December 19, 2014

Emily DeRocco’s Conference Speech Notes

skills-gap-infographicWe enjoyed Emily DeRocco‘s speech at the Construction Career Pathways Conference so much so that we asked for her notes. Thankfully, Emily obliged us, and here they are for all to see. Thanks, Emily!

First, I want to extend my special thanks to Don Whyte and his team, not only for the invitation to join you, but also for our many years of working collaboratively to build construction career pathways. Some of you may recall my time at the Department of Labor and my focus on investing the public funds in the workforce system to train to “skills in demand;” we called that “demand-driven training.” That was when I first met Don, his team and the work of NCCER. Clearly, that message resonated with them and their work resonated with me. This Administration calls it “jobs-driven training” — same thing.

I am delighted to be here to share some information about a relatively new initiative that also aligns to our shared goals and opportunities.

Let’s start with a few numerical facts.

FACT ONE: 5,609,207. That’s the number of young people who are neither in school nor at work today.

In many respects, that also is a significant chunk of our future workforce.

Where are they and what are they doing? I’m not sure we know the answer to those questions. What we do know, or should know, is that somehow we have lost them – temporarily, we hope. Somehow, we did not provide for them the pathways to and through the right learning experiences that lead to jobs.

FACT TWO: Four Million. That is the number of jobs unfilled because of the Skills Gap.

FACT THREE: 110 million. That is the number of individuals who we would define today as “working learners.” They clearly are your future workforce and we need to begin to understand just how different they and their lives are.

Megatrends that help illustrate the pace of change for these workers:

  • Just a few years ago, in 2006, YouTube didn’t exist, but it is now a ubiquitous form of media dissemination and informal learning.
  • In 2007, there were no iPhones. Now, virtually every cell phone is capable of accessing the Internet and transmitting text, voice and video instantly around the world.
  • In just a few short years, the methods people use to learn new knowledge, develop new skills and improve their lives have changed dramatically, and that rate of change is not slowing down.

Also of significance:

  • Life satisfaction indexes are declining rapidly.
  • The dynamics of the family unit are rapidly changing.
  • Over the next 20 years, the percentage of Americans living in urban centers is expected to increase by nearly 60 percent.
  • The millennials in our workforce will operate differently than their predecessors. 10,000 millennials turn 21 every day in America right now, and by some estimates there are already 40 million millennials in the workforce.
  • For these folks, “Loving what I do” outranks salary and a big bonus [Pew survey].
  • 89 percent agree that “it’s important to be constantly learning at my job.”
  • Half of the millennials would “rather have no job than a job they hate.”
  • Finally, there is a growing gap between employer needs and workforce skills and that means more Americans are being left behind for lack of the right knowledge, skills, abilities and behaviors.

The skills gap is the major reason the U.S. economy has not reached its full potential predicted before the recession.

And likely the gap will become more acute as the economy continues to recover. As labor force participation continues to decline due to demographic shifts, the search for skilled employees will become more desperate.

Now, some of these megatrends are exciting and promising, others are disturbing. Much as I might like to, I can not fix all the disturbing trends, but I do believe we can do a lot to address that last one. We know what we need to do to help ensure that every young person has the knowledge, skills and abilities to get and keep a good job. But even in this space, we have to understand what needs to change and ensure we’re on the right track.

So here is what has happened:

In the summer of 2012, the Business Roundtable (BRT) asked me to conduct a fast-track “landscape” study of what seemed to be working most successfully in aligning the world of education with the world of work. I concentrated that study on nationally portable, standards-based, industry-recognized credentials, including the work of NCCER and about 20 other similar organizations.

In the final recommendations to BRT and a collaborative of national foundations that focus on education and workforce development reform, I encouraged these industry groups to form a voluntary network of experienced organizations to become the influential voice of business in this space.

  • Many of our industries’ trade organizations in the past decade have either created affiliate organizations or revised their own agendas to prioritize building an educated and skilled workforce for the businesses within their sector.
  •  These were great initiatives, but they were in silos and did not achieve the impact needed in our education and job training systems.
  • In late 2013, we brought these organizations all together in a new Network, a Network representing economic sectors that will be the source of nearly 75 percent of projected job growth by 2020 – nearly 30 million new jobs.
  • Together, these organizations with BRT are becoming a powerful, unified voice of business to drive policy and practice in bringing the world of work and the world of learning together.

The Network includes leaders in the business, manufacturing, retail, healthcare, energy, construction, hospitality, transportation and information technology sectors. These leaders are united in their commitment to help individuals understand and gain the skills they need to enter into and advance in the jobs of today and tomorrow. This unprecedented collaboration of typically competitive industries signals a commitment to support a better prepared and more fulfilled workforce.

The Network is led by a collaborative partnership of BRT and ACT Foundation, with support from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Joyce Foundation and Lumina Foundation. Its five-point plan to connect learning to successful careers and lives includes:

  1. Developing the blueprint of knowledge, skills and abilities needed to succeed in today’s and tomorrow’s jobs and careers, beginning with a set of foundational skills necessary for employment in major economic sectors;
  2. Defining clearly the attributes of quality, valid industry credentials, making it easier for students, learning centers and employers to know which credentials and certifications matter;
  3. Expanding business-led work-and-learn models that give people the hands-on skills and real-world work experiences they need to prepare for a successful career and an improved quality of life;
  4. Increasing 21st century competency-based human resource practices across industry sectors, job functions and career levels; and
  5. Expanding awareness of and participation by students and workers in work and learn pathways that result in industry credentials and employment.

The Network has been hard at work on this agenda since February 2014 and is already making important contributions.

This fall, we released a new Framework of Common Employability Skills. This document lays out the foundational skills employers from all major economic sectors represented by the Network have deemed necessary to get and keep jobs in the modern economy.

In the past, individual industries have created competency models, which outlined the skills needed for particular job functions and career levels. All of these industries stress the need for certain foundational skills, like a strong academic grounding in reading and math, as well as individual abilities such as teamwork, problem solving, work ethic and integrity. However, the way industries talk about and label these skills is different. This makes it difficult for prospective employees and educators to know exactly what it takes to be ready to succeed in any career path in any industry.

The National Network looked across these industry-specific competency-models to create a framework that could encompass common descriptions of the common foundational competencies that are needed, all articulated in one place. What resulted was an outline of the common personal skills, people skills, applied knowledge and workplace skills that all individuals need no matter where they work. The idea is that individuals who gain these skills are ready to pursue entry-level jobs in major economic sectors and/or ready to further their education and training for specific jobs and careers. The National Network believes that these Employability skills can be acquired in a variety of ways, including military service, work experiences, extracurricular activities, and community service, as well as traditional education.

The purpose of the Common Employability Skills document is to help;

  • New workers, students and job seekers, who want to know in which industries and jobs they can apply their current skills and what additional skills they need to get and keep a job;
  • Employers, who can now identify the common skills that all their employees should exhibit and communicate this to potential candidates;
  • Educators and other learning providers understand what foundational skills to emphasize.

Individual industry sectors can map from these common foundational skills to industry and job-specific skill requirements, credentials and career pathways so workers and students can navigate their personal path—and the learning opportunities they need to pursue—to help them advance in their careers.

The National Network is now very focused on redefining and expanding work and learn opportunities across industry sectors. There is a draft employers’ guide to work and learn models and a “decision tree” to help each employer decide how to provide work-based learning opportunities. In light of the Administration’s focus on apprenticeships, the Network has produced a model for competency-based apprenticeships that are built on industry credentials, relate to mastery of skills not seat time and do not need to be registered with USDOL.

I believe this Network’s efforts are critical to reforming an education system and workforce development system that are not as effective as they need to be for students, workers, or employers.

I believe our efforts will help end the dichotomy between education and workforce development.

I believe the voluntary partnership among these important business organizations can provide an influential voice that will have a substantial impact on policies and the reauthorization of Perkins, ESEA and HEA – all of which are pending.

Finally, I want to commend NCCER for its leadership over the years. You have made huge contributions to our understanding of and support for industry-recognized credentials, now the centerpiece of this national, business-led movement to ensure an educated and skilled American workforce.