Closing the Equity Gap

“We must close the equity gap for immigrants, refugees, returning citizens, and all adults with disabilities.” – Dr. Brenda Dann-Messier

Rigoberto Alvarado left El Salvador in 1991 in search of a better life in the United States. He needed English and a job. With the help of friends and family, he found an English class at the Neighborhood Centers’ Oakland Adult and Career Education. He started learning English. He found a job he liked in the hospitality industry. But he quickly realized he needed more skills in order to advance, so he returned to Neighborhood Centers to learn about computers and computer applications. Through hard work and dedication to his education, Rigoberto advanced through the ranks to become banquet manager at the Waterfront Hotel in Jack London Square. He now hires and supervises many employees, manages costs and inventories, and strives to create a positive employee work environment. Rigoberto put himself on the path to the middle class.

As Rigoberto’s experience indicates, employment-focused literacy and numeracy, as well as job skills are critical to the prosperity and well-being of individuals. One third of the 36 million adults with low skills in our country are immigrants or refugees like Rigoberto but they have not yet had the opportunities he has had. Our current programs can only offer English language learning opportunities to about 678,000 adult English learners per year. Unless we create additional opportunities for them, these twelve million adults will have a harder time finding a well-paying job than their higher skilled peers.

Making Skills Everyone’s Business – which was released on February 24 – makes a commitment to closing the equity gap for immigrants and refugees and other adults with multiple barriers including adults with disabilities, returning citizens, homeless adults, and emancipated youth transitioning out of the foster care system. Closing the equity gap is one of the seven strategies included in this national call to transform adult learning.

Data from the Survey of Adult Skills support this strategy. For instance, adults with learning disabilities are twice as likely to have low skills but few programs are equipped to meet these adult learners’ unique needs. Twenty-six percent of adults at Level 1 and 9 percent of those below Level 1 reported a learning disability. The figure below, Figure 9 in the Making Skills Everyone’s Business report, demonstrates the challenge.

This chart shows that 8 percent of U.S. adults ages 16–65 answered yes to a question about whether they have ever been diagnosed or identified as having a learning disability; 92 percent answered no. Of those who answered yes, 35 percent had low literacy skills; that is, they scored below Level 2. Of those who answered no, 17 percent had low literacy skills.

Percentage of U.S. adults ages 16–65 at each level of proficiency on the PIAAC literacy scale, by their responses to a question about whether they have ever been diagnosed or identified as having a learning disability

One subpopulation that requires our attention and commitment are older youth and adults in our correctional facilities. Data on the skills of the incarcerated and on returning citizens are forthcoming, as the National Center for Educations Statistics is completing data collection on a representative sample of institutionalized individuals. Conclusive data are available, however, that show that career-oriented education is one of the more effective interventions that contribute to significant reductions in recidivism according to a recent meta-analysis, Evaluating the Effectiveness of Correctional Education, conducted by the Rand Corporation. OCTAE’s expanding investments in adult and youth reentry education programs and the expanded provisions for corrections education in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act are just the beginning. We need to work directly with employers to create pathways from prison to good jobs.

Partnerships with employers, employment and training agencies, agencies that can support wrap around support services, and integrated education and training programs that simultaneously provide skills remediation and postsecondary education and training are doable and can create real opportunities. But these partnerships and services demand more resources. In addition to demanding resources, we should have the political will to create more opportunities.

When I traveled all across the country gathering input for Making Skills Everyone’s Business, adult learners told me repeatedly that they are ready to take advantage of the opportunities to improve their skills. Let’s work together to make it happen.

Guest Author: Dr. Brenda Dann-Messier is the former Assistant Secretary for Career, Technical, and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education. Dann-Messier launched the national engagement process that resulted in Making Skills Everyone’s Business.

Job-Driven Training: Next Steps

“This [work] is really about the future of the middle class.” That is how U.S. Secretary of Labor Perez framed the work of The Skills Working Group (Work Group), earlier this week. Secretary Perez brought Cabinet members together to talk about how the Administration can make sure that everyone has the skills they need to get a job or get ahead. Members of the Work Group identified priorities and projects to focus their joint work. They discussed how best to maintain a national focus on skills and maintain interagency collaboration on skills beyond 2016.

In November 2014, Perez launched the Work Group, an effort to keep the momentum of the Job-Driven Training Initiative. This initiative is making sure that youth and adults leaving our education and training programs have the skills businesses need. Thirteen federal agencies, the White House National Economic Council, and the Office of Management and Budget make up the Work Group including the departments of Labor, Education, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, Transportation, Energy, Defense, Justice, Interior, and the Social Security Administration. The Work Group coordinates activities across these various agencies.

Overview of Job-Driven Training Milestones:

Jan. 2014 State of the Union: President Obama announces Job-Driven Training initiative and asks Vice President Biden to lead a federal government wide review of job training programs.

Feb-Jun 2014 Job-Driven Training Review: White House and agencies develop job-driven checklist and review job-training programs across 13 agencies.

July 2014 Ready to Work Job Driven Training Initiative Report: White House releases job-driven training report with the results of the job-driven review and an action plan for moving forward, including:

  • Steps to make competitive and formula program more “job-driven”
  • Collaborative efforts across agencies to better align systems, braid funding, and enhance coordination
  • A call to action around long-term unemployment, upskilling, and tech hiring

Nov. 2014 Skills Working Group Launched: Launch of the interagency Skills Working Group in November 2014 to maintain focus and attention around interagency, collaborative efforts component of job-driven training initiative, as well as emerging opportunities around cross-agency skills coordination.

Dec. 2014 Sub-Committees Meet: Skills Working Group deputies establish sub-committees that met in December and over the holidays to develop initial project work plans.

Jan. 2015 State of the Union: President Obama acknowledges the success of Vice President Biden’s job-driven training initiative and highlights apprenticeship and upskilling.

Members presented the goals, objectives, activities, and expected outcomes developed by interagency work teams focused on four topics. Secretary Perez presented on apprenticeship. Secretary Moniz discussed possible pilots for better coordination around skills in targeted communities. Secretary Pritzker introduced technology innovations. And we discussed efforts to increase the skills of 24 million front-line workers so they can advance to higher-paying jobs. We also talked about ways to get more states involved in creating career pathway programs.

Following these mini-presentations, we spoke about what we are already doing and about what more we can do together.

We left the meeting with a clear sense of direction to develop and implement together a comprehensive strategy to solve America’s skills challenge.

Guest Bloggers: Johan E. Uvin is the Acting Assistant Secretary for Career, Technical, and Adult Education. Carmen Drummond is a Special Assistant and Policy Advisor in the Office of the Assistant Secretary. Uvin and Drummond are facilitating the career pathways and upskilling work stream of The Skills Working Group.

Creating a Clear Path to Better Jobs for Low-Skilled Workers Stuck in Front-line Positions

America is creating millions of jobs. But, too many of these jobs go unfilled – five million to be exact. At the same time, there are roughly 8.7 million Americans looking for work and 24 million front-line workers who could fill these jobs, if they had the skills or were given the opportunity.

As the economy continues to improve, more and more employers struggle to find skilled workers with the requisite skills to fill in-demand jobs. At the same time, between twenty and thirty million workers in low-wage jobs – many of whom could be trained to fill more skilled roles – lack a clear path to a better job and career. According to the OECD, these workers are about half as likely as their high-skilled colleagues to participate in any job-relevant education or training over the course of the year. These workers need expanded opportunities and lowered barriers to gain both basic and technical skills.

In his State of the Union address last Tuesday, the President called on employers across the country to adopt or expand additional measures to help front-line workers gain the training and credentials to advance into better paying jobs – including paying for college education, offering on-the-job training for career progression, and increasing access to technology-enabled learning tools. The day after, the President’s first stop and appearance was at Boise State University in Idaho where he launched an “Upskill America” initiative:

Today, we’re partnering with business across the country to “Upskill America” — to help workers of all ages earn a shot at better, higher-paying jobs, even if they don’t have a higher education.  We want to recruit more companies to help provide apprenticeships and other pathways so that people can upgrade their skills.  We’re all going to have to do that in this new economy.  But it’s hard to do it on your own, especially if you’re already working and supporting a family. 

Many employers have already developed promising approaches to training and credentialing for upskilling front-line workers as part of successful talent strategies. And, we know that many others see the opportunity to benefit their workforce and bottom lines through investments in the skills of their front-line workers. This challenge creates a great opportunity for business, industry, labor, and government to team up and find and support a solution together.

The Administration is working with employers to identify and spread best practices for education, training and credentialing of front-line workers to help with their job progression. Examples of these practices are employers paying for their front-line workers’ college education, identifying clear internal pathways, providing career counseling and coaching, offering on-the-job training that leads to career progression, and providing access to online and technology-enabled education tools so workers can develop their basic and technical skills.

In the coming months, businesses of all sizes will be convened, as well as foundations, education and training non-profits and other partners who are committing to make new investments, to collectively set new goals and change policies that will enable low-skilled front-line workers to progress into better-paying jobs and help employers meet their current and projected unmet demand for skilled labor.

This effort to improve the skills of front-line workers builds on the actions Vice President Biden presented to President Obama on July 22, 2014 as part of his report Ready to Work: Job-Driven Training and American Opportunity. In his 2014 State of the Union address, the President had tasked Vice President Biden with leading a review of federal employment and training programs, with the aim of making them more job-driven. Ready to Work: Job-Driven Training and American Opportunity highlights successful job-driven training strategies, details executive actions that are being taken by the federal government, and new commitments by employers, non-profits, unions and innovators to help spread what’s working. As indicated in the release of the Ready to Work report, if you’re ready to work, you should be able to find a job that fits your skills, or get trained with the skills you need for a better job.

In November 2014, U.S. Secretary of Labor Perez launched The Skills Working Group, an interagency effort to maintain focus and attention around interagency, collaborative efforts of the Job-Driven Training Initiative, as well as emerging opportunities around cross-agency skills coordination. Thirteen federal agencies, the White House National Economic Council, and the Office of Management and Budget make up The Skills Working Group including the departments of Labor, Education, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, Transportation, Energy, Defense, Justice, Interior, and the Social Security Administration. The Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education has been an active contributor to this work and leads the career pathways and upskilling work streams.

I find it inspiring to see businesses and labor-management initiatives expand access to training and provide supports for Americans to access pathways into the middle class. CVS Health, for example, is expanding access to job-advancement training for their employees by launching two new regional learning centers that will serve thousands of additional employees in the next two years. This builds on the six regional learning centers CVS Health currently operates in partnership with community colleges and other community service organizations, to help support thousands of workers as they build customer service- and healthcare-related job skills for career progression. The Upstate NY 1199 SEIU Training and Upgrading Fund started C.N.A. training in the Syracuse (Central NY) area three years ago for incumbent SEIU members to allow lower level workers (dietary and housekeeping) to move up the career ladder.  Since this initiative was not always able to fill this program with incumbent workers, they started drawing on people from the community.  Community participants are funded through grants.

It is also exciting to see how many opportunities the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) provides for businesses – in partnership with adult education and youth and adult training providers or otherwise – to ensure that our nation’s workforce is ready to work and remains highly skilled and competitive. Whether it is through the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act – Title II of WIOA – or through any of the other core programs, WIOA can play a critical role in achieving the goals of UpSkill America. Here are just a few ways that WIOA can do this:

  • Employer partnerships with education providers are eligible entities under Title II. This creates opportunities for employers and providers to team up and offer foundation skill development opportunities for low-skilled workers looking to get ahead. Learn more at a new, interactive site designed to support employer-adult education partnerships.
  • Employers can take advantage of increased access to work-based training. WIOA provides the ability for local workforce investment areas to help employers train their workers.
  • WIOA also increases reimbursement available for on-the-job training from 30 percent to 75 percent.
  • Businesses, under WIOA, can collaborate with American Job Centers, community colleges, and adult education providers to develop integrated education and training programs—including Registered Apprenticeships—at the workplace to help employees gain basic and technical skills and advance to the next level of work. Further, this collaboration can support regional sector strategies and the development of career pathways that support job seekers and help meet the needs of employers.
  • WIOA places a great emphasis on serving out-of-school youth. The new law requires local communities to spend at least 75 percent of available youth funding, or approximately $500 million, on this population. This provision goes into effect July 1, 2015. By partnering with the public sector to provide apprenticeships, internships, summer jobs, and other on-the-job training experiences, businesses can help the nation maximize opportunities for disconnected youth and young adults and build a skilled workforce.

The UpSkill America initiative, the implementation of WIOA, the modernization and expansion of apprenticeships, and the implementation of the executive actions in the Ready to Work report are all contributing to the momentum that is building in our country to make sure that all Americans have the skills that employers need and that will allow them to get ahead.

 

Johan E. Uvin is the Acting Assistant Secretary for the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education

Renewing Economic Opportunity for All

UPDATE September 22, 2014: In recognition of Adult Education and Family Literacy Week, September 22-28, 2014, we revisit this blog post recognizing the role of adult education in the economic and social health of our nation. This week allows us to spotlight the many practitioners and volunteers who improve their communities through education and applaud the commitment of learners to improve themselves, their families and their communities through increased education, English proficiency, and workforce preparation.  Get involved and recognize Adult Education and Family Literacy Week in your community. Join the online celebration by including the #AEFLWeek and #AESuccess hashtags in your daily Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts.

“For the one million young men and women who are out of school and who are out of work, this program will permit us to take them off the streets, put them into work training programs, to prepare them for productive lives, not wasted lives […] It will help those small businessmen who live on the borderline of poverty. It will help the unemployed heads of families maintain their skills and learn new skills. ”

Photo of President Johnson signing the EOA in a ceremony in the White House rose garden surrounded by onlookers.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964.

These words were spoken by President Lyndon B. Johnson on August 20, 1964 as he signed the Economic Opportunity Act (EOA), a keystone of the “War on Poverty.” The EOA created several programs across a number of federal agencies that aimed to “eliminate the paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty in this Nation by opening to everyone the opportunity for education and training, the opportunity to work, and the opportunity to live in decency and dignity.” EOA was a legislative milestone that highlighted the need for investments in high quality education for youth as well as adults. In addition to programs like Head Start, Job Corps, and VISTA, EOA authorized federal grants for adult basic education, which marked the beginning of federal statutory involvement in adult literacy. This Law set the stage for other crucial adult education legislation to address the issue of illiteracy such as the Adult Education Act of 1966 and the National Literacy Act of 1991.

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Which sectors will be adding the most jobs?

Did you know that the health-care sector and social assistance sector (which includes child and youth services and community services) are projected to account for almost one-third of the total increase in employment over the next 10 years? Or that, of the 30 occupations projected to have the largest percentage increase in employment between 2012 and 2022, 14 are related to health care and five are related to construction? Kristina Bartsch, chief of the Division of Occupational Employment Projections at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, discussed industries and occupations projected to gain and lose jobs between 2012 and 2022, and the education needed for those jobs, on C-SPAN’s “America by the Numbers” on January 31.

This story appeared in the February 6 edition of the U.S. Department of Labor Newsletter and was posted in the Youth and Adult Pathways microgroup in LINCS.

You can watch the interview recorded January 31, 2014 on C-SPAN.org.

This Thursday: TAACCCT Grant Applicants Online Panel Discussion

The U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department and Education invite you to attend a live online panel discussion this Thursday, May 23, from 1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. This session will highlight important focus areas for the third round of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant program including employer engagement, capacity building, and innovative service delivery.

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OVAE Visits with 12 for Life Program Representatives

Last week OVAE hosted several visitors from the 12 for Life program to learn more about their innovative education, training and employment program aimed at vulnerable youth in Carrollton, GA and Florence, AL.  The program, which was developed by Southwire in 2007 to address the interrelated dropout and skills crises among youth in Georgia, targets many of the most vulnerable youth who are at the greatest risk of not completing high school. 

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How Articulating the Registered Apprenticeship Certificate to College Credit Creates Opportunity

Now more than ever, maintaining America’s competitive edge requires that workers obtain relevant post-secondary credentials and that employers have access to a well-trained and highly-skilled workforce.  For decades, the national Registered Apprenticeship system and the nation’s extensive network of two- and four-year post-secondary institutions have been at the forefront of providing industry-driven education and training that supports business competitiveness and career advancement for workers.

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Assistant Secretary Visits Kentucky Community College

“Partnerships between community colleges, labor, employers, career and technical education and adult education systems are critical to making it easier for students to transition seamlessly along a career pathway,” said OVAE’s Assistant Secretary, Brenda Dann-Messier, after traveling to Kentucky last week to meet with officials and students from the Kentucky Community Technical College System (KCTCS).

Along with Kentucky Adult Education and the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, KCTCS received an Accelerating Opportunity Grant to provide students with basic skills and career and technical education training at the same time.  Kentucky has been a leader in transforming its adult education system to ease students’ transitions to postsecondary education and training long before it received an Accelerating Opportunity grant.  For instance, Kentucky was one of the first states to bring the Common Core State Standards into its adult education programs to ensure more adult learners in the state are able to enroll in college prepared to succeed.

This effort to align education systems to promote college access and success are also occurring between Kentucky’s high schools and community and technical colleges.  “I was also struck by how Kentucky is working to create these partnerships so that students as early as high school can benefit from aligned systems”, said Dann-Messier after visiting Bluegrass Community and Technical College’s Advanced Manufacturing Center (AMC).

Working together with local Toyota Motor Manufacturing company, Bluegrass’ Advanced Manufacturing Technician Program actively recruits high school students who enroll at the college upon graduation and participate in a “work, learn, and earn” model. Students gain work experience at the Toyota plant three days a week and spend the other two days taking courses at AMC.

Dann-Messier noted, “We need to see more programs like this replicated across the country, where colleges, high schools, and businesses are working together to create rigorous programs that lead to college degrees and provide incentives for students to continue their education and for them to succeed in work.”

Check out additional press coverage from the visit here.

Vanishing Middle-Skill Jobs

The Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank published an article entitled “The Vanishing Middle: Job Polarization and Workers’ Response to the Decline in Middle-Skill Jobs.”  The article appears in their Economic Review, First Quarter 2013.  The research explores the demand side, as well as the supply side, of the employment equation and provides insight into some industries and occupations in CTE career pathways.

You can find the publication on the Kansas City Federal Reserve site here.

Below is a summary from their site:

The Vanishing Middle: Job Polarization and Workers’ Response to the Decline in Middle-Skill Jobs

The share of middle-skill jobs in the United States has fallen sharply in the wake of advancing technology, the rise in outsourcing jobs overseas, and contractions in manufacturing. This shift of employment toward high- and low-skill jobs, known as “job polarization,” is not well understood.

Tuzemen and Willis analyze thirty years of data from the Current Population Survey and show that changes in job composition within industries have been the primary driver of job polarization, not shifts in employment away from industries such as manufacturing.

They also find that women have responded to the trend with increased educational attainment and a pronounced shift toward high-skill jobs, while men have shifted more evenly toward both high- and low-skill jobs.

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Education Program Specialist, OCTAE