Workers Need More Options to Earn and Learn at the Same Time

This is a cross-posted article from the  SEIU Healthcare NW Training Partnership /SEIU Healthcare NW Health Benefits Trust in Seattle.

by Charissa Raynor and Johan E. Uvin

The U.S. workforce is in crisis.  Today, 36 million adults in our country are considered low-skilled (OECD, 2013).  This means about 1 in 6 American adults lack the ability to spell, read, and write and about 1 in 3 lack the ability to do basic math. These are the basic skills that 21st century employers need as they look to fill millions of current job vacancies. Meanwhile, the majority of working adults with low skills earn meager wages with little to no pathways for career advancement into the middle class. The skills gap also has serious social and economic implications for an individual’s overall quality of life. Adults with low skills are also four times more likely to report poor to fair health than those with higher skills. Needless to say, the economic consequences for our country are significant.

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Educated and Skilled to Lead America! SkillsUSA: Champions at Work!

Two student competitors sit at a table programming computers while a third student configures a computerized milling machine.

Students test their skills in an advanced manufacturing competition at the SkillsUSA NLSC.

Thank you dedicated students, advisors, state directors, alumni, and business partners for showing the world that SkillsUSA members are true Champions at Work! SkillsUSA returned to Kansas City June 23-27, 2014, for its 50th annual National Leadership and Skills Conference (NLSC). I am honored to have witnessed the largest national conference it has ever held with the most participants in its history. It was the premiere showcase of career and technical education students. More than 15,000 students, teachers, education leaders, and representatives from more than 600 national corporations, trade associations, business and labor unions participated in the event. In addition, the 2014 NLSC marked the beginning of a year-long celebration as SkillsUSA turns 50 in May 2015! I have already marked my calendar to be in Leesburg, VA on May 8th for the birthday celebrations.

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TSA Rocks DC

Over 6,800 students, parents, and advisors attended the 36th Annual National Technology Student Association (TSA) Conference in Washington, DC last week. I was privileged to be one of those. TSA is committed to students studying in Technology Education and those interested in a STEM career. Middle and high school TSA students traveled to DC from across the nation to network, compete, and share new ideas and skills that could be used in the future.

Photo of Elisabeth Stansbury, Robin Utz, and Caleb Gum standing in front of a banner at the National TSA Conference in Washington, DC.

Elisabeth Stansbury, left, and Caleb Gum, right, pause for a quick photo at the 36th Annual National TSA Conference in Washington, DC.

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White House Maker Faire Highlights the Value of CTE

“If You Can Imagine It, Then You Can Do It — Whatever It Is”

These were among the inspirational words shared by President Obama at the first-ever White House Maker Faire on June 18. And, Camille and Genevieve Beatty, 14- and 12-year old entrepreneurs from Asheville, North Carolina, showed just how true these words can be. They, along with their dad, Robert, are co-founders of Beatty Robotics, a project that began as a tech blog to share their innovative projects and has grown into a company that builds custom robots for museums and prototype robots for part manufacturers.

Photo in the White House with Sharon Lee Miller and Margaret Romer standing with Camille and Genevieve Beatty of Beatty Robotics, Dale Doherty, President and CEO of Maker Media and Creator of Maker Faire and Dale's wife Nancy.

Sharon Lee Miller and Margaret Romer of the Division of Academic and Technical Education stand with Camille and Genevieve Beatty of Beatty Robotics and Dale Doherty, President and CEO of Maker Media and Creator of Maker Faire. Also pictured is Dale’s wife Nancy.

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Getting to “Yes”

Photo of students standing with Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier and DATE Division Director Sharon Miller

Students gather for a photo with Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier and DATE Division Director Sharon Miller

Earlier this week, Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier and I visited an Advanced Manufacturing Early College High School in Queensbury, New York. A partnership between the Hudson Falls, Queensbury, and Saratoga School Districts, the State University of New York (SUNY) Adirondack, and the Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex BOCES, this high school enables students to earn up to 24 college credits, four nationally-recognized industry certifications, a Regents diploma, and a valuable internship experience.

Students (juniors and seniors) are dually enrolled in high school and SUNY Adirondack as non-matriculated students. They spend half of their day attending classes that are co-led by college faculty and BOCES instructors, and the other half of their day taking Regents-level courses at their home school. Their work is largely project-based, requiring them to solve real-world problems generated by the program’s extensive group of business partners. A current project involves the students developing an MRI cooling system for Queensbury-based Philips Health Care.

As part of the visit, we received a student-led overview of the program, a brief tour of an advanced manufacturing lab, and then conducted two round tables–one with administrators, teachers, faculty, and employers, and a second with teachers, parents, and students. What stood out among the comments, one employer said, “The wonderful thing about this program is that it helps students ‘get to yes!’” By this, the employer stated that many of today’s new and current employees see only challenges and barriers to their work. They lack the problem-solving skills to analyze data, synthesize information, work through failure, and persist to resolution. This program is helping students to gain these and other essential skills to help them prepare for college and careers!

Indeed, our nation needs many more high schools and CTE programs like this across the nation. In so doing, we’d be helping many more students “get to yes!”

Sharon Miller is the Director of the Division of Academic and Technical Education in the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education

Building Strategic Partnerships for Immigrant and Refugee Integration

A number of communities at the local and state level have been forward thinking about the ways to incorporate and integrate immigrants into civic and economic life. These states and localities have recognized that creating a welcoming environment, coupled with policy and programmatic reforms that provide access to immigrants and English learners is a win for everyone in the community.

Cities like Atlanta, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, Dayton, Philadelphia and Nashville to name a few, have developed strategies on various aspects of immigrant integration integral to the success of their cities. Many of these municipalities have created strategies to compete globally for talent and as well as in the arena of economic development. 

In New York City, the New York Department of Youth and Community Development has engaged in an intentional plan to create educational opportunities for youth that could qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The New York Department of Consumer Affairs, Office of Financial Empowerment recently came out with a study of Immigrants’ use of financial services.

County governments like Montgomery County, Maryland and Santa Clara and San Mateo in California have partnered with philanthropy and the federal government to rethink systems for improving service delivery and policies that benefit the entire community.

In New York State, the New York State Office of New Americans has taken the significant step of creating a system of 27 neighborhood based Opportunity Centers throughout the state. The initiative seeks to increase access to English-for-Speakers-of-other-Languages (ESOL) training, preparing New Americans for the naturalization process, connecting New Americans to business resources to harness their entrepreneurial spirit, developing and leveraging the professional skills of New Americans, and reducing exploitation of New Americans by scammers and con artists through consumer protection initiatives. Below is one story about how the Opportunity Centers are being utilized.

Omar Omar
Last year, Omar Omar came to Syracuse as a refugee. Originally from Eritrea, a small country in the horn of Africa, he was forced to flee everything he knew due to the war and internal conflicts.
The first thing Omar did when he resettled was to go to the ONA Opportunity Center in Onondaga County to work on his English. Hosted by partners Catholic Charities Diocese of Syracuse, the ONA Opportunity Center provides immigrants English-for-Speakers-of-Other-Languages (ESOL) training, naturalization and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) assistance, and entrepreneurial assistance. While Omar knew some English, he was seeking to improve his skills. Omar took advantage of the ONA Opportunity Centers unique blend of expert teachers, technology and volunteers in its ESOL training. Omar followed up his training by obtaining a library card so he could continue learning.
Omar was seeking a job, so he began working with the ONA Opportunity Center staff, asked for help from the volunteers, and applied for many jobs. When he found out that a new hotel was hiring, Omar asked an ONA Opportunity Center volunteer to help him with the on-line application, an application that took well over an hour to complete. Omar was given an interview and hired for a full time position in the housekeeping department. While Omar continues to study nursing, he must first obtain his high school equivalency diploma. Omar’s goal is to help people and he does so whether at the hotel, in the Eritrean community, his neighborhood, or ultimately in the health care field.

 

At the federal level, the Department of Education, the Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education, through a contract with World Education, Inc. and its three partner organizations (National Partnership for New Americans, IMPRINT, and Welcoming America) is identifying innovative immigrant integration models that will help us understand how adult education can 1) improve immigrants’ access to effective and innovative English language programs, 2) support immigrants on the path to citizenship, and 3) support immigrants’ career development through training and education. The project has  produced a descriptive framework on theoretically-sound immigrant integration practices. Place based initiatives will grow from this partnership in 2014 in several locations across the country that will benefit from the technical assistance on the creation of networks for immigrant integration.

These and other game changing initiatives take into consideration the circumstances of immigrant newcomers. As the debate on immigration reform continues at the federal level, states and localities are forging ahead, creating opportunities for immigrants to contribute and to help build their communities.

Johan Uvin is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Strategic Initiatives in the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education

Office of Vocational and Adult Education Becomes Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education

Cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog.

Students in a studio

Technology is a critical tool for career readiness at the Duke Ellington School for the Arts in Washington, DC.

February is Career and Technical Education (CTE) month, and what could be more fitting than to announce that the name of the Office of Vocational and Adult Education has been changed to the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE). Vocational education was recognized as a national priority with the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917. “Career and Technical Education” has now replaced “vocational education” as a more accurate term to describe what and how students are studying to be career ready.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said, “The president and I believe that high-quality CTE programs are a vital strategy for helping our diverse students complete their secondary and postsecondary studies.” He acknowledged that those on a CTE track are helping our nation meet our economic and workforce challenges. “In fact, by implementing dual enrollment and early college models, a growing number of CTE pathways are helping students to fast-track their college degrees.”

Natalie Tran, a Future Business Leaders of America chapter president at River Hill High School in Clarksville, Md., told ED, “[In CTE] over time, you gain confidence—you know what you are doing, you know that you are able to go into the workforce . . . And it’s all about—knowledge is power, and that’s what CTE provides us.”

In 2012, the Obama Administration released Investing in America’s Future, A Blueprint for Transforming Career and Technical Education. The Blueprint calls for effective, high-quality CTE programs aligned with college- and career-readiness standards. These programs provide work-based learning opportunities that enable students to connect what they are learning to real-life career scenarios and choices. Students participating in effective CTE programs graduate with industry certifications or licenses and postsecondary certificates or degrees that prepare them for in-demand careers within high-growth industry sectors.

Student with headphones

A CTE student at the Veterans Tribute Career Technical Academy in Las Vegas, Nev., explains her project to OCTAE Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier

Alvon Brown, a student from The Edison Academy at Edison High School in Alexandria, Va., studied to become an HVAC technician in CTE. He told ED, “. . . instead of just staying with being an HVAC technician, I want to become an engineer and work with HVAC, because I like creating stuff, and I like working—not only do I like working with my hands, I like thinking about what I can do with my hands.”

The Office of Vocational and Adult Education has had a rich history of being in the forefront of career, technical and adult education, providing funding and technical assistance to the career pathways movement, for instance. OCTAE continues to be the office in ED responsible for administering federal CTE programs, as well as the partner adult education programs. The Congressionally-mandated change in name to OCTAE acknowledges the CTE reality and looks to the future as it advances the priorities around preparing all youth and adult students for success in college and careers.

Health and Skills: Making the Connection

Adults with low literacy skills are four times more likely to report poor to fair health than adults with higher skills. This is two times the international average according to recent data from the Survey of Adult Skills (October, 2013), which is part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC).

This correlation between skills and health presents great challenges to both the individual and his or her healthcare providers to communicate and address the prevention, management, and treatment of disease and healthy behaviors. Poor literacy, numeracy, and problem solving skills adversely affect health care, health information access, health outcomes, and appear to limit engagement in positive, preventative behaviors. At a time when the U.S. is spending more than $2 trillion a year on healthcare ($2.5 trillion in 2009, according to the Surgeon General’s National Prevention Strategy), even a fraction of improved outcomes could save millions of dollars. As a reference, the U.S. federal investment in the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act (AEFLA), which funds adult basic education and English proficiency classes, is $563 million.

U.S. adults ages 16-65 performed poorly on all measures of the Survey of Adult Skills, with average scores below international averages in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in a technology-rich environment. While there are high performers in each domain, the U.S. population has a greater proportion of adults of working age with low skills (defined as below Level 2 on a five level scale) than the comparison countries (see more about the findings here).

The relationship between skills and health provides a strong case for investing in upskilling adults. The economic returns to skill development are clearly demonstrated in the Survey through the correlation of skills to higher wages, more permanent employment, and greater use of skills on the job.  The returns to improved health are likely to be at least as important. A healthier workforce is more productive with fewer days lost to illness. The healthcare costs of poor health literacy is demonstrated through higher costs for service, more emergency room visits, and fewer preventative services accessed.

There is a great opportunity to think about addressing skills and health simultaneously in a more holistic approach, as called for in the National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy, issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2010. Embedding opportunities for skill development and practice in community health efforts is an underutilized approach. While contextualizing literacy in the context of health has been a promising practice, see resources at the LINCS Health Literacy Collection, too little has been done to use community-based health interventions as the anchor for literacy and numeracy interventions.

Community health workers – whether in hospitals, health centers, private primary care practices or as part of home health care or visiting nurse services – can help low-skilled adults apply the skills they do have to the immediate situation. Health professionals can use plain language and teach back methods of communication, and work closely with local educational service providers to make referrals more seamless and less stigmatized. Similarly, adult education workers can assist individuals with accessing health care, finding insurance, following treatment instructions, applying literacy and numeracy skills to everyday practices, and providing navigation assistance to services that can enhance healthy behavior. Services could be co-located for greater coordination and impact. Cross-training or shared training and professional development within a community could strengthen relationships and referral networks.

The Survey of Adult Skills (OECD, 2013) is clear that skills and quality of life issues are deeply interrelated, especially in the United States. The findings echo a recent report from the Institute of Medicine, U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health. Communities need to address these challenges as related, not separate issues, and find the means to take a holistic view of the quality of life issues faced by low-skilled, low-income, and low-English proficient populations when proposing solutions. Conducting a local health needs assessment and asset map of existing challenges, resources, and future growth projections can be a way to engage the community. Prevention and health safety campaigns are ideal opportunities to involve the full range of family-serving organizations in a community.

In November 2013, the U.S. Department of Education launched a national engagement effort to explore ways to increase our national capacity to improve the foundation skills of adults in the United States. Regional events have been held through the winter and communities are being asked to provide input and feedback from their own locally-hosted roundtable discussions to inform a national action plan.

In order to assist communities in hosting roundtable discussions, the Department created a set of resources and an online submission form. See www.TimetoReskill.org for the following tools:

  • Consultation Paper, a 10-page paper that can be shared in advance of an event to provide background on the skills issue and the framework for the national action plan.
  • Toolkit, a step-by-step guide to running a local roundtable from types of people to invite to the questions to pose.
  • Online feedback form for submitting feedback. (Please submit comments by March 14 to be considered in the Plan.)

We hope community health partners will be part of the solution! Consider hosting a roundtable discussion in your area and contributing to the national action plan.

Johan Uvin is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Strategic Initiatives at the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education 

Silicon Valley Weighs in on Adult Education Challenges

Cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog.

If you want to engage the high-tech industry to help improve job readiness for the nation’s 36 million low-skilled adults, a good place to start is Silicon Valley.

That is just what the Wadhwani Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education did. In January, Wadhwani staff, led by Chief Executive Officer Ajay Kela, were joined by ED’s Brenda Dann-Messier, assistant secretary for career, technical, and adult education; Johan Uvin, deputy assistant secretary for policy and strategic initiatives; and Cheryl Keenan, director of the Adult Education and Literacy Division, for a listening-and-working session at Cañada College, in Redwood City, Calif.

Dann-Messier

Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier (seated, second from left) and Wadhwani Foundation’s Gayatri Agnew (standing, left) are joined by colleagues at the adult reskilling session in Redwood City, Calif. (ED photo credit: Joe Barison)

This engagement event, “Time for the U.S. to Reskill,” brought more than 50 San Francisco Bay Area adult-education stakeholders together, with representation from local workforce, community, and advocacy organizations. The welcome by Wadhwani’s Kela, ED’s Dann-Messier, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Regional Administrator Robert Garcia described the magnitude of the low-skilled-adults challenge. The speakers emphasized how a worker’s low skill level directly affects life beyond employment, starting with a person’s health.

The format was “to put people in a room who may not typically come into a room together and convene unlikely stakeholders,” said Gayatri Agnew, Wadhwani’s program director for Race to a Job – USA.

The immediate goal, Dann-Messier said, “is a national plan to improve the foundation skills of the 36 million low-skilled adults in this country.” She explained her imperative to travel to California and to be in the room. “I need to hear what the folks are saying regionally, what the challenges are, what the solutions are, and it’s very important for me to hear all of that first-hand, and not have it filtered.”

Agnew moderated a panel comprised of adult-education stakeholders, followed by general discussion. The participants then dispersed to a half-dozen small rooms for a working lunch and creating the start of solutions. Later, during a break, participants talked about their reasons for attending the session and assessed how things were going.

“We’re trying to serve an issue here of equality, access issues, in both the field of Latinos moving up in the corporate world and in social equity,” said Luis Chavez, chairman of the board, Latino Institute on Corporate Inclusion, and a senior director for the Career Ladders Project.

Silicon Valley employers gave their perspectives as well. Kris Stadelman, director of the Nova Workforce Investment Board, said, “In education – I hear this from employers – your product is supposed to be a trained, ready, educated, prepared workforce.” In this light, she said, the day’s program was on the right track. “It was really good to start out with evidence, with the data, to really quantify what it is we’re talking about. I think the questions were all the right ones.”

This engagement session was one of five ED nationwide sessions, with others held in Philadelphia, Chicago, rural Cleveland, Miss., and the greater Boston, Mass. area. While each session is unique, Dann-Messier sees the Silicon Valley session as different from the rest. “If you’ve got 36 million folks – and federally we’re only serving two million – traditional means aren’t going to work,” she said. “We have to really make sure that we utilize technology-enabled solutions.”

Joe Barison is the director of communications and outreach for ED’s San Francisco Regional Office.

Parents: Tips To Help Your Child Complete the FAFSA

Cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog.

Parent Blog Image

If you’re a parent of a college bound child, the financial aid process can seem a bit overwhelming.  Who’s considered the parent? Who do you include in household size?  How do assets and tax filing fit into the process? Does this have to be done every year?  Here are some common questions that parents have when helping their children prepare for and pay for college or career school:

Why does my child need to provide my information on the FAFSA?

While we provide over $150 billion in financial aid each year, the federal student aid programs are based on the assumption that it is primarily your and your child’s responsibility to pay for college.  If your child was born after January 1, 1991 then most likely he or she is considered a dependent student and you’ll need to include your information on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSASM).

Who’s considered a parent when completing the FAFSA?

If you need to report parent information, here are some guidelines to help you:

  • If your legal parents (your biological and/or adoptive parents) are married to each other, answer the questions about both of them, regardless of whether your parents are of the same or opposite sex.
  • If your legal parents are not married to each other and live together, answer the questions about both of them, regardless of whether your parents are of the same or opposite sex.
  • If your parent is widowed or was never married, answer the questions about that parent.
  • If your parents are divorced or separated, follow these guidelines.

More information on who’s considered the parent can be found here:http://1.usa.gov/1fdcCy2

Who’s considered part of the household?

When completing your child’s FAFSA, you should include parents, any dependent student(s) and any other child who lives at home and receives more than half of their support from you in the household size.  Also include any people who are not your children but who live with you and for whom you provide more than half of their support.

Do I need to wait until I file my income taxes?

In some states there are deadlines for additional monies so you’ll want to complete the FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1st.  You do not need to wait until you file your federal tax return.  If you haven’t done your taxes by the time you complete the FAFSA, you can estimate amounts based on the previous year if nothing has drastically changed.  After you file your taxes, you’ll need to log back in to the FAFSA and correct any estimated information.  If you’ve already filed your taxes, you can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to automatically pull in your tax information directly from the IRS into the FAFSA.

Do I need to do this every year?

Yes, you and your child need to complete the FAFSA each year in order for your child to be considered for federal student aid.  The good news is that each subsequent year you can use the Renewal Application option so you only have to update information that has changed from the previous year!

What else do I need to know before I begin?

You’ll need to get a PIN and have all the necessary documents before you begin.  Here’s a handy checklist: http://studentaid.ed.gov/fafsa/filling-out

Susan Thares is Digital Engagement Lead at the Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid.