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Making sure that policy conversations are informed by the deep expertise of adult educators in the field is a core element of National Skills Coalition’s work. In addition to bringing practitioners into Washington for federal-level conversations, NSC staff also regularly travel around the country to connect with people who are engaging in advocacy in their local communities and states.

This spring, two NSC staff members joined adult educators at two major conferences to talk about emerging opportunities for policy advocacy, new research findings, and resources for practitioners to connect the dots between local programs and the broader adult education and skills policy conversation.

Chief of Staff Rachel Unruh journeyed to Orlando, Florida, for the Coalition on Adult Basic Education (COABE) conference. The COABE conference brings together more than 2,000 adult educators from across the United States, including teachers, administrators, researchers, and other stakeholders. Rachel joined a panel of national leaders in adult education to discuss the federal policy and funding landscape for adult education.

Rachel also presented on results of NSC’s recent Foundational Skills in the Service Sector study. Co-presenting along with Rachel were NSC’s research partners at American Institutes of Research: B. Jasmine Park, Emily Pawlowski, and Katherine Landeros.

Among the policy tools that Rachel discussed were NSC’s state policy toolkit on sector partnerships. The toolkit is accompanied by a 50-state scan showing which states have already adopted such policies. 

Meanwhile, NSC Director of Upskilling Policy Amanda Bergson-Shilcock traveled to Salt Lake City for the Mountain Plains Adult Education Association conference. The conference brings together adult educators from across nine states – Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming.

Amanda led two workshops:

  • Implementing WIOA: Early Examples of How Adult Educators Are Partnering with the Workforce System, Launching IET, and More
  • Immigrant Integration: Practices and Policies that Can Support Adult English Language Learners (ELLs) in their Career Transitions


Amanda also presented a solo plenary session on Standing Up for Adult Education: Strategies for Policy Advocacy. She encouraged educators to use NSC’s resources in their advocacy with business leaders, policymakers, and others. 

Among the resources she highlighted are NSC’s two new 2-page fact sheets, which draw on findings from the Foundational Skills in the Service Sector report. One fact sheet, The Business Case for Upskilling, includes a case study of how one hotel benefitted from partnering to provide Vocational English classes to its housekeeping staff. 

Posted In: Adult Basic Education

New Fact Sheet: The Business Case for Investing in Upskilling

  ·   By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock,
New Fact Sheet: The Business Case for Investing in Upskilling

Businesses have a powerful stake in the skills of their frontline employees. That’s the message of a new fact sheet, one of two publications being released today by National Skills Coalition.

The Business Case for Upskilling highlights findings from NSC’s recent report on service-sector workers who have limited literacy, numeracy, or digital problem-solving skills. Among the findings emphasized in the fact sheet: A majority (58%) of these workers have been with their employer for at least three years, and 39% have recently pursued additional education and training.

Companies can help workers overcome their skill gaps through a variety of mechanisms, including partnering with training providers to offer classes and providing paid release time for employees to participate in learning activities.

An on-the-ground example of such collaboration is provided in the story of the Hyatt Regency at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), which identified employee language skills as a key barrier hampering the hotel’s efforts to become a four-star facility. Through a partnership with labor, workforce, and other stakeholders, the hotel has been able to upgrade worker skills and obtain the coveted four-star rating.

Also being released today is a second fact sheet, which distills key findings from NSC’s report for a general audience. Low Skills are Widespread in the Service Sector, But Investments in Worker Upskilling Can Pay Off also summarizes key employer and policy recommendations.

Both fact sheets accompany NSC’s Foundational Skills in the Service Sector report, released last month. Slides from NSC’s webinar on the report are also available. 

Posted In: Adult Basic Education
New York state funds “community navigators” project for low-income immigrants

A recent Request for Applications (RFA) from the New York State Office for New Americans represents an innovative approach to improving low-income immigrants’ access to career pathways and other workforce and social services for which they are eligible.

The RFA proposes to use just over $1 million in Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) funds to support full-time Community Navigator staff positions at 14 organizations.  Grants of approximately $75,000 are expected to be made to each selected organization. Once awarded, the year-long grants may be renewed for up to two additional years, subject to the availability of funds.  

Per the RFA, the goal of the project is to “maximize the participation of low-income immigrant community members in New York State’s civic and economic life.” The project is not intended to directly provide services. Rather, each community navigator will function as a sort of air-traffic controller, overseeing a corps of volunteers in their local region who will help eligible immigrants to discover and access already-existing services. Navigators will also be responsible for a set of convening and coordinating activities meant to deepen local understanding of immigrant integration, particularly around workforce and economic issues.

Why the project was created

The New York State Office for New Americans (ONA) explains the rationale behind this project in the introduction to its RFA:

There is a chronic lack of accessible information about publicly available services and programs in low-income immigrant communities throughout New York State. Low-income New American communities in New York State often lack reliable information regarding workforce development opportunities and other opportunities open to all New Yorkers to fully participate in our State’s civic and economic life. Meanwhile, the complex relationship between immigrants and government has further left newcomers at a deficit for reliable, trusted information.

Taken together, this has left New York State’s new American population ignored for career pathways, vulnerable to financial frauds and at an access deficit for possible ladders of opportunities. Dedicated outreach and community welcoming efforts are needed to help low-income immigrants gain access to the same opportunities available to all others in the State and country. To address this need, the New York State Office for New Americans (ONA) is seeking local leadership to coordinate and conduct outreach to low-income immigrant communities, and to create a grassroots community navigators program to help low-income New Americans.

Who is eligible to apply

Organizations eligible to apply for these funds include Community Action Agencies and other nonprofits who meet the New York State definition of community-based organization (CBO).

Notably, this statewide initiative is not limited to New York City. Just three of the anticipated 14 grantees will be located in the city. The other 11 grantees will be spread out across the remainder of the state, including two dedicated to the upstate area known as “North Country.”

What activities are required under the project

Each grantee organization will be required to carry out a similar slate of activities. These activities will be led by the full-time staff member (“Community Navigator”) funded under the grant. They include:

  • Establishing and leading a monthly Immigrant Integration Roundtable in their local community
  • Conducting a survey of local immigrants regarding important economic and workforce issues facing immigrants in the region, and producing an accompanying research report
  • Collaborating with nonprofit and other partners to develop and implement 10 employment/workforce development workshops and other events each year
  • Developing and overseeing a program to recruit and train community members to become volunteer Community Navigators assisting low-income immigrants in accessing services and resources for which they are eligible
  • Creating curricula and providing bimonthly trainings for volunteer Community Navigators


Each grantee’s staff member will also be responsible for hosting Community Conversations about immigrant integration, leading quarterly tours to help local stakeholders learn more about immigrant integration issues, and coordinating the dissemination of relevant announcements to ethnic media outlets.

How success will be measured

Grant applicants are required to demonstrate that their funded work will address one or more of the CSBG National Performance Goals and Indicators. Most relevant from a workforce perspective is Goal 1: “Low-income people become more self-sufficient.”

Indicators collected for this goal include individuals who obtained or maintained a job; obtained wage or benefit increase; achieved “living wage” employment; obtained skills/competencies required for employment; completed Adult Basic Education or High School Equivalency and received a certificate or diploma; or completed a postsecondary education program and obtained certificate or diploma.

The broader context for this project

New York is one of a handful of states in recent years that have created Offices for New Americans. Such offices are intended to improve the integration of immigrant newcomers into the fabric of their communities, and often focus on economic and workforce-related issues.

Among the activities undertaken by the New York State ONA include the funding of 27 ONA Neighborhood-Based Opportunity Centers around the state, and of legal counsels that will provide legal technical assistance to ONA Opportunity Centers. The ONA also supports activities that are specifically workforce-focused, including a program to help immigrants with STEM backgrounds to find skill-appropriate jobs in the U.S.

Posted In: Adult Basic Education, Immigration, New York
NSC’s new report explores role of skill-building for service-sector workers

There are approximately 20 million Americans employed in key service-sector industries who lack foundational skills in literacy, numeracy, or digital problem-solving. These skill gaps serve as an invisible drag on productivity, often limiting workers’ ability to climb the career ladder and increasing employer costs.

Businesses play an important role in helping these workers build skills and attain economic mobility – and smart public policy can amplify employer investments while also strengthening talent pipelines across the sector.

That’s the overview of a new report from National Skills Coalition. Foundational Skills in the Service Sector: Understanding and Addressing the Impact of Limited Math, Reading, and Technology Proficiency on Workers and Employers focuses on retail, hospitality, and healthcare workers.

The report is designed to inform business leaders, policymakers, and advocates who are addressing challenges faced by workers with skill gaps and their employers. It provides a detailed data profile of workers, examples of employer interventions that support skill-building, and recommendations for state and federal policymakers.

What the Data Tell Us

  • Low skills are prevalent among service-sector workers: 62% of workers in the target occupational categories have low literacy, 74% have low numeracy, and 73% have limited digital problem-solving skills.
  • Most low-skilled workers are age 25 or older, including 52% who are over the age of 35. A majority (61%) are women. Two-thirds (64%) are parents.
  • Nearly a quarter (23%) of low-skilled workers are supervisors. A majority (58%) have been with their current employer for at least 3 years.
  • Many are eager to improve their skills. More than one in three (39%) participated in a learning activity over the past 12 months, including 27% who are pursuing a formal degree or certificate.


How Employers Are Responding

Companies that are successfully addressing skill gaps among their workforce are using a variety of tools. A key way to offer high-quality upskilling opportunities to their employees is through partnerships with nonprofit organizations, community colleges, and other training providers. Among the examples detailed in the report:

  • Employers can participate in sector partnerships such as BEST Corp. Hospitality Training Center. These partnerships are especially important for small and mid-sized employers that cannot easily provide on-site training.
  • Employers can participate in apprenticeship or other work-based learning programs, such as that offered by Susque-View, a long-term care provider.
  • Employers can collaborate to offer Vocational English as a Second Language (VESL) classes, such as those offered by Kroger, Publix, and Whole Foods via the New American Workforce initiative; and/or offer blended learning approaches that combine in-person classes and online learning, such as English Innovations.


What Policymakers and Advocates Can Do

Public policies are a crucial tool for amplifying employer investments and ensuring that all workers can participate in skill-building opportunities, regardless of the size or capacity of their employer.  Recommendations in NSC’s report include:

  • Expanding industry sector partnerships through improved alignment and increased public investment
  • Making it easier for workers to navigate career pathways, including transitions from adult basic education to middle-skill training
  • Expanding financial aid to be more responsive to working learners and businesses
  • Supporting the expansion of apprenticeships and other work-based learning opportunities

Learn more about NSC’s findings and recommendations in the full report.

This paper was made possible by generous support from the Walmart Foundation. We thank them for their support but acknowledge that the findings, conclusions, and recommendations presented in the report are those of NSC alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Walmart Foundation.

Posted In: Adult Basic Education

DOL issues new guidance on serving immigrants

  ·   By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock,
DOL issues new guidance on serving immigrants

The Department of Labor recently issued a Training and Employment Notice (TEN 28-16) on best practices, partnership models, and resources for serving English language learners, immigrants, and refugees.

The TEN was sent to stakeholders across the public workforce system, including state labor departments, state and local workforce boards, and American Job Centers (formerly known as one-stop centers).

The TEN emphasizes the importance of ensuring that all customers have meaningful access to the public workforce system, and describes notable requirements for federally funded workforce providers under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Sec. 188 and its associated nondiscrimination/Equal Employment Opportunity regulations.

The TEN also reviews specific barriers that both highly educated and less-educated immigrant and refugee jobseekers may face, and ways that those barriers can be overcome, including:

  • Limited English proficiency, which can be addressed through contextualized, workplace-based English language classes
  • Lack of familiarity with US workplace practices, which can be addressed through mock interviews and help in building social capital and professional networks


The guidance also reminds workforce stakeholders that training services under WIOA Title I can include English language training if provided in combination with another training service, and that individuals who have received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) are eligible for WIOA Title I services (see NSC’s prior Q and A on this topic).

Six innovative partnership models for providing workforce services to immigrant and refugee jobseekers are spotlighted in the TEN. They include:

  • The Ready to Work program, offered through the Seattle Mayor’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs
  • Project Growing Regional Opportunity for the Workforce (GROW) in McAllen, TX
  • The Silicon Valley Alliance for Language Learners’ Integration, Education, and Success (ALLIES) Innovation Initiative in San Mateo, CA


Finally, the TEN provides copious links to technical assistance resources on issues that may affect immigrant and refugee jobseekers, such as: credentials and licensing; WIOA state plans and policy guidance; English language instruction; research on immigrant workforce integration; and trauma and human trafficking. 

Posted In: Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, Adult Basic Education, Immigration
New data highlights importance of English classes for immigrant workers in Massachusetts

A new report from the nonprofit English for New Bostonians is providing a unique view of adult English learners in Massachusetts. The report is based on a survey of nearly 1,500 adult English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) class participants at 39 different programs statewide. National Skills Coalition conducted the data analysis for the report, titled Talking Jobs: Lessons from ENB’s 2016 Student Employment Survey.

The analysis found that the overwhelming majority of survey respondents (85%) were in the labor force, including 62% who were currently employed and 23% who were looking for work. Among survey respondents who were working, fully half (50%) said their co-workers also need English classes.

The survey also explored whether respondents’ employers were making investments in their skills and providing opportunities for growth. Respondents who were working were asked whether their company provided benefits such as tuition assistance or reimbursement, fixed schedules, opportunities for promotion, and training to help employees do their jobs better.

Each of these benefits has important implications for English learners:

  • Fixed schedules can make it easier for ESOL students to attend classes regularly. Sixty percent (60%) of respondents reported that they are given a fixed work schedule.
  • In-house training can signal a company’s interest in retaining and promoting workers. Nearly half (49%) of respondents reported that their employer provides them with some type of training.
  • Having opportunities for promotion can inspire workers to build English and other skills in order to move up the career ladder. A relatively small number of respondents (34%) reported having such opportunities at their current job.
  • Tuition assistance is both a symbolic and tangible investment in a worker’s continued upskilling. Just 9% of respondents reported having tuition benefits.
     

Notably, workers who were employed at larger companies of 50 or more employees were more likely to have access to the above benefits. However, only 43% of working survey respondents were employed at these larger companies.

Other data from the survey provided a vivid illustration of the under-employment of many Massachusetts immigrants. Numerous respondents were working in entry-level positions in the US, despite having held professional jobs in their home countries. Among these respondents were an immigrant architect who is now selling cell phones, an auditor working in a pizzeria, and a dentist making fruit smoothies. Prior research has found that lack of English language skills is a major contributing factor to such under-utilization.

Key conclusions from the report include:

  • There is unmet demand for adult ESOL classes in Massachusetts.
  • Although workers’ direct supervisors are often aware that they are participating in ESOL classes, it is not known whether higher-level managers are similarly informed.
  • Immigrant workers may be unaware of opportunities for promotion at their current place of employment, or may lack such opportunities.
  • The mismatch between a worker's home-country profession and his or her current occupation can be dramatic.
  • There are opportunities to further engage employers in key industry sectors regarding immigrant skill-building issues.
     

Each of these conclusions is explored in more detail, along with supporting evidence from survey findings, in the full report. A two-page Executive Summary is also available. 

Posted In: Adult Basic Education, Immigration, Massachusetts
NSC staff join 300 advocates to talk immigrant skill building in Philadelphia

NSC Senior Policy Analyst Amanda Bergson-Shilcock participated in several events as part of the Welcoming Economies (WE) Global Network conference last week. The conference brought nearly 300 attendees from ten states to Philadelphia for in-depth discussions of workforce, adult education, cross-cultural, and economic development issues related to immigration in the Rust Belt.

Amanda participated in a panel on Career Pathways for Immigrants, where she talked about opportunities in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act to support immigrant skill building. She also shared information about new resources released by National Skills Coalition, including toolkits to help advocates advance state policies on Integrated Education and Training and stackable credentials.

Joining her on the panel were Katherine Gebremedhin of WES Global Talent Bridge and Annie Fenton of the Michigan Office for New Americans. The panel was moderated by Karen Phillippi, also of the Michigan Office for New Americans.

Another conference session focused on immigrant workers in the healthcare arena. The panel featured commentary by Marcia Drew Hohn, formerly of the Immigrant Learning Center and co-author of a new report on the issue, as well as John Hunt, director of a program serving immigrant jobseekers at New York’s LaGuardia Community College. The panel was moderated by Sara McElmurry of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, which also released a recent report on the issue. NSC’s Upskilling the New American Workforce report was cited by panelists for its profile of a Minnesota program that supports US-born and immigrant adult students in attaining healthcare credentials.

The conference also examined issues related to equity, including strategies for addressing the needs and concerns of American-born “receiving community” members in places where immigrant newcomers are settling. A final session provided an opportunity to discuss intersections between LGBTQ, Black Lives Matter, and immigrant integration advocacy.

Amanda also participated in a pre-conference half-day session hosted by the nonprofit World Education Services (WES). The event was a follow-up to the White House National Skills and Credential Institute held earlier this year. (See our Skills Blog post on that event.)

The WES event brought together nearly 70 attendees, including municipal officials, nonprofit leaders, and other workforce stakeholders, to discuss strategies for addressing immigrant “brain waste” in American communities. The term refers to immigrants who arrive in the US with degrees and credentials from abroad, but end up working in low-wage jobs due to language and other barriers.

Amanda moderated a panel of national experts who provided feedback to attendees on their ideas for addressing brain waste. Panelists included:

  • Carol Aguirre, US Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education
  • Peter Gonzales, President and CEO of the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians
  • Suzette Brooks Masters, consultant to philanthropy on immigration issues
  • Karen Phillippi, Deputy Director of the Michigan Office of New Americans
     

View more about both events by checking out the hashtags #WEConvening and #ImmigrantTalent on social media. 

Posted In: Adult Basic Education, Immigration
Celebrating #AEFLWeek with a New Fact Sheet on Adult Education & Middle-Skill Jobs

It’s Adult Education and Family Literacy Week! Advocates around the country are marking this week with events and activities that celebrate the achievements of adult learners and the contributions of adult educators.

National Skills Coalition is joining in the celebration with a brand-new fact sheet highlighting the critical role of adult education in helping workers prepare for middle-skill jobs. Such jobs require more than a high school education, but not a four-year degree.

More than 24 million US workers lack key foundational skills in reading, math, or spoken English, and would benefit from adult education to help them build the skills needed to pursue occupational training and compete for these jobs. 

Adult education models such as Integrated Education and Training (IET) have a proven track record in helping adult learners acquire key skills, earn secondary and postsecondary credentials, and obtain middle-skill employment.

The fact sheet highlights four federal policies that can support the implementation of adult education program models such as IET, and provides examples of states that are capitalizing on these policies to do just that.

Among the examples highlighted is the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which provides support for low-income families, including through the provision of education and training to help adults find employment and move off of public benefits.

Advocates interested in how TANF can help support skill-building opportunities can review the nationally recognized Arkansas Career Pathways Initiative, which provides a broad range of support to assist low-income individuals in obtaining in-demand credentials and employment.

See more examples of support for adult learners’ skill-building activities in NSC’s Adult Education and Middle-Skill Jobs fact sheet.

Posted In: Adult Basic Education
As Welcoming Week begins, a fresh look at adult education and immigrant integration

Today marks the start of Welcoming Week, an annual celebration comprised of hundreds of events nationwide that celebrate the integration of immigrant newcomers and longtime residents in American communities.

In recognition of Welcoming Week, National Skills Coalition is spotlighting two recent resources that explore the role of adult education and workforce development in facilitating immigrant integration.

Both publications are from World Education, the nonprofit organization that led the recently concluded federal Networks for Integrating New Americans initiative.  (NSC Senior Policy Analyst Amanda Bergson-Shilcock served on the technical work group advising the initiative.)

Funded by the US Department of Education, the initiative provided technical assistance to networks in five local communities: Boise, ID; Fresno, CA; Lancaster, PA; Providence, RI; and White Center, WA. Each local network was comprised of multiple organizations, including at least one adult education provider as well as other partners such as workforce development agencies, libraries, and refugee resettlement organizations.

The first publication is a detailed report on the process and outcomes of building these five local immigrant integration networks. Adult Education and Immigrant Integration: Lessons Learned from the Networks for Integrating New Americans Initiative provides an extensive analysis of how the networks came together, identified common interests, overcame sometimes significant challenges, and formed enduring relationships that helped advance integration in their communities.

Usefully, the publication includes several appendices in which initiative partners share an operations plan, job description, and program indicators to aid other organizations that may wish to use these materials.

The second publication is a shorter fact sheet. Workforce Collaborations Build a System of Supports for Immigrants highlights several practices that paid off for initiative partners. Among other results, partners found that:

Coordinating services across adult education and workforce development agencies helps build a comprehensive system of supports that connect immigrants and refugees to employment.

For example, the Lancaster County Refugee Coalition:

  • Invited one-stop staff members to provide input on the strategic plan of the adult education partner organization.
  • Collaborated to station a transitions counselor from the adult education organization at the one-stop center. The counselor assists English language learners in applying and qualifying for job training, and assesses the language supports needed in training program classes.
  • Contracted for an exchange of services in which the one-stop center provides job readiness training for adult education students, and the adult education organization provides math and reading classes for one-stop center clients.
  • Began planning with local job training providers to collaboratively develop integrated, short-term certificate trainings for welding, tow-motor operation and other occupations.
  • Participated in planning led by the local workforce development board to implement joint orientations for jobseekers, who would then be referred to the appropriate education or training services.
     

In addition, the partners found that collaboration builds awareness of the role adult education plays in immigrant integration, and increases access to funding.

Several of the local networks funded under the initiative were able to leverage their collaborations to obtain new funding. For example, Neighbors United worked in collaboration with Idaho labor officials to compete successfully for a US Department of Labor Job-Driven National Emergency Grant (JD-NEG), resulting in a $320,000 subcontract over two years to support dislocated immigrant and refugee workers.

Posted In: Adult Basic Education, Immigration

New Fact Sheet: Adult Educators & Local WIOA Planning

  ·   By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock,
New Fact Sheet: Adult Educators & Local WIOA Planning

Local planning for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) is underway, and adult educators should weigh in. That’s the message of a new fact sheet from National Skills Coalition.

Under WIOA, local areas are required to develop four-year plans for addressing workforce needs in program years 2017-2020. Plans are required to include both strategic and operational elements.  Among the specific components required in local plans are analyses of regional economic conditions, local employers’ skill needs, the education and skill needs of the local workforce, labor market trends, and current workforce development activities in the local area.

In addition, plans must include a description of the local board’s strategic vision and goals for preparing an educated and skilled workforce, and the board’s strategy for working with WIOA core program partners to align resources and achieve the strategic vision and goals.

Local workforce boards are required to make draft plans available for a 30-day public comment period. NSC’s fact sheet provides specific suggestions for adult educators who are participating in WIOA planning as members of their local workforce boards, as well as for those who are engaging as members of the public.

For example, the fact sheet recommends that adult educators identify specific ways that local boards can capitalize on adult education expertise to meet WIOA’s mandates, such as by:

  • incorporating Title II partners in the design and implementation of career pathways;
  • formalizing a policy on participant co-enrollment in Title I/Title II programs;
  • drawing on input from Title II partners in identifying employers’ skill needs and developing industry sector partnerships; and/or
  • developing robust integrated education and training policies and programs that braid funding across multiple sources.


View the full fact sheet here.

Posted In: Adult Basic Education, Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act
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