Launched in February, the Skillful State Network convened in person last week in Denver. Leaders from nearly all 20 member states spent two days together in lively working sessions focused on supporting employers and skilled workers in a rapidly changing economy. (We also went on a tour of RK Steel, pictured below.)

The energy level was high, and the heart and wisdom shown was impressive. We’ve been working together virtually over the last several months, sharing insights, ideas, and proven methods on everything from engaging employers effectively to fostering continuous learning.

The Skillful State Network is committed to shifting the labor market to one that embraces skills-based training and employment practices so that the nearly 70% of Americans without a college degree can secure good jobs in an increasingly digital economy.

We covered a lot of ground in Denver, and a few consistent themes emerged:

  • We need to focus our energies on practical, scalable solutions. The magnitude of the challenges ahead can seem daunting, but the path forward is step-by-step. Every state shared examples of programs that are working. All expressed a sense of urgency to scale.
  • Private sector leadership is key. Business leaders are stepping up in active partnership with states, understanding that workforce development is economic development. If employers continue to rely on outdated hiring methods, they will continue to struggle to find the talent they need, while skilled workers -- displaced by rapid technological or economic change -- sit on the sidelines, despite a willingness to reskill or upskill. Together, the public and private sectors can create a labor market where skills are the currency, employers find the talent they need, and skilled workers thrive.
  • We bring an "informed optimism" and a spirit of collaboration to our approach to preparing our workforce for the 21st century economy. We see the challenges inherent in rapid change, and are confident Americans have what it takes to tackle them yet again. We bring a willingness to learn from each other and a recognition that every element of the labor market has a role to play -- employers, educators, government, coaches, and job seekers themselves. No man is an island, as John Donne said centuries ago. We all need to work together to create opportunity for the millions of Americans who want to make better lives for themselves.

As Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said in his opening remarks to the Skillful State Network members, “States are, and should be, the laboratories of democracy. They're where innovation and experiments take place. What happens when you have a good idea and other states begin to steal it? Really good things happen. That's the highest compliment a governor can give to another governor.”

Mary Snapp, Corporate Vice President at Microsoft Philanthropies, also lauded the Network’s timeliness: “We know that there's an opportunity gap today…The goal here is to use technology and skills to narrow the gap … it is so important for us to do that work, and all of you to do that work.”

After spending two days at the Skillful State Network Convening with some of the most innovative state workforce development leaders in the nation, I’m even more convinced we can bring a "future of skills" to the "future of work."

If you are interested in learning more about the Skillful State Network, or want to join, please email communications@markle.org.