About the Sector Skills Academy

Interest in sector-oriented workforce training has growing dramatically in the last decade, largely because such approaches hold the potential to improve employment opportunities for low-wage workers, while also supporting business competitiveness. That potential has prompted a variety of institutions—including community-based organizations, community colleges, labor-management partnerships, worker centers and business associations—to launch new initiatives. Several states, such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Illinois, have developed workforce development systems that are organized around a sectoral approach. And today, the sector field embodies a diverse mix of industry-specific approaches. Sector strategies that help workers gain the skills and education they need to obtain quality employment and career opportunities in a particular industry are now very common. Other types of sector strategies that are designed to improve the quality of bad jobs or low-wage occupations within a particular sector, however, are also taking root in more communities. Together, strategies that build ladders to better job opportunities and strategies that raise the floor for workers in low-wage jobs comprise a field that is bursting with innovation and impact.

To build on the momentum of this work and to strengthen, sustain and grow the sector field, the first Sector Skills Academy was initiated in June 2005. Since 2005 the Academy, which is facilitated and managed by The Aspen Institute Workforce Strategies Initiative (AspenWSI) and funded by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, has graduated eight classes and nearly 225 Marano Fellows who are named in honor of Cindy Marano, a pioneering leader in the sector field who helped design the Academy.

The Academy provides emerging leaders with an opportunity for experiential learning with practical applications for present and future work in the sector field. The Academy consists of three workshops over roughly a 10-month period that allow participants to acquire new skills, engage in peer exchange and benefit from relationships with guest faculty and facilitators. Faculty are drawn from experienced leaders in the field of sectoral employment development. As a result of participating in the Academy, fellows are expected to apply the lessons they learn in ways that enhance their work in their chosen sector.

One good way to get a sense of the Academy's value is to hear from participants. Here’s what some of the participants say about their Academy experience:

The Sector Skills Academy has shared important tools and resources to help our organizations develop effective partnerships that benefit both jobseekers and employers. The opportunity to see and hear first-hand from organizations that have implemented successful strategies is extremely valuable.

Brenda V. Lopez
Director, Adult Programs Mi Casa Resource Center for Women, Inc.
Denver, Colorado

Participating in the Sector Skills Academy was a real benchmark in my career. On a professional level, I came away with valuable tools and experiences that changed my way of thinking about workforce development. On a personal level, I enjoyed time to think and reflect on leadership. I also found many new heroes among the top-rate presenters and my class of Fellows.

Colin Austin
Senior Associate, MDC, Inc.
Denver, Colorado

I appreciate the connections I’ve made with the other fellows … Seeing these other creative and successful models is not only encouraging, but allows me to begin to apply different pieces to our sector work and partnerships with our businesses.

Andrew Brower
Executive Director, The SOURCE
Grand Rapids, Mich.