Skills for Business: Our Shared Mission


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Post by Penny Pritzker Secretary of Commerce

Secretary Pritzker explores Commerce data in a coding course at Galvanize
On May 10, 2016, Secretary Penny Pritzker participated in her first-ever coding lesson using Commerce data while visiting Galvanize's San Francisco campus in California. Her teacher was Liz Howard, the lead instructor of Full Stack, Galvanize’s 24-week Web Development program. Galvanize is a tech hub with seven campuses across the country that brings together students, startups, and industry partners to make transformational education accessible and accelerate careers in technology.

Originally posted on Secretary Pritzker's Medium page

In my 27 years as a business leader and entrepreneur, I have learned that building a great team is the cornerstone to any success. Finding the right talent is critical, but it can be complicated and challenging.

Under President Barack Obama’s leadership, our country has seen the longest streak of job creation on record — 80 months and counting. Our economy has added 15.3 million jobs since early 2010, and the unemployment rate has dropped from 10.0% in August 2009 to 5.0% today.

Despite this progress, more and more employers have told me they cannot find the skilled workers to grow their business — anecdotes echoed by employer surveys and the Federal Reserve. Federal statistics show job openings are at the highest levels of the last 15 years, and the average time to fill a job has doubled since the recession. The recent rise in labor force participation reflects some hidden slack in our labor market as more people are encouraged to look for work again.

When I became the Secretary of Commerce three years ago, I immediately recognized that, in order to carry out the Department of Commerce’s mission of creating the conditions for economic growth, we needed to play an active role in 21st century skills development.

Through our “Skills for Business” agenda, we have focused on breaking down silos between business, academia, civil society, and government and ensuring that employers have a seat at the table to define precisely what they are looking for in prospective employees. We partner with employers to implement effective training models, like apprenticeship programs, and we work with educators and trainers to ensure they provide in-demand skills.

Nearly all of Commerce’s twelve bureaus have programs and expertise relating to talent development. Our Economic Development Administration works with local communities to develop robust talent pipelines, and our National Institute of Standards and Technology helps employers and educators close the skills gap in growing sectors like advanced manufacturing and cybersecurity. On the data front, labor market information and data products from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis offer tools to explore critical supply and demand questions.

Over these last three years, our Skills for Business efforts have utilized these rich assets to create new collaborations and achieve outcomes that have established a foundation for the Department to build on. Under the leadership of the Economic Development Administration (EDA), our Skills for Business team will carry the torch into the next Administration, harnessing our workforce development strengths across the Department.

—Penny Pritzker, U.S. Secretary of Commerce

Skills for Business: History and Key Accomplishments

Job-Driven Training Principles

In January 2014, President Obama set the stage for needed policy change by signing the Presidential Memorandum on Job-Driven Training for Workers, calling for an action plan within 180 days to make federal employment and training programs more job-driven. In July 2014, with significant input and participation from Commerce, the Administration released a plan to expand the number of pathways for Americans to gain the skills they need to access better, higher-paying jobs, by narrowing in on key job-driven training principles to guide federal investments in workforce training. Principles include:

  • engaging employers up front to determine local hiring needs,
  • leveraging regional partnerships to engage public and private entities,
  • emphasizing earn and learn models like apprenticeship,
  • measuring outcomes,
  • making better use of labor market data, and
  • breaking down barriers to training and employment.

To date, agencies across the Administration have awarded more than $1.5 billion through more than 15 competitive job-training grant programs adhering to the Job-Driven Training Principles. Commerce has adopted the Job-Driven Training Principles in a variety of ways to guide our Skills for Business efforts:

Strengthening Regional Competitiveness through Job-Driven Workforce Development

Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) has embraced the Department’s strategic focus on skills development because workforce training is critical to regional economic development.

Specifically, EDA emphasized the importance of “Job-Driven Training” in its Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies (CEDS) Content Guidelines to better align workforce and economic development planning and made “Job-Driven Skills Development” a National Strategic Priority for its economic development grant programs. The CEDS Content Guidelines now encourage communities to create strategic plans that align with the region’s education and workforce development plans, focusing on business-led training, promotion of career pathways in regional growth sectors and consideration of work-based learning opportunities.

In the last two fiscal years, EDA awarded more than $89 million in grants to support workforce training and the Skills for Business initiative in communities across the country.

EDA also launched the Communities that Work Partnership, a joint effort with the Aspen Institute that is accelerating industry-led workforce partnerships in seven regional economies. Lessons learned will be shared widely through EDA’s network of community stakeholders, reinforcing EDA’s growing and important role in marrying workforce and economic development.

Growing the Manufacturing Sector and Career Paths

The National Institute for Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) Centers help to build the workforce development ecosystem for manufacturing.

MEP Centers are increasingly engaged in a wide variety of activities to help small and medium manufacturers develop a skilled workforce through: targeting career and technical education students for manufacturing occupations; acting as a workforce intermediary connecting manufacturers to community colleges and education providers for customized training programs; linking manufacturers to apprenticeships and Workforce Investment Board services; and providing small manufacturers with talent planning services to match growth plans.

In addition, MEP has taken advantage of Skills for Business partnerships with the Departments of Labor and Education to expand National Manufacturing Day’s scope to spotlight the variety of training and education options, including apprenticeships, available for students to prepare for 21st century, high-tech manufacturing jobs. The increased exposure to advanced manufacturing career paths helps students, parents, guidance counselors and teachers understand the economic potential these careers hold. Manufacturing Day has grown from 240 events with 3,000 participants in 2012 to almost 3,000 events with half a million participants in 2016.

Increasing Foreign Direct Investment and Doubling Apprenticeships

Commerce’s SelectUSA was created at the federal level to showcase the United States as the world’s premier business location and to provide prospective investors with easy access to federal-level programs and services related to business investment.

The quality of our workforce is one of the most important reasons why businesses choose to locate here. To foster foreign direct investment (FDI) and help grow the economy, SelectUSA is an active partner in Skills for Business to highlight the competitiveness of the U.S. workforce and to inform companies looking to locate in the U.S. about available skills training programs, especially apprenticeships.

To support President Obama’s goal to double apprenticeships by 2019, the U.S. Departments of Commerce, Labor, and Education entered into separate agreements with the governments of Germany and Switzerland, countries that lead in the field of apprenticeships and technical training, to expand their apprenticeship models in the U.S. and to share best practices. Expanding apprenticeships in the United States benefits our companies and workers and makes the U.S. market more attractive for FDI.

Through the Skills for Business Initiative, Commerce is encouraging German and Swiss businesses operating in the U.S. to migrate their home market apprenticeship programs to the U.S., to participate in Manufacturing Day, and to outreach to U.S. companies that may be less familiar with the apprenticeship model.

Producing and Disseminating Labor Market Data, Tools and Research

Commerce’s data and research spotlight local economic conditions and fill key gaps in our basic understanding of the labor market. In alignment with the goals of Skills for Business, the Department has also launched a number of new data and research initiatives.

Recognizing there was no solid data on the return on investment for employers in the U.S. that use registered apprenticeship, the Department launched the first-ever effort to document the return on investment for U.S. employers using the work/learn model. In a creative public-private initiative, The Joyce Foundation, JPMorgan Chase, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation are providing support to a partnership between Case Western Reserve University and Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration to conduct an in-depth research study across multiple sectors.

With the rise of the gig economy, policy interest in our nation’s contingent, on-demand, or 1099 workforce has grown exponentially. One outside estimate suggests that these jobs number 23 million, or 15.8 percent of the employed labor force, but much uncertainty remains around these numbers and about the right approach to measuring “work” when the on-demand economy is changing our fundamental understanding of work.

The Census Bureau is undertaking new research which analyzes 1099 data to better understand and size non-traditional employment and investigate questions about whether 1099 workers are exclusively self-employed or seeking supplemental income, among other questions raised in the context of the “future of work.”

Advocating for Cybersecurity Workforce Standards and Training in an Increasingly Digital Economy

NIST’s National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE), a partnership between government, academia, and the private sector focused on cybersecurity education and workforce development, is an important tool in our Skills for Business toolkit.

Cybersecurity careers are among the most essential jobs to our digital economy and in the U.S. alone there are more than 200,000 open cybersecurity positions. Through an exciting first-time $1 million grant program, NICE is directly investing in strengthening regional talent pipelines by supporting partnerships between employers, education, workforce, economic development and non-profit institutions committed to developing cybersecurity training aligned with employer needs. NICE is committed to increase the pipeline of students pursuing cybersecurity careers and to upskill more Americans to move into middle class jobs in cybersecurity.

But cybersecurity is just one element of the digital economy. For the United States to remain globally competitive, we need to build a digital economy that works for everyone, ensuring that individuals have access to the Internet and that our workers have the skills needed to succeed in the new positions and industries.

In the U.S., more than 25% of households still do not have broadband access according to Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Lack of access presents a serious impediment to students who need to do homework or jobseekers looking to find a job.

Along with the need for ubiquitous broadband access, the digital economy accentuates the dynamics of change — from automation to digitization to artificial intelligence — that are creating new jobs, changing others, and leading some to disappear.

In the face of the changing nature of work, globalization and technological advances, employers’ direct engagement with education and workforce systems to define their demand needs is even more essential as occupations rapidly evolve and career paths will need on and off ramps for continual skill building.

For more details and updates on these programs, please visit:

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Last updated: 2016-12-06 14:49

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