successful job-driven training strategies, details executive actions that are being taken by the federal government, and new commitments by employers, non-profits, unions and innovators to help spread what’s working. As indicated in the release of the Ready to Work report, if you’re ready to work, you should be able to find a job that fits your skills, or get trained with the skills you need for a better job.

In November 2014, U.S. Secretary of Labor Perez launched The Skills Working Group, an interagency effort to maintain focus and attention around interagency, collaborative efforts of the Job-Driven Training Initiative, as well as emerging opportunities around cross-agency skills coordination. Thirteen federal agencies, the White House National Economic Council, and the Office of Management and Budget make up The Skills Working Group including the departments of Labor, Education, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, Transportation, Energy, Defense, Justice, Interior, and the Social Security Administration. The Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education has been an active contributor to this work and leads the career pathways and upskilling work streams.

I find it inspiring to see businesses and labor-management initiatives expand access to training and provide supports for Americans to access pathways into the middle class. CVS Health, for example, is expanding access to job-advancement training for their employees by launching two new regional learning centers that will serve thousands of additional employees in the next two years. This builds on the six regional learning centers CVS Health currently operates in partnership with community colleges and other community service organizations, to help support thousands of workers as they build customer service- and healthcare-related job skills for career progression. The Upstate NY 1199 SEIU Training and Upgrading Fund started C.N.A. training in the Syracuse (Central NY) area three years ago for incumbent SEIU members to allow lower level workers (dietary and housekeeping) to move up the career ladder.  Since this initiative was not always able to fill this program with incumbent workers, they started drawing on people from the community.  Community participants are funded through grants.

It is also exciting to see how many opportunities the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) provides for businesses – in partnership with adult education and youth and adult training providers or otherwise – to ensure that our nation’s workforce is ready to work and remains highly skilled and competitive. Whether it is through the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act – Title II of WIOA – or through any of the other core programs, WIOA can play a critical role in achieving the goals of UpSkill America. Here are just a few ways that WIOA can do this:

  • Employer partnerships with education providers are eligible entities under Title II. This creates opportunities for employers and providers to team up and offer foundation skill development opportunities for low-skilled workers looking to get ahead. Learn more at a new, interactive site designed to support employer-adult education partnerships.
  • Employers can take advantage of increased access to work-based training. WIOA provides the ability for local workforce investment areas to help employers train their workers.
  • WIOA also increases reimbursement available for on-the-job training from 30 percent to 75 percent.
  • Businesses, under WIOA, can collaborate with American Job Centers, community colleges, and adult education providers to develop integrated education and training programs—including Registered Apprenticeships—at the workplace to help employees gain basic and technical skills and advance to the next level of work. Further, this collaboration can support regional sector strategies and the development of career pathways that support job seekers and help meet the needs of employers.
  • WIOA places a great emphasis on serving out-of-school youth. The new law requires local communities to spend at least 75 percent of available youth funding, or approximately $500 million, on this population. This provision goes into effect July 1, 2015. By partnering with the public sector to provide apprenticeships, internships, summer jobs, and other on-the-job training experiences, businesses can help the nation maximize opportunities for disconnected youth and young adults and build a skilled workforce.

The UpSkill America initiative, the implementation of WIOA, the modernization and expansion of apprenticeships, and the implementation of the executive actions in the Ready to Work report are all contributing to the momentum that is building in our country to make sure that all Americans have the skills that employers need and that will allow them to get ahead.


Johan E. Uvin is the Acting Assistant Secretary for the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education

Which sectors will be adding the most jobs?

Did you know that the health-care sector and social assistance sector (which includes child and youth services and community services) are projected to account for almost one-third of the total increase in employment over the next 10 years? Or that, of the 30 occupations projected to have the largest percentage increase in employment between 2012 and 2022, 14 are related to health care and five are related to construction? Kristina Bartsch, chief of the Division of Occupational Employment Projections at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, discussed industries and occupations projected to gain and lose jobs between 2012 and 2022, and the education needed for those jobs, on C-SPAN’s “America by the Numbers” on January 31.

This story appeared in the February 6 edition of the U.S. Department of Labor Newsletter and was posted in the Youth and Adult Pathways microgroup in LINCS.

You can watch the interview recorded January 31, 2014 on

Join Kick-Off Session of the National Engagement Process to Improve the Skills of Low-Skilled Adults

Join as OVAE launches an engagement process to develop a national action plan to improve the skills of low-skilled adults. This event, held tomorrow, Wednesday, November 20, from 9:00am-11:30am ET, will be live streamed and virtual participation is encouraged. The event will focus on the recently-released data collected by the OECD as part of the PIAAC Survey of Adult Skills which indicates significant areas of weakness in the U.S. adult workforce.

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OVAE Salutes the Spirit of the March on Washington

As you know, this is the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, a march which demanded Jobs and Freedom. We are more likely to remember it today for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s moving and profound “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. However, the retrospective coverage and personal stories being shared in advance of the commemorative activities reminds us that economic and social justice issues were the motivations that drew hundreds of thousands of people to Washington, D.C. that summer.

I often echo Secretary Duncan in saying that “education is the civil rights issue of our time.” Adult education and literacy have deep roots in social justice and civil rights movements. We are proud of those roots and the work that educators do to change lives and communities in this country and around the world.

Brenda Dann-Messier is the Assistant Secretary of the Office of Vocational and Adult Education

This Thursday: TAACCCT Grant Applicants Online Panel Discussion

The U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department and Education invite you to attend a live online panel discussion this Thursday, May 23, from 1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. This session will highlight important focus areas for the third round of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant program including employer engagement, capacity building, and innovative service delivery.

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How Articulating the Registered Apprenticeship Certificate to College Credit Creates Opportunity

Now more than ever, maintaining America’s competitive edge requires that workers obtain relevant post-secondary credentials and that employers have access to a well-trained and highly-skilled workforce.  For decades, the national Registered Apprenticeship system and the nation’s extensive network of two- and four-year post-secondary institutions have been at the forefront of providing industry-driven education and training that supports business competitiveness and career advancement for workers.

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Pay for Success Financing

The President’s 2014 Budget Proposal includes several Pay for Success pilots. The Office of Management and Budget at the White House says the following about this new way of financing: “Pay for Success is an innovative way of partnering with philanthropic and private sector investors to create incentives for service providers to deliver better outcomes at lower cost—producing the highest return on taxpayer investments. The concept is simple: pay providers after they have demonstrated success, not based on the promise of success, as is done now.”

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TAACCCT Round Three Is on the Street!

On April 19th, the U.S. Department of Education, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor, announced the availability of $474.5 million to create and expand innovative partnerships between community colleges and businesses to educate and train workers with the skills employers need. This is the third of four rounds of funding under the $2 billion Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant program.

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