Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, a Senior Fellow at the National Skills Coalition, highlights a recent report that provides recommendations for policies to support racial workforce diversity and greater employability pathways for all.

Could you share more about the National Skills Coalition, your work at the organization and how the ‘Roadmap for Racial Equity’ report and research came together?

National Skills Coalition is a non-profit policy organization that is funded by foundations and individual donors. Our work is focused on how to prepare people for the ‘good jobs’ or middle skill jobs that will help feed their family. My work is focused on the importance of adult education and workforce development.

We have about 20,000 members across the country dedicated to advancing adult education and workforce policy. We know it is not enough to simply advance policy; we need to make sure we are looking at our work from a racial equity standpoint.

We produced the Roadmap to Racial Equity report because we thought it was the right time to collect examples from across the country, share how they were able to enact policies, and give others a roadmap to implement in their own state. It took over 10 months of collecting data. Melissa Johnson was the lead on the report, Molly Bashay co-authored and we worked very closely with our Racial Equity National Advisory Panel. Having their voices was instrumental, many of the members have lived experience as Black and LatinX people and identify with historically-marginalized racial groups.

The report has nine recommendations with policy solutions and historical context, could you do a brief overview of each of the recommendation areas?

1) Develop racial equity goals and track progress: A lot of data collected by adult education and workforce programs could be disaggregated by race and demographics but it’s not. You can use that data to look at how you’re currently doing, and develop and implement racial equity goals.

2) Supporting and investing in local programs: Adult education programs can do a lot to narrow racial equity gaps, but they need resources. This section emphasizes providing the needed public resources, policy guidance, and technical assistance.

3) Technical training: Adult education is a critical onramp to community colleges, but historically there haven’t been good connections between postsecondary education and the adult education world. This section explores ways to support adults in postsecondary education.

4) Corrections and re-entry: The challenge has been around the fact that so many millions of Americans have been incarcerated. With re-entry many are still running into additional barriers and being blocked from opportunities. Workforce policy changes can help remove some of those barriers and create opportunity for people who are returning from incarceration, who are disproportionately people of color.

5) Sector partnerships:  This is a way to bring together 10-12 employers in the same industry and have them talk about their hiring needs. This works well because in most cases if you’re a small or mid-size employer you don’t have the resources to go to a community college and ask them to create a training program just for your businesses. Sector partnerships can help with racial equity, if you’re thoughtful – such as if you have workers in lower-wage positions, and you can make a career path for them and prepare them for middle skill jobs.

6) Apprenticeships: Congress has  pushed to put more money in apprenticeships and we should continue to look at how do we make sure learners of color have equal access. Apprenticeships are often called “the other college without the debt,” it is a huge boost for many that are impacted by the racial wealth gap. Participants are paid while in the training program which reduces the stress of balancing work and education.

7) Addressing foundational skills gaps: Black and Latinx people are significantly overrepresented in adult education, partly due lack of access to high-quality K12 education and disproportionate involvement in the juvenile justice system. Investing in proven models such as Integrated Education and Training is crucial to narrowing equity gaps.

8) Support services: Childcare and transportation assistance is necessary, and particularly important because of racial equity issues. Transportation is important for those in need of accessing training and other services that may not be located near them.

9) Public assistance: Majority of participants in public assistance programs are white, but people of color are disproportionally represented in the programs because of historical reasons. Improvement can be made by removing work requirements and restrictions on education and training.

What role do educators have in addressing these issues and advancing racial equity even at the classroom level?

1) Look at your own program or classroom data: take some of these policy recommendations and figure out if there is a program-level application. We recommend data goals for public policy, but you can also look at data within your program. Ask yourself who your program is working well for and who is it not working well for. What is the story that your data is telling you? How might you change your program to better serve learners of color?

2) Is there something that you’re doing well as a program right now, that you can take to your elected officials and brag about to get more resources?  (ex. If you’re running a successful training program with 90% Latinx apprentices, you should talk about it in a way that gets your organization leadership and others additional visibility)

3) Think about how to help adult learners develop their own advocacy muscles. The Change Agent publication and the COABE Student Ambassador Program are helpful resources you can use with your class to help your students identify how they can advocate for themselves. It’s a way of speaking up and showing others how they value adult education and how it’s working for them.

What do you believe should be done right now to help Black, LatinX and students of color considering current economic challenges and understanding the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had in these communities?

1) You want to look at if what you’re doing will have a disproportionate impact for your students. People are scared and dealing with a lot right now—they are economically stressed; kids are home from school, and some may be frontline workers. You don’t want to force anything but instead be mindful about decisions and solutions.

2) Advocate for your learners and encourage them to use their voice as well. Elected officials respond to pressure–whatever you want to advocate for learners, whether it’s more money for Cares Act or other legislation, they need to feel the heat. Policymakers need to know that adult education funding needs to be addressed now, not in Spring 2021 when we’re in recovery mode. The best way to reach them is by making phone calls—phone calls must be answered by a human and can’t easily be ignored like email or Tweets.

Do you have any book recommendations or other resources that relate to the topics included in this report and other current discussions around racial equity?

The report “The Roadmap for Racial Equity: An imperative for workforce development advocates” is available here.

Amanda Bergson-Shilcock leads the National Skills Coalition’s work on adult education and workforce policies that support US-born and immigrant adults with foundational skills gaps. She can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @AmandaWorking