Investing in people and closing the skills gap in a changed economy

A conversation with Andy Van Kleunen, CEO, National Skills Coalition

My guest in this episode of Work in Progress is Andy Van Kleunen, the founder and CEO of National Skills Coalition, a national organization which describes its mission as “fighting for inclusive, high-quality skills training so that people have access to a better life, and local businesses see sustained growth.”

NSC is a diverse group of stakeholders—business leaders, community leaders, community colleges, and industry intermediates—all trying to figure out how to reskill the workforce, says Van Kleunen, “so we can get more folks into the good jobs that are available in a very rapidly changing economy.” As a group, NSC makes recommendations to state and federal leaders that they hope will influence policy and spending on skills training and education.

Van Kleunen says it all comes down to investing in people.

“The job market that those folks are going back into is very different than the one they faced back in March 2020. So we’re very worried about the fact that with all of the great things that Washington has done to bring support and rescue to businesses and local workers who’ve been really challenged by this pandemic, we’ve done virtually nothing up until now to actually invest in the futures of those millions of workers who are currently out of the labor market, and are going to have a really tough time getting back in unless we invest in them now to get them ready for a very different economy.”

Van Kleunen says that we’ve seen how the challenges of the last 18 months have disproportionately impacted workers of color, workers without a bachelor’s degree or even any kind of post-secondary training, low-wage workers, older workers, and women. Some of these workers and job seekers will need short-term training, others would benefit from a longer-term strategy and collaborative partnerships among various stakeholders.

“I do think the American Jobs Plan that the Biden administration has proposed as part of its infrastructure strategy is very explicit about wanting to have those kinds of partnerships there to figure out both employment strategies for new workers that are coming into skilled work, but also how we’re thinking about our unemployment policies and how it is that we’re trying to transition workers if it’s not back into the industry from which they left into new industries locally. And so I think that that partnership idea has really taken hold,” he adds.

Van Kleunen says he’s encourage by signs that investing in people—investing in training for workers—is a bi-partisan issue. “It resonates with Republican and Democratic and Independent voters. We did a recent poll, 89% of U.S. voters want to see workforce training be part of any infrastructure job creation package coming out of Congress this year. They see that as an essential part.”

“I’m also encouraged by the fact that the kind of partners that we’re bringing together, who don’t typically work together on policy—business leaders both large and small, labor unions, colleges, and community organizations—they’ve done a great job of coming together to work on this stuff. And so I think that that’s where we’ve got a great opportunity to move this conversation forward, not just with what we do here in 2021, but in some years to follow.”

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Episode 195: Andy Van Kleunen, National Skills Coalition founder & CEO
Host & Executive Producer: Ramona Schindelheim, Editor-in-Chief, WorkingNation
Producer: Larry Buhl
Executive Producers: Joan Lynch and Melissa Panzer
Music: Composed by Lee Rosevere and licensed under CC by 4.0.

Program Alert!

Andy Van Kleunen is among the guests when WorkingNation president Jane Oates moderates a Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and AARP virtual panel discussion about solving some of these long-term unemployment issues. It’s Wednesday, August 4. Watch here.