Integrating Workforce Readiness into BEACON’s ESOL Program
BEACON’s addition of Workforce Readiness Skills into its ESOL program was instituted in response to federal legislation that spotlighted troubling gaps in our nation’s workforce readiness. Signed into law on July 22, 2014, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) helps individuals overcome barriers to employment through programs that increase access to education and training needed to succeed in today’s labor market.
As a funding recipient through the Virginia Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, BEACON integrates WIOA requirements into our ESOL classes to prepare the adult immigrants we serve to compete and succeed in the global workforce.
Many of the 350 students we will serve in Fiscal Year 2017 will be unemployed and/or underemployed or seeking employment. While BEACON’s Beginner Level ESOL students will focus on just learning basic English, Intermediate and Advanced Level students who have achieved a good grasp of the language may be ready to receive specialized instruction around workforce readiness. To that end, BEACON is developing supporting curriculum to integrate job skills into the current ESOL program.
Leading this workforce readiness initiative is Kay Fitzgerald. A natural trainer with a gift for communication, Kay’s background in training and development, and immigrant empowerment, helps her to quickly zero in on the particular workforce-related needs of the students. Her broad exposure to global cultures helps her to recognize potential difficulties a student may encounter when seeking a job.
“For example, some foreign-born adults come from a culture in which asking questions is impolite,” she says. “So, when an immigrant is faced with the prospects of employment we are able to help him or her understand that is it not only polite, but vital that they ask prospective employers about benefits, training and opportunities for advancement.”
Helping Kay are workforce/life skills and resume coaches—two new volunteer roles created for the initiative. The workforce/life readiness curriculum is focused around five broad categories: workforce/life readiness expectations (such as being on time for a job), diversity in the workplace, dressing professionally, communicating with colleagues and supervisors, and completing forms.
Each semester, the curriculum is integrated into the Intermediate and Advanced Level classes through a series of workforce-focused presentations for each group of students. BEACON teachers choose from an extensive list of workforce/life readiness topics and the sessions are customized to meet the unique needs of the students in their respective classes.
The workforce/life skills coach walks students through the Who, What, Where and When-steps of the employment soft skills process, beginning with knowledge and use of proper vocabulary.
Workforce readiness sessions are designed to break down many common steps of the job search process, from writing resumes, to filling out forms, to going on interviews, which can be overwhelming and intimidating even for people whose first language is English.
Contextual learning is a cornerstone of workforce development education. In simple terms, it means that adult education programs must provide lessons that enhance learner knowledge but that are also relevant and meaningful to their everyday lives.
To that end, workforce/life skills coaches engage students in tackling other challenges, such as practicing online communication, filling out job applications, and writing cover letters to employers. Completing sometimes confusing or lengthy forms—whether for a job, school registration, doctor’s office, or even library card—is a reality of everyday life. BEACON students participate in role-plays and mock interviews, and practice completing different types of applications. Interested learners also receive individualized guidance, instruction, and support with resume writing.
BEACON’s new Workforce Readiness Skills integration is already a proven success in helping jobseekers learn to confidently communicate and navigate the challenging employment process. Thirty-two percent of students receiving Workforce Readiness Skills training retained, obtained and/or advanced employment in Fiscal Year 2016. It is a strategic effort to empower our students through job skills integration into our core ESOL curriculum.
Kay sums up the endeavor by saying, “We are so privileged in this country. It is an honor and a blessing to help our students realize their potential and guide them as they strive for self-sufficiency and a better life for themselves and their families. Getting a job is just a first step.”