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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Call for Research Papers Using PIAAC Data

OCTAE is collaborating with the U.S. National Institutes of Health, specifically the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child and Human Development (NICHD) and the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR), to sponsor a call for research papers on the relationship of education and skills to public health for adults and their families, particularly for those most at risk for poor educational, economic, and health outcomes. This collaboration reflects a shared commitment to increasing the evidence base for the work that these agencies perform and to making that evidence freely available for all.

The theme of the call is: Improving the Lives of Adults and Families: Identifying Individual and Systems-level Factors Relating Education, Health, Civic Engagement, and Economic Well-being. This effort leverages and extends the recent Institute of Medicine (IOM) report on U.S. Health in International Perspective as well as the recently released Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) cross-national, population-representative dataset, the Survey of Adult Skills, part of the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), to hone in on issues specific to the U.S. and allow for rich international comparisons.

Note that the U.S. PIAAC Background Questionnaire includes questions on health status, health insurance coverage, sources of information about health issues, and preventive health practices (based on age and gender).

OCTAE, NICHD, and OBSSR plan to cover the publication fees associated with a select number of initial publications for this Collection. Authors interested in applying for financial consideration by these groups should submit a preliminary draft paper for funding consideration by January 30, 2015 to brett.miller@nih.gov.

PLOS icon, a stylized atom as a planet

PLOS icon

See the full Call for Papers on the Public Library of Science (PLOS) blog site. PLOS is a peer-reviewed, highly competitive, open source journal that publishes online, freely-available articles related to science, medicine, and health. The Collection is essentially an open-ended special issue where related articles can be easily grouped. The Collection will stay open for additional articles past the initial deadline for consideration.

Online PIAAC Data Explorer Launched

Cross-posted from the PIAAC Buzz newsletter; sign up to receive the Buzz directly. 

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) recently launched a new interactive online web portal that will make it easy for researchers, practitioners, and policymakers to build customizable data tables using the PIAAC data. This new tool supplements the information available in NCES’s First Look report—Literacy, Numeracy, and Problem Solving in Technology-Rich Environments Among U.S. Adults: Results From the Program for the Assessment of Adult Competencies 2012—and is designed to enable users to create their own data tables.

Like NCES’s First Look report, the PIAAC Results Portal reports average scores and proficiency levels in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments. It can be used to compare U.S. performance to the international average and to the average in any or all participating countries.

You can also dig a little deeper by examining the data by a variety of characteristics. For example, if you are interested in how U.S. adults with different levels of educational attainment performed in literacy, you can create a table based on educational attainment variables. Likewise, if you are interested in what skills adults use at home and at work and how the use of these skills relates to performance in numeracy, you can look at that as well. There are many other variables to explore.

To make your searches easier, NCES has created profiles for two key subgroups, found under “Employment Status.” For example, the characteristics included in the “unemployed” subgroup profile include age, gender, race/ethnicity, U.S. born, and educational attainment. In addition to these characteristics, the “employed” subgroup profile includes occupation, industry of employment, and level of gross pay. After you have created your customized table, you have the option to export your data table to Excel.

You can access the PIAAC Results Portal directly from the PIAAC Gateway homepage.

Time to Reskill: A Practitioner Webinar Rescheduled

Join the U.S. Department of Education, American Institutes for Research, and adult education advocates for a webinar on Thursday, March 13, from 1:00pm-3:00pm ET. 

NOTE: new date! The original February date was postponed due to weather. Please use this link to register for the rescheduled webinar.

With the recent release of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)’s Program for International Assessment of Adult Competencies, (PIAAC) demonstrating the direct relationship between skills and economic security, health, and educational advancement, there is even more urgency to address the needs of low-skilled learners and equip the teaching workforce to help such students achieve their academic and economic goals.

The Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) launched a national engagement effort on November 20 (see archived announcement) to explore ways to increase our national capacity to improve the foundation skills of adults in the United States. OVAE is particularly interested in engaging with adult educators to solicit their input into a forthcoming national action plan.

This webinar will be an opportunity to receive a briefing on the PIAAC data, the OECD’s special report on America’s low-skilled population, Time for the U.S. to Reskill?, and engage in a focused discussion about the issues facing adult education.

To prepare for the webinar, see the Consultation Paper, which provides background on the skills issue and the framework for the national action plan. The discussion will continue online in various groups within the LINCS Community of Practice.

Register here for the webinar and help us spread the word among practitioners!

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.

Time to Reskill: A Practitioner Engagement Event

Join the U.S. Department of Education, American Institutes for Research, and adult education advocates for a webinar on Thursday, February 13, from 1:00pm-3:00pm ET.

With the recent release of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)’s Program for International Assessment of Adult Competencies, (PIAAC) demonstrating the direct relationship between skills and economic security, health, and educational advancement, there is even more urgency to address the needs of low-skilled learners and equip the teaching workforce to help such students achieve their academic and economic goals.

The Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) launched a national engagement effort on November 20 (see archived announcement) to explore ways to increase our national capacity to improve the foundation skills of adults in the United States. OVAE is particularly interested in engaging with adult educators to solicit their input into a forthcoming national action plan.

This webinar will be an opportunity to receive a briefing on the PIAAC data, the OECD’s special report on America’s low-skilled population, Time for the U.S. to Reskill?, and engage in a focused discussion about the issues facing adult education.

To prepare for the webinar, see the Consultation Paper, which provides background on the skills issue and the framework for the national action plan. The discussion will continue online in various groups within the LINCS Community of Practice.

Register here for the webinar and help us spread the word among practitioners!

Tomorrow: Attend an OVAE Engagement Event via Live Stream

OVAE and The Joyce Foundation are co-hosting a regional engagement session in Chicago, IL tomorrow, Wednesday, December 18, as part of the series of events announced November 20 in response to the PIAAC Survey of Adult Skills results.

The morning presentations and panel discussion (10:00am – 12:00pm CT) will be live streamed. RSVP if you would like to join via the live stream. Moderated by Whitney Smith, Employment Program Director at the Joyce Foundation, panelists will discuss “New Models for Reaching Students in the Workplace and Through Technology” and include:

  • Erick Ajax, Co-owner, EJ Ajax Metal Forming Solutions
  • Marilyn Chapman, Director of Organizational Development, Mercy Hospital
  • Sameer Gadkaree, Former Director of Adult Education, City Colleges of Chicago
  • Jenifer Vanek, University of Minnesota

Host a Roundtable about How Skills Matter in Your Community

On November 20, OVAE launched an engagement process that will result in a National Action Plan for improving the skills of low-skilled adults, a part of the Department’s response to the U.S. performance on the PIAAC Survey of Adult Skills. See the archived footage of that event here.

We want to hear from your community! To assist you in your efforts to coordinate a regional or local roundtable on the topic of adult skills, OVAE has 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, after you’ve run a roundtable, we want to know how it went and what you learned! Please submit your comments by March 14 to be considered in the Plan.

Stay tuned to the blog for updates from OVAE’s regional sessions as well.

 

 

 

Join Kick-Off Session of the National Engagement Process to Improve the Skills of Low-Skilled Adults

Join as OVAE launches an engagement process to develop a national action plan to improve the skills of low-skilled adults. This event, held tomorrow, Wednesday, November 20, from 9:00am-11:30am ET, will be live streamed and virtual participation is encouraged. The event will focus on the recently-released data collected by the OECD as part of the PIAAC Survey of Adult Skills which indicates significant areas of weakness in the U.S. adult workforce.

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