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  ·   By Rachel Unruh

Advocates Take a People-Centered Infrastructure Message to the Capitol in 100 Virtual Hill Meetings

Advocates Take a People-Centered Infrastructure Message to the Capitol in 100 Virtual Hill Meetings

NSC and Business Leaders United (BLU) hosted a virtual advocacy event last month as part of its People-Centered Infrastructure campaign. The event culminated in 100 virtual Hill visits between local advocates and their federal elected officials.

In April, President Biden announced the American Jobs Plan (AJP) and companion American Families Plan (AFP). The proposals would drive economic recovery in part through investments in our nation’s infrastructure.  The President’s AJP proposal included $100 billion for workforce development to help workers train for jobs created by the plan. Congress is now deliberating over a final infrastructure and recovery package.

Participants in NSC and BLU's virtual event included representatives from business, labor, community colleges, community organizations, the public workforce system and more. They asked their elected officials to support an inclusive economic recovery through infrastructure investments. This means addressing the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on women, people of color, and small and mid-sized businesses. In support of this goal, they put forward three asks.

An Urgent Plea to Invest in Skills and Supports

Participants asked their elected officials to keep the President’s investment in workforce development in the final recovery package. They wanted to see these investments support skills training, supportive services, industry partnerships, and digital skills.

“This is an opportunity for all of the workers who’ve been displaced from industries in which not all the jobs are coming back,” said Matt Waltz, Chief Operating Officer for WRTP/BIG STEP in Milwaukee. “It’s an opportunity for returning citizens, women, people of color, people who have been underrepresented in these industries, like infrastructure and transportation. This is an opportunity for people to get into a great career if they’re given a chance to train for it.”

Matt shared the story of Megan, a former Certified Nursing Assistant. Megan received construction skills training through WRTP/BIG STEP in 2019. The pandemic delayed her progress, but in May she started a steamfitter apprenticeship. Megan is now on her way to a good paying career.

Seeking Help for Businesses that Invest in Training

Participants also called on Congress to support small and mid-sized businesses by helping them invest in the workforce.

“My husband went from public housing to owning a business by going through a program that allowed him to start in the electrical trade,” said Ali O’Neill, co-owner and co-founder of O’Neil Construction Group in Portland, a certified minority and woman-owned business. “One of our core business values is to find as many people as we can to give them that kind of opportunity. But the programs we work with need more funding to be able to bring more people into the industry.”

O’Neil and her fellow participants asked their legislators to support the bi-partisan BUILDS Act and SKILL UP Act. The BUILDS Act funds pre-employment training, transportation, career counseling and supports that help people succeed in apprenticeship and work-based learning. The SKILL UP Act provides businesses with an expanded Work Opportunity Tax Credit. The credit supports hiring and training workers with barriers to employment through apprenticeship and work-based learning.

A Call to Make Pell Work for Workers

Finally, event participants called on Congress to make the higher education system work for today’s workers and students.

“The people who build the roads, install the broadband don’t need associates or bachelor’s degrees to get those jobs,” said Randy Stamper, Assistant Vice Chancellor, Virginia Community College System. “They need short-term credentials that really are the gateway out of poverty for so many people.”

Stamper’s efforts to support short-term credentials in Virginia helped inform the bi-partisan JOBS Act. The JOBS Act would make Pell grants available to workers who want to enter a high-quality, short-term training program.

Virtual Hill Visits Prove Effective Way to Engage Policymakers

NSC, BLU, and their networks have brought thousands of advocates to Washington year after year to educate policymakers about the importance of investing in people. While the pandemic has changed the format of that policymaker education, it hasn’t slowed it down.

“I would love to be in DC right now enjoying everybody’s company, but I’m so happy National Skills Coalition can put on an event like this even though it’s virtual,” said Waltz.

But participants pointed to notable upsides to meeting with Hill offices virtually.

“In this virtual format, we find that we’re getting more attention and traction than in-person Hill visits,” said Kate Kinder, a Portland Community College dean at the time of the event. “We’ve had more of our electeds join the meetings unexpectedly and really be engaged.”

Still, participant Melinda Mack, Executive Director for New York Employment and Training Professionals and NSC board member, looked toward the future. She put a challenge to her fellow advocates at the event.

“If you ever go to the NSC Skills Summit in person – and you really should – you have to beat New York. Because we tend to bring the most people. So I challenge you to beat us,” she said.

Today is a Great Day to Engage Congress

Congress is still negotiating the infrastructure package. Things are moving quickly, but there is still a need for you to weigh in. You can send a message today to your Representative and Senators. Ask them to support workforce investments in a people-centered infrastructure plan.

If you’d like help setting up virtual Hill meetings to advance people-centered infrastructure, contact Caroline Treschitta at carolinet@nationalskillscoalition.org.

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