States are known as the laboratories of our democracy, implementing novel policies that can potentially solve the country’s biggest challenges. Today, we’re seeing these laboratories in action as they grapple with the effects of a rapidly changing economy—one that is being transformed by disruptive technologies. Job seekers, unsure of where and how to learn new skills for the digital economy, are left on the sidelines, while businesses struggle to find the right talent.

In response, governors are taking action and experimenting with a range of innovative ideas to help skilled workers and employers adapt, but they can’t do it alone. They need the support and engagement of employers, educators, workforce support organizations, and policymakers within their state. Just as labs share information with each other to accelerate their work, governors also seek the opportunity to engage with other leaders and share best practices. By working across sectors and sharing information across states, we can make progress in creating a labor market that works for everyone.  

Recently, 20 governors—12 Republicans and eight Democrats, from states of different sizes, demographics, and economies—came together to do just that, and formed the Skillful State Network. The Network is a place for policymakers, from multiple distinct parts of state government, to come together and determine how best to transform the labor market to one rooted in skills, where individuals can demonstrate and obtain the skills needed for good digital economy jobs. A skills-based labor market and approach to hiring and training helps employers deepen their talent pool, and offers job seekers the information and support they need to develop their skillsets and find meaningful employment. By sharing perspectives among innovative states, the Skillful State Network has the potential to achieve systemic change at a pace and scale impossible through isolated action.

The Network grew out of Skillful, a nonprofit initiative of the Markle Foundation in partnership with the state of Colorado, Microsoft, and LinkedIn. With the enthusiastic support of Governor John Hickenlooper and his leadership team, Skillful Colorado launched in 2016 in collaboration with players from across the entire Colorado workforce ecosystem. We worked with educators, training institutions, career coaches, and companies ranging from local businesses to large corporations. We partnered with workforce centers and multiple entities within state government and community organizations to understand the needs of various stakeholders, test different hypotheses, and develop new programs. By acting as a systems integrator, we encouraged two-way learning between partners and repeatedly saw the power of bringing everyone to the table.

With Skillful in Colorado, we’ve seen collaboration flourish. It’s an example of the collaboration we anticipate from the Skillful State NetworkWe’ve developed and freely shared the Skillful State Playbook, an outline of recommended steps and a portfolio of tools to help other member states break down the traditional barriers between sectors, encourage skills-based practices, and meet the particular needs of their labor market. We’re also creating opportunities for Skillful State Network members to share what they’ve learned in their states with each other. These will include a series of webinars where network members can discuss approaches, share insights, and workshop strategies. Together, this seasoned and committed group of governors and their leadership teams will deepen our understanding of what works and expand the toolkit to connect skilled workers with training and fast-growing industries within their states.

The Skillful State Network is a diverse group with a range of strengths and facing distinct challenges. Some states are training career coaches to meet the needs of job-seekers. Some are fostering deeper connections between employers and educational institutions. And others are creating new apprenticeship and training programs. All of them share a commitment to collaboration and a recognition that government can’t do this alone.

If you are an employer, job seeker, workforce counselor, or local educator in any of our 20 member states, we want to invite you to be part of the conversation. I encourage anyone who is interested in joining the effort in their state to visit our website at www.skillful.com and email me at beth.cobert@markle.org. The more people get involved with this movement, the more everyone stands to benefit. 

The digital economy is creating challenges, but also opening up new opportunities. Governors across the country are seizing the opportunity to make positive change happen. Join us as we innovate, pilot, and make progress towards a skills-based labor market that helps everyone succeed in the new digital economy.