Economic Opportunities Program

Skills for America's Future What We Do

America's ability to compete in a global economy depends on a workforce that possesses the skills required by employers. Skills for America’s Future (SAF) is an employer-led policy initiative of the Economic Opportunities Program at the Aspen Institute. SAF identifies solutions in which education and training providers work together with employers to prepare individuals with the skills that will allow American businesses to be more productive, innovative and competitive. SAF believes this can occur by the following three strategies:

  1. Bring together economic development and skills development
  2. Demonstrate the efficacy of employer-community college partnerships
  3. Enhance the demand-driven capacity of existing workforce intermediaries

Bring Together Economic Development and Skills Development
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics1, there are 3.1 unemployed persons for every job opening. This lack of demand in hiring creates challenges for organizations and institutions that are responsible for helping people develop their skills. At the same time, a number of employers express difficulty in finding workers that fit their needs. Therefore, it is critical that skills development is addressed in relation to trends in regional hiring and support local economic development goals.

Since the initiative was announced by President Obama in October 2010, Skills for America’s Future has successfully helped create or expand partnerships between more than 40 employers and 200 community colleges across the country, and formed strategic partnerships with major industry associations. Skills development must be an integral part of encouraging job creation within a regional economy. Local education and training providers need to align their education and training offerings with the key industries in their community so that employers are confident their skill needs can be met. Skills for America’s Future will use the convening platform of the Aspen Institute to highlight effective practices, generate ideas, and propose possible solutions about how the skills building system can better support local economies and the businesses that make them run.

Demonstrate the Efficacy of Employer - Community College Partnerships
SAF facilitates the formation and expansion of partnerships between employers and community colleges. These partnerships provide employers with the opportunity to share their industry expertise and knowledge with community colleges, thereby helping students better prepare themselves for the labor market. SAF has created a national network of more than 300 partnerships among businesses, community colleges, industry associations, government, community-based organizations and labor. This network is continuing to expand. Using its national platform, SAF helps its network leaders highlight models of success, foster peer-to-peer learning, and share replicable and scalable solutions.

One example is Pacific Gas & Electric Company’s (PG&E) PowerPathwayTM Initiative. PowerPathway—a collaborative effort among local community colleges, community-based training centers, the public workforce development system, unions and industry employers—trains and enlarges the pool of qualified candidates for entry-level skilled craft and utility industry jobs. After program completion, 71% of graduates have found employment either at PG&E or in the utility industry. And, 70% of those hired from the PowerPathway candidate pool progress into apprenticeships or higher job classifications within one year of being hired.

Community colleges are also strengthening their ability to meet employer’s skills needs. The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office established Doing What MattersTM for Jobs and the Economy to help community colleges work more effectively to address skill needs by industry sector and economic region. By demonstrating the value of public/private partnerships among community colleges, employers and students, Skills for America’s Future aims to have more employers become actively involved and committed to sustaining partnerships that more closely connect education with the skill needs of employers.

Enhance the Demand-Driven Capacity of Workforce Intermediaries
In 2013, SAF will launch a new strategy to more closely align skills development with local economic development. SAF will build this work based on the employer-led, demand-driven attributes of Skills for Chicagoland’s Future, a new workforce intermediary in Chicago launched in collaboration with SAF. SCF employs a team of business developers to work closely with employers to identify current jobs skills needs and open positions. The intermediary then helps the company fill the vacancies with individuals who are unemployed. If the individuals need training, then the intermediary will select the appropriate education or training provider to deliver the training to meet the employer’s needs.

SAF will identify 2-4 cities or regions that have a successful employer-led workforce development intermediary that could be enhanced or expanded by Skills for America’s Future’s access to employers and a national platform. SAF will provide a framework to help guide local efforts. Through this work, SAF will:

  • Highlight workforce partnerships and demand-driven solutions as proof points to influence the national workforce development policy discussion;
  • Bring motivated employers to the table locally and nationally to promote partnerships;
  • Promote policy change through sharing local lessons learned and challenges to success;
  • Offer solutions to improve the alignment of education and workforce training funds; and
  • Elevate the role that local workforce intermediaries play in ensuring that communities are developing a skilled workforce

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey and Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, June 11, 2013.