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Upskilling in US – Policies that combine investments in English language and digital literacy are vital

English is essential – especially for essential workers

The Covid-19 pandemic has vividly illustrated the centrality of frontline workers to the everyday functioning of American life. Many frontline workers are immigrants and/or English language learners – not unlike the US workforce overall, in which more than one in 10 workers has limited English skills.

The proportion of English learners is much higher in certain frontline jobs, such as meatpacking and home health care. Even in ordinary times, these workers often lack opportunities for skill-building because they have irregular hours, limited time or money, or are working for a company that does not offer upskilling opportunities. Many English learners are also people of color, who face additional barriers due to longstanding structural racism and related inequities in the United States.

Yet acquiring better English skills is one of the most powerful steps a worker can take to improve their economic prospects. Data confirms that the US has a tighter connection between better foundational skills and higher earnings than many other industrialized countries.

In other words: For each bit of English that a worker acquires, their earnings are likely to increase. Research also suggests that supporting foundational skill gains among adults who start off with lower skill levels (in this case, literacy) has a more powerful effect on per-capita Gross Domestic Product and labor productivity, compared to skill gains among adults who were already at a higher level to begin with.

As policymakers determine potential avenues for workforce investment as part of an inclusive economic recovery, these findings should be front and center in decisionmaking.

How can policymakers best support expansion of effective English learning models?

As state and federal officials seek to identify effective tools to help their constituents navigate a tumultuous post-pandemic economy, English language learning models that include strong digital literacy components will be an important part of the solution.

Among the principles to keep in mind:

  • Businesses are central partners in designing English programs that can effectively meet their talent needs and reliably result in career advancement for their incumbent workers.
  • Digital tools are a crucial component, but cannot be the only component, of English language learning.
  • Public agencies should allow providers flexibility in performance measures used to demonstrate learning outcomes.
  • Models that have been successful as individual or boutique examples need deeper study to aid in future replication.
  • Existing racial inequities faced by English learners of color in the US labor market have been magnified by the impact of Covid-19.
  • English and digital skill-building should be supported not only by the traditional education and workforce policies such as WIOA and HEA, but also by other significant public investments.

 

How can policymakers best support expansion of effective English learning models?

Policymakers play a vital role in tackling education and workforce skill development needs in local communities. Particularly as state and federal officials seek to identify effective tools to help their constituents navigate a tumul- tuous post-pandemic economy, English language learning models that include strong digital literacy components will be an important part of the solution. Advocates and others who wish to support public investment in new and emerg- ing program models should encourage policymakers to keep the following principles in mind:

  • The “getting up to speed” costs to design and launch a new, online-friendly English language learning model are more than the “running costs” of an established in-person model. Policymakers should invest sufficiently in technical assistance, capacity building, and professional development to help practitioners develop and implement programs that can respond to modern workforce needs. One avenue for such investment could be new Digital Literacy Upskilling grants.
  • Businesses are central partners in designing English programs that can effectively meet their talent needs and reliably result in career advancement for their incumbent workers. Policymakers should emphasize models that meaningfully involve employer voices at every stage of program design and implementation, and encourage businesses to co-invest in programs via industry sector partnerships or similar models In particular, state incumbent worker training policies should be explicitly inclusive of English language and digital skill-building as allowable activities.
  • Digital tools are a crucial component, but cannot be the only component, of English language learn- ing. Policymakers should support high-quality blended or hybrid models when possible, and should provide sufficient flexibility to allow practitioners to experiment with a rich variety of online-only formats as learners and employers alike adjust to a post-Covid world.
  • Public agencies should allow providers flexibility in performance measures used to demonstrate learning outcomes. As illustrated by several of the examples in this brief, employers may not prioritize standardized test scores as the end-all and be-all measure of success. Programs should be allowed to calculate skill gains in alternative, but equally rigorous, ways. For example, policymakers should encourage providers to utilize the full range of Measurable Skill Gain indicators for programs funded under WIOA.
  • Models that have been successful as individual or boutique examples need deeper study to aid in future replication. Policymakers should set aside a portion of new or existing education investments to support research and evaluation to document findings as these isolated examples are scaled up.
  • An inclusive economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic will require adaptable models that allow people to build in-demand skills, even as those skills continue to evolve in a transforming labor market. Policymakers should invest in English learning approaches that incorporate Integrated Education and Training or other models that help learners attain industry-recognized credentials and are directly responsive to local labor market needs.
  • Existing racial inequities faced by English learners of color in the U labor market have been magnified by the impact of Covid-19. Policymakers should draw on data to understand the differential effects experienced by these workers and jobseekers, and ensure that upskilling policies are responsive to the specific barriers they face.
  • English and digital skill-building should be supported not only by the traditional education and workforce policies such as WIOA and HEA, but also by other significant public investments. Policymakers should encourage the usage of SNAP Employment and Training, Community Services Block Grant, Community Development Block Grant, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and other such policies to support innovative English and digital literacy program models emerging in a post-pandemic world.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story @ Amplifying Impact: Why policies that combine investments in English language and digital literacy are vital – National Skills Coalition

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