States partner to create a stronger jobs recovery

NGA and Cognizant U.S. Foundation announce the Workforce Innovation Network

The states’ governors are in the midst of two big missions right now—mitigating the spread of the coronavirus and mitigating the financial impact of the pandemic on families and businesses, according to the National Governors Association (NGA). Even as they work to distribute vaccines throughout the country, governors are also focused on helping millions of unemployed men and women find their way back into the workforce.

To help accomplish that latter goal, the NGA today announced the creation of the Workforce Innovation Network, an initiative designed to create and share best workforce development practices and includes funding to help assist governors in their efforts.

“We know that continuing to get aid out to people who desperately need it, and reconnecting people with work as soon as it is safely possible—especially to good jobs—is going to continue to be a top priority for governors,” explains Rachael Stephens, Program Director, Workforce Development & Economic Policy, NGA Center for Best Practices

“We know governors really want to ensure that recovery from this crisis delivers results for all of their constituents, especially those who are most at risk of being left behind in jobs that cannot support their families and that limit economic mobility,” she adds.

Developing and Scaling Solutions

Rachael Stephens, Program Director, Workforce Development & Economic Policy, NGA Center for Best Practices (Photo: NGA)

The Workforce Innovation Network—with support from the Cognizant U.S. Foundation—is designed to help states with both their near-term and short-term strategies.

“The goal is to help governors address the unemployment crisis and drive better employment outcomes by scaling innovations that are designed to rapidly connect unemployed job seekers to essential support services, work, or training,” says Stephens.

“We identified four key objectives to achieving a more equitable and stronger workforce recovery, including expanding access to essential support services, rapidly connecting job seekers with work, advancing digital skills and access, and enhancing job quality,” she tells WorkingNation.

“The heart of this is really about getting those most at risk connected with the resources, skills, and opportunities that they’re going to need in order to get back on their feet, get a good job, share the benefits of what we hope will be a robust economic recovery once the public health crisis is fully under control.”

“As we continue to address the inequities stemming from COVID’s economic impact, Governors will play a critical role in deploying workforce strategies in communities across the country,” says Kristen Titus, executive director of the Cognizant U.S. Foundation, in a statement accompanying the announcement.

“We look forward to seeing this network evolve as states build, implement, and share innovative workforce strategies that get people back to work and into family-sustaining wages.”

In partnership with the Cognizant U.S. Foundation, the NGA will be taking applications for grants over the next five months of up to $100,000 each to states to create a dedicated team to work on unemployment solutions.

“That team, through the network, is going to be able to learn from state peers, connect with subject matter experts, and with industry partners who can provide valuable support tools and other resources that can support their efforts in this space.”

State Roadmap for Workforce Recovery

Alongside today’s announcement, the NGA released its State Roadmap for Workforce Recovery, a resource developed in collaboration with state leaders over the last several months. It’s essentially a guide to some of the solutions and strategies that are showing promise.

The document offers case studies from various states and a process and framework states can use to develop strategies of their own to achieve the four objectives outlined above.

“Those case studies really bring together a really strong process for identifying a vision, developing a strategy, ensuring equity is a lens through which their strategies are approached, and developing methods for continuous improvement of the policies and programs that they’re putting into place,” Stephens tells WorkingNation.

“We absolutely believe that this model will help states with limited resources get assistance in understanding what resources are available, or could be available, and how to best allocate those. And the grant opportunity provides states some additional support for staff time dedicated to this work, so they’re really focused on addressing these challenges.”

Getting the Information to Those Who Need It

Ensuring that the unemployed or underemployed is getting the information they need to find training or good jobs is also central to the initiative.

“Getting the tools and information into the hands of the right users is one of the most significant challenges we’ve heard from states during our work with them over the past several months,” says Stephens. “Helping people understand what is available and trying to reduce any stigma attached to using some of these programs and services is a real challenge.”

“We want, through this network, to elevate state strategies, to communicate these (work and training) availabilities effectively to their constituents. We have found through our many years of work at NGA that having state leaders in similar roles hear from their peers about these strategies is one of the most effective ways to scale something quickly,” she explains.

“We’re really excited to be launching this opportunity for governors and states. We feel it’s going to provide a different type of support than anything else we’ve seen out there up to this point. And we believe that our position as NGA can help connect them (governors and states) with additional experts, tools, resources, industry partners, and will help advance state efforts in this area.”

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