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Rachael Stephens, National Governors Association: State Innovations to Meet Unique Labor Market Challenges

WorkforceRx with Futuro Health
WorkforceRx with Futuro Health
Rachael Stephens, National Governors Association: State Innovations to Meet Unique Labor Market Challenges


The nation’s governors have their hands full navigating an uneven economic recovery and turbulent labor market.  Fortunately, they can draw on the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices to help guide their decision making. “Governors are focused on getting people safely back to work and filling jobs that are open right now and looking for ways to get people quickly skilled up for new jobs if that's what they need. They're also looking at how they can build on existing efforts to develop career pathways that lead to good jobs in the longer term,” says Rachael Stephens, director of the Center’s Workforce Development and Economic Policy Program. Those efforts include the NGA’s Workforce Innovation Network which, as Stephens tells Futuro Health CEO Van Ton-Quinlivan, is sparking creative solutions in states from Vermont to Alabama. Check out this episode for an informative scan of innovative approaches to today’s complex economic challenges that include supporting a growing on-demand workforce and improving hiring practices to create a more equitable job market.  


To learn more about programs and resources from the NGA Workforce Development & Economic Policy program, please visit: Below are some specific resources and programs discussed during this episode:

Van Ton-Quinlivan: Welcome to WorkforceRx with Futuro Health, where future-focused leaders in education, workforce development and healthcare explore new innovations and approaches. I’m your host Van Ton-Quinlivan, CEO of Futuro Health. The U.S. employment picture is turbulent, prompting a swirl of discussion on the quality of jobs and various barriers to re-entering the workforce. The nation’s governors are key players in the debate as they make decisions based on what’s best for their states and adjust to policy changes coming out of a new administration in Washington.

Keeping track of it all, somehow, and helping governors navigate the turbulence is today’s guest, Rachael Stevens, Director of Workforce Development and Economic Policy Programs in the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices. I’m looking forward to getting her insights on these key issues and exploring NGA’s work on workforce recovery and innovation, amongst other important initiatives. Thanks so much for joining us today, Rachael.

Rachael Stephens: Thanks so much, Van. It’s great to be here talking with you and your WorkforceRx audience.

Van Ton-Quinlivan: Likewise. How do policies on workforce, inclusive recovery and/or future of work policies rank for governors at this moment in time, Rachael?

Rachael Stephens: Well, it’s a really timely question and these are definitely top of the list for governors right now and have been since before the pandemic. Just by way of quick background for your listeners, NGA is the nonpartisan membership organization of the governors of our states, commonwealths and territories, and my team is actually situated in our Center for Best Practices, as you noted. The Center serves as the nation’s only research and consulting firm that’s dedicated specifically to serving governors and state leaders across a range of policy issues. Actually, we work on everything from public health to cybersecurity to the issues my team covers on workforce development and economic policy. So, NGA essentially provides a platform for governors to come together and advocate on shared priorities at the national and global level, and, through the Center for Best Practices, also provides consulting services, research, and technical assistance to governors and state leaders on all these issues.

The topics you’re talking about — facilitating a strong, lasting, truly inclusive economic recovery — are absolutely top of mind right now for governors across the country. As you know well, efforts to align workforce development and education with some of the longer-term economic trends and new disruptions in the economy and in the labor market were a big focus for governors and for NGA before the pandemic. Since the onset of the pandemic last year, governors have really been at the forefront of dealing with the dual challenge they were faced with of addressing this imminent public health crisis and mitigating its impact on workers, families, and businesses.

As we’ve gotten vaccination rates up and the economy has gradually been reopening, governors — while still having to, in many regions, focus on some public health challenges as the virus continues to evolve — they are also really focused on getting people safely back to work and filling jobs that are open right now and looking for ways to get people quickly skilled up for new jobs if that’s what they need.

They’re also looking at how they can build on existing efforts to develop career pathways that lead to good jobs in the longer term, in addition to addressing some of these really pressing issues. So even though there’s a lot of pressure to come up with immediate solutions right now, governors have been making great strides in getting their arms around those solutions, and also trying to look ahead at what they want to see for their economy and their citizens in the longer run, and how they can really take advantage of this moment to leverage innovation and build new partnerships that are going to address those really urgent challenges right now but also pave the way for the future that they want to see in their state.

Van Ton-Quinlivan: It’s great to know that the NGA is adding capacity to the priorities of the governors. Tell us more about how the NGA sees the current national employment situation, which as I outlined in the beginning is very complicated.

Rachael Stephens: Yes. It really is complicated. We could talk all day about a lot of different indicators that we’re seeing in the economy right now. We’ve been talking about it kind of like a puzzle that we’re still piecing together. For every positive indicator that things are improving or going well, it seems like there’s then a red flag or a data point that might contradict that in some way. So, as these conditions continue to evolve, it’s important to also recognize that the recovery is continuing to be experienced differently in different regions, within states and by different populations within states as well. It’s a really dynamic situation, but what governors recognize is that there’s more to it than a simple labor shortage issue or simple refusal to return to work type of issue and we’re seeing that borne out in the data around jobs that are open, jobs that are being filled, and challenges that remain in filling those jobs and getting people back to work.

You noted some of the decisions governors have made around supplemental unemployment insurance benefits, but in recognition that this is a really multifaceted issue, governors across the country are also doing some things I think that have not gotten as much media coverage but that are really important. Governors have really been taking a more holistic approach and taking different steps to encourage and aid workers in returning to work and accessing high-quality short-term credentials to hopefully help them get back to work. At the same time, governors are looking at some of those longer-term solutions. So, we’ve really been happy to help elevate and share among states some of those best practices and other ways governors are helping support workers and businesses in reopening and getting the economy going again.

Van Ton-Quinlivan: You mentioned how states are recovering differently. I would love to just have some specific examples of how NGA has supported different governors on approaching and getting people back to work.

Rachael Stephens: Absolutely. We have been continuing to provide a platform for governors and for state workforce system leaders — who are really at the forefront of getting this work done — in sharing with one another in real-time. Since really the onset of the pandemic, we’ve been able to provide that space and I think it’s led to really great results. I’ll share some examples of some interesting things I’ve seen governors doing that we’ve been tracking lately around the return to work.

One that you may have heard about is financial incentives. A number of governors have set up programs to provide one-time cash bonuses for workers on unemployment insurance who go back to work in several states — from Colorado to Idaho, Connecticut to Oklahoma, just to name a few — and these cash bonuses are usually contingent on maintaining employment for some minimum amount of time. Something like one month. So, we’ve seen a lot of states doing that. There’s some interesting takes on the same idea as well.

One I really like is Vermont’s “returnship” program. This is a collaborative effort between Vermont’s Department of Labor and a regional nonprofit corporation and essentially, returnship is a short-term on the job work experience. It’s like an internship, but instead of being geared toward younger people or students, returnships are designed specifically for adults with previous work experience who have taken time away from their careers for whatever reason — perhaps including not being able to find work during the pandemic — and who are looking to re-enter the workforce. Basically, over the course of about three weeks, participants receive a stipend that is covered by the nonprofit partner and it’s helping them take that first step at re-entering the workforce and getting their feet wet again, getting some experience, making some professional connections, gaining some additional experience after a long time away to hopefully help them get that next job that’s really going to stick.

Another interesting one I’ll share is in Maryland, where the governor actually used his Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act set-aside funds to target a sector that’s really important in the summer and in a regional economy in Ocean City. They’ve been using the set-aside funds to provide job placement training and housing support to fill about 12,000 seasonal summer jobs that are really vital in Ocean City during tourist season. So, that’s on the cash benefit side of things and financial incentives to help get people back into work.

There’s also other ways governors are looking at supporting people. Recognizing that things like child care, mental health issues, and other issues might be also posing barriers, several states have set up benefits calculators online so that a job seeker can look at, “If I take this job, how does it impact benefits I may be receiving” and hopefully that can help them quantify the value of going back to work and help them make a better-informed decision for themselves and their family.

Affordable child care is another big one that governors have been tackling and is an issue we know has especially impacted women in the workforce. One example I love is Michigan’s Tri-Share Child Care Pilot Program. Through Tri-Share, the cost of childcare is shared by an eligible employee, their employer, and the state of Michigan, and the coordination for that care is being provided by a regional sort of facilitator hub. This was funded with a $1 million state budget appropriation that is going to start out in three regions and be administered by the Michigan Women’s Commission of their Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.

Some other states have been using Cares Act funds to operate programs like this. For instance, in Oklahoma, they’re subsidizing up to 60 days of childcare for Oklahomans who are actively looking for work after having lost their job during the pandemic. There’s so much great stuff I could talk about here but just one last one I want to mention…I think one thing that seems tougher to tackle are some of the mental health challenges that I think people have a heightened awareness of as employees start to return to work after a long time out of the workplace, perhaps a long time separated from employment altogether.

In Alabama, their state workforce development board has actually partnered with their Department of Mental Health and the University of Alabama School of Social Work. They started by conducting a workplace health survey. They got responses from over 900 employers across a huge range of industries, and what they found was that employers — and especially managers and supervisors — felt like they really needed additional training to understand and recognize and support employees who may be experiencing either a mental health issue or substance use issue as they were coming back to work. As a result of this finding, those same partners are collaborating to actually now provide mental health training to up to 200 employers and use public awareness campaigns to increase awareness on these issues as folks re-enter the workforce, so that more employers are better able and equipped to support their employees that might be dealing with these challenges.

Again, so much I could talk about here but as we track these efforts, my team has consistently been updating some of our resources online and I really encourage folks to take a look if they want to learn more because there’s a lot of really interesting things beyond some of the headlines you might read day-to-day that the governors are doing to support people re-entering the workforce.

Van Ton-Quinlivan: I love the creativity of all the programs that you’ve shared. The positive of this pandemic is that there’s so much creativity unleashed. Rachael, where do people find those practices online?

Rachael Stephens: My team has a website on NGA’s page. At, you can find the Workforce Development Economic Policy Program team page. Van, I’d love to share links with you to put in your description box on some of these things we talked about today.

Van Ton-Quinlivan: Great. We’ll do that. There’s a lot of talk about building a recovery that is more inclusive with regard to race and economic status, which is something you worked on earlier in your career. What are the most promising approaches governors are using to achieve this goal?

Rachael Stephens: I’m so glad you asked this, and I’m really glad I get to talk a little bit about where I started my career at a small nonprofit called StreetWise Partners. It’s been really interesting. The way I look at it is that a lot of the core elements of the programs I ran at StreetWise Partners are really present in a lot of the workforce programs and initiatives that are demonstrating some impact at tackling equity within the workforce.

So, at StreetWise Partners, I used to administer career mentoring programs for adults who didn’t have any post-secondary credentials. In this program, we partnered with big private companies like Barclays, New York Stock Exchange and Gallup. Those companies provided us with office space for our mentoring sessions, hardware for basic computer literacy training for our mentees — most of whom really didn’t feel very computer literate — and the mentors themselves were volunteers who worked at these companies. Built into this program model were some things that are really important for advancing equity. First, we were built on a partnership model. We worked across the public workforce system, worked closely with employers in creative ways beyond just financing our work — which of course is also important — worked with other philanthropies, and worked with community-based organizations in our communities around the New York City area to connect with our mentees and serve as a connection point to make sure they had access to the comprehensive supports they needed to overcome barriers they were facing to entering the workforce.

Being that we were working with low-income individuals — typically from lower-income families who did not have post-secondary credentials — it was really important to us that we placed the worker and the job seeker at the center of our work. We really took time to understand the specific barriers each person was facing as an individual, and then used those network connections and partnerships we had to connect them with the things that they needed. We provided some of that basic computer literacy training which was critical to entering many good paying jobs — which was our goal for our mentees and mentors — helped our mentees figure out what skills do you have from your work experience or your personal life and how can you translate those into your resume and into a job interview. This was going beyond the ‘you need a bachelor’s degree’ paradigm which I’m pleased has become so much more prominent a part of our broader conversation in the workforce development space, but that was something really essential to our program. Ultimately, through all this work, we helped connect them with great jobs. We were connecting folks in $70,000 and $80,000 a year salaried jobs with benefits in many cases. In some cases, we also connected individuals with higher education.

Governors have been gravitating toward these models and really recognize — and the field is increasingly recognizing — the power that these types of models have for advancing racial and gender equity in a range of industry sectors. We’re also working with states that are taking on really exciting skills space education and hiring initiatives, and states that are exploring the role of career navigators and career coaches who can sit down with people one-on-one and really help understand and hopefully address the barriers that people are facing and connect them with those supports that they need to succeed.

So again, I just see a lot of those same elements present in a lot of the programs that are most successful. Of course, there’s also a really strong connection between equity and data, and specifically with disaggregating data. We’ve seen states across the country from Washington to Alabama take steps to disaggregate their outcomes data to understand who’s being served well, and who may not be. In addition to that, disaggregating their goals that they set for their programs. I think that’s really key. That level of intentionality and setting goals to fill the gaps that you may have identified in your education and workforce systems, and then measuring performance against those goals, is really crucial to making any of those elements I just talked about really have a meaningful impact.

I just want to add, looking beyond even workforce development, governors have also been taking this on at a broader level. A number of governors, for instance, have established a diversity, equity, and inclusion cabinet position. I think Virginia was the first state to do so and a number have followed suit since then. Other governors have established equity commissions or councils to develop new policy recommendations for their state and a lot of these are really holistic in their approach.

For instance in Kansas, NGA is supporting Governor Kelly’s commission that she recently set up on racial equity and justice, and that commission cuts across a range of stakeholders within the state. They’re developing policy recommendations on a huge range of issues from criminal justice and policing to healthcare and housing to closing the racial wealth gap. All those issues — again, it’s like a puzzle — all these things work in tandem to address and improve equity. So, it’s really been exciting to see and support governors who are taking some of those broader-based approaches in addition to thinking about how they can advance equity through their workforce systems.

Van Ton-Quinlivan: Well, I really appreciate that you have a deep background and experience in workforce development and working with communities and bringing that into your work with NGA.

Rachael Stephens: Thank you.

Van Ton-Quinlivan: I participated in a set of policy discussions whose recommendations were reflected in a recent report. I remember those discussions were under the banner of Future Workforce Now. I would love to invite you just to highlight maybe one or two of your favorite recommendations there.

Rachael Stephens: Well, it’s really hard to highlight favorites. We did a lot of great work together through that, and it was so wonderful that you were part of that. Over the course of those two years, we partnered with FHI 360 and the Fab Foundation to bring together over 250 national experts. It was really incredible to think through what are the technological disruptions that everyone’s been talking about, how those are really taking form in the workplace, what impact that has on skill needs, and what all that means for education and training. We wound up hosting a forum with 29 states in attendance back in late 2019. So clearly, a top priority for governors back before the pandemic was on the radar.

We came out of all that work with three major transformations that state leaders could pursue to better prepare the workforce of the future. Building an ecosystem to support continuous lifelong learning is at the top of the list…not necessarily a new idea but absolutely a critical one; developing an agile future-ready workforce that is technologically resilient and can adapt to ongoing technological disruption over the course of a career; and making sure that we’re enabling every person to participate in the workforce through the provision of comprehensive support that they may need. Again, kind of on that theme of making sure folks have the supports they need to address barriers that they’re facing when it comes to participating in work or in training.

Those were some really huge transformational goals. Those are big lofty goals that in many ways, the workforce system and educators have been working toward for decades. What I love about the work we did together through this project is we were able to break those big goals down into specific policy pathways states could pursue, and provide examples for each policy pathway to really bring this from idea to implementation. We have a website, and we update it consistently. I think now there are 175 or 200 amazing state examples up there which is part of why it’s so hard for me to pick favorites. But if I had to think of some favorites, I think I’d highlight some that maybe were a little bit less common in our work at NGA, at least prior to that project.

For instance, we have a lot of great examples of innovative teaching and learning models that states and institutions are pursuing to close the technological and digital literacy gaps, as well as advance some of those uniquely human skillsets — those things that technology hopefully isn’t taking over anytime too soon. It also highlights our section on the state government acting as a model employer. The ‘state as a model employer’ concept is something I became more familiar with in doing work around disability employment at NGA, but it’s one that we wanted to take a look at from other vantage points as well…thinking about how a state, through their own hiring and employment practices, can kind of model to employers the types of behavior they may wish to encourage. That could be investing in training for your incumbent workers, centering equity in your hiring practices, looking at skills-based hiring practices…things like that. There is some really interesting stuff out there that states are doing, so I would definitely encourage your listeners to take a look at some of those examples.

Van Ton-Quinlivan: Let me dive into the first of the three buckets that you had laid out which was the bucket of continuous lifelong learning. Actually, that’s quite a provocation because we’ve always talked about lifelong learning in terms of maybe ‘do I study a language in order to do a vacation’, but this is the first time that I had heard continuous learning in a context of a policy. As we all know, the shelf life of skills has gotten shorter and shorter and the imperative to keep up is getting much more demanding on the worker. So, a question I continue to ask myself is, who will pay for that continuous learning for the worker to stay relevant? Is it the public? Is that the employer — which may be hard if the worker is not with the employer very long these days? Is it the individual, or maybe another source? I wonder if the thinking on this has evolved in the last few years, Rachael.

Rachael Stephens: Another wonderful question. First, I’ll say I absolutely agree. I was really proud that our work could be at the forefront of bringing this discussion into public policy, especially at the state level, and we’re looking at what’s within state purviews to do when it comes to advancing continuous lifelong learning. When it comes to paying, I’m going to sound like a broken record on partnerships, but the short answer is all the entities you just mentioned are going to really need to play an important role in resourcing continuous learning across a person’s lifetime.

Traditionally, a lot of the burden has been left to the individual to figure it out — and it will continue to be important that the individual is invested in their own education both in navigating that and of course to the extent that they are able to be financially. But it’s also really important, especially to think about advancing equity, that we’re able to financially support pathways for people who can’t support their own learning financially. I think the public sector definitely has a role to play in this across all levels of government. It’s going to take federal, state, and local partnership, and governors are really in a unique position I think to get employers to the table as partners. Again, not just in financing the education but also helping shape and even deliver really high-quality opportunities.

Our Future Workforce Now site that I just referenced lays out a handful of pathways to help finance some of this work. That can range from establishing different scholarship programs to help reduce the cost to the individual, to programs to establish and improve access to individual savings accounts or individual training accounts for different learners, to developing a regulatory framework to allow for different financing mechanisms. On the Future Workforce Now website, we mention the San Diego Workforce Partnership in California and their exploration of income share agreements in the context of the workforce system and shorter-term programs. While there’s still data to be gathered on how these work, we highlighted ways that states could consider looking at the regulatory framework that could allow them the opportunity to explore some of these types of tools. So, those are just a few. I really encourage folks to look at the website. There’s so much there to share on how we might be able to develop new partnerships and mechanisms to finance lifelong learning.

Van Ton-Quinlivan: Let me jump to the NGA Workforce Innovation Network to help states build a resilient workforce in a post-pandemic economy. Tell us more about that program and the kind of grants that you’re making.

Rachael Stephens: Oh, I’m really excited about this initiative and all the potential it has. We’re actually in the midst of growing our network, so you’re asking at a wonderful time. As far as how we got to the Workforce Innovation Network, thinking about last year and releasing the future Workforce Now framework that we just talked a bit about…we released that last summer in a context that was very different than the context in which we had started developing it. As soon as it was released, my team conducted an in-depth needs assessment with the governor’s offices and state workforce system leaders — engaging a number of governor’s advisors and over a hundred state workforce system leaders from across 32 states in this process — to really understand what were their policy priorities going to be in response and recovery, and how could we help.

Essentially, that all culminated in a publication called the State Roadmap for Workforce Recovery which you’ll see really picks up on some of the same themes in Future Workforce Now but in the context of the immediate response needs and how you can build a path to longer-term recovery and growth from there. We identified through that work what we view as essential objectives for a strong, more equitable post-pandemic future. Those four objectives are: expanding access to essential support services; rapidly connecting job seekers to work or training; advancing digital access in skill development and closing digital equity gaps; and enhancing job quality for workers including through partnerships with employers. That publication was launched in January at the same time that we announced the launch of the NGA Workforce Innovation Network which really builds on those four objectives and is essentially designed as a nonpartisan learning and action collaborative for state leaders who are really committed to building an inclusive and resilient workforce and are committed to addressing one or more of those objectives.

The Network started out with support from the Cognizant Foundation and I’m really excited that we have added supporters. We are now being supported by Western Governors University, Microsoft, and Intel as well. We’re bringing together these funders and thought leaders with nearly 20 national organizations and subject matter experts from across the country who will serve as advisors to support us in developing new rounds of grant making and technical assistance to states. I’m really pleased that we have the opportunity to build on the success we’ve already had.

After we launched in January, we announced 10 initial grantees and so we have 10 states that we’re currently working with. Actually, their grant period with us ends at the end of this month and they’ve really been focused especially on those first two objectives — looking at a diverse set of solutions that they’re pursuing to essentially take a cross-disciplinary approach to improving coordinated service delivery through the workforce system that’s going to help job seekers better connect with work education, and all those essential supports that they may need all in one place at one time. Knowing that that was going to be really the first priority in recovery, we decided to start there. Within that theme, the 10 states we’re working with have taken on a huge range of initiatives and have really worked with us to kind of incubate and ideate goals and a vision for this initiative that their governor has seen as a top priority for them, develop action plans and even start implementing these solutions.

So, for instance, Missouri’s working with the Network to support its Job Centers for the Future initiative. They’re taking a user-centered approach to re-evaluating and redesigning the customer experience at their job centers and ultimately, what they’re looking to do is increase their job seeker engagement in the state’s workforce system by 60% in the next four or five years — which is a pretty big jump and really exciting. Alabama has been working with us on launching their skills-based recovery initiative that’s going to expand skills-based hiring practices to really open opportunities for more workers. And Hawaii has been working with some of our other partners in the Network on building both the digital platform and the back-end partnerships across agencies that are needed to deliver a digital one-stop that’s going to be focused on that user experience and making sure job seekers can easily in one place access the wide range of resources and services they may need.

All these governors have actually shared a little bit about their achievements to the Network so far in recent op-eds, and the other 7 states we’re working with similarly have already made great strides. What’s really striking is that even just in the states I mentioned, they could not seem more different on paper but those governors share common goals and priorities for their constituents that we’re able to support through the Network. I’m really excited this Network is going to provide NGA with a way to bring together public partners, private sector partners, experts, and practitioners from across the workforce field to really advance and support governor’s priority issues and ensure that they’re able to achieve their goals and the outcomes that they’re looking to achieve for constituents in their states.

Van Ton-Quinlivan: I love the mention of Hawaii. Even though I live in California, I grew up in Hawaii. So, I have to cheer that project on especially.

Rachael Stephens: They’ve been doing wonderful work.

Van Ton-Quinlivan: In this Network, do we have any projects that are specific to on-demand workers or the gig economy? That seems to be an area where there are underdeveloped policy recommendations.

Rachael Stephens: That’s a great point, Van. A couple of the states that we’re working with have actually specifically called out some members of what we would call the on-demand workforce as part of the populations that they’re looking to reach through these efforts. If I may just speak a little bit about some of our work there…first, I’ll mention just in terms of speaking about the on-demand workforce through our work with states, we’ve taken on a really broad definition of that term. So you won’t hear me say gig workforce too often.

When we say on-demand workforce we’re really talking about any worker who doesn’t receive a W-2 tax form for their compensated work. This might include entrepreneurs and the self-employed. We’re also talking about any worker whose income might be reported on a W-2 but whose schedules or places of work might be really unpredictable and episodic. These are workers you think of as being gig workers — your Uber drivers, DoorDash delivery, things like that — but it’s also seasonal workers, freelancers, entrepreneurs, and others who may have less stable or predictable work and who therefore have less predictable income. Based on our work in this area, it does seem like a considerable and potentially growing portion of the workforce is engaged in this type of work. As you can imagine, a lot of that has changed during the course of the pandemic as well — which is definitely something we’re still keeping an eye on — but you’re right, this is an area of policy that’s in some ways underdeveloped partly because it’s really challenging.

I think the pandemic opened our eyes to just how many people may be in these types of work who could benefit from either additional recognition or support in different ways.
So, a couple of resources we do have — kind of building on a couple of projects we did around the same time as Future Workforce Now that really focused squarely on this issue — we developed a framework I really love that lays out the landscape of existing legal protection for the on-demand workforce.  Where there may be opportunities to plug-in or provide additional support or protections, we provide state examples.

If other states are looking at this framework and say ‘I see a gap here, I want to fill it’ they have an example of a state or two that’s already done that and will be able to see what they did to meet that challenge. It’s really important. I’m glad you raised this because thinking about this segment of the workforce is definitely critical. It’s part of the equity conversation, part of the job quality conversation, part of the economic opportunity and economic development conversation. This is something that we’re really cognizant of addressing as an integrated part of our work in the Network…understanding that when we talk about the workforce, we’re also talking about these members of the workforce as well.

Van Ton-Quinlivan: These policy toolkits you’re providing…I found those invaluable back when I was Vice Chancellor of the California Community Colleges. Keep on doing the good work.

Rachael Stephens: Oh, good.

Van Ton-Quinlivan: Let’s close out today by talking about the Biden administration’s infrastructure plan — which is no small thing — but maybe we could take a slightly different angle which is more about the human infrastructure that we discovered during the pandemic we all need in order to be productive. This could range from childcare to schooling for our children, but also the health insurance and retirement benefits. The future of work calls for a different set of human infrastructure than what we really have in place right now. I would love any thought provocations or insights you have on what we need to put in place collectively to be ready for the future of work, Rachael.

Rachael Stephens: Well, thanks, Van. You’re definitely right. I think through NGA, governors have certainly been vocal in their support for, hopefully, a bipartisan agreement on infrastructure investments, and recognizing several of those investments as a top priority, and also looking at some these human infrastructure questions, as you put it. If think back to those objectives of the NGA Workforce Innovation Network I laid out — ensuring people have access to essential supports, people are connected to work, people are able to access digital resources and develop their digital skills, people are able to access good high-quality jobs — all of those are imperatives at this moment in time and when you think about longer-term economic growth, and so those are some objectives that I think governors have really gotten behind.

At the NGA summer meeting, governors officially released a new set of federal workforce priorities which were led by the co-chairs of the Community Renewal Task Force at NGA — Governor Mike Parson of Missouri and Governor Albert Bryan Jr. of the U.S. Virgin Islands –and they led a process through which governors agreed on a set of high-level priorities that, while framed a little bit differently to inform federal legislation, really pick up on a lot of those same themes that we’ve been talking through during this entire conversation. So, you’ll really see a lot of those concepts embedded in what governors are calling for from federal legislation around workforce development — not just thinking about Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act reauthorization, but also thinking more broadly about other types of investments that may be made in the workforce development in the near future. So, I also definitely encourage listeners to take a look at those and really through that, I think they will gain a greater understanding of where governors are on these issues.

Van Ton-Quinlivan: Today has been such an important conversation to learn what is happening at the federal level and the role that the NGA has been playing to build the capacity of all of our governors to lead our states. Thank you very much, Rachael, for being with us today.

Rachael Stephens: Thank you, Van.

Van Ton-Quinlivan: I’m Van Ton-Quinlivan with Futuro Health. Thanks for checking out this episode of WorkforceRx. I hope you will join us again as we continue to explore how to create a future-focused workforce in America.