NSC Hosts Congressional Briefing: Building Ladders of Opportunity for Minority Communities

July 31, 2014

Earlier this week, National Skills Coalition hosted a Tri-Caucus briefing in collaboration with Congressman Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) and Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-CA) to discuss the need for greater access to quality basic skills training, including Adult Basic Education (ABE) and English language instruction (ESL) that builds bridges to postsecondary education or employment for low-skill workers, particularly within minority communities.

The briefing, Basic Skills are Everyone’s Business: Building Ladders of Opportunity for Minority Communities, was convened in response to the startling disconnect between the U.S. labor market demand and the available labor force. By 2020, the United States will fall short 5 million workers with postsecondary education. At the same time, 36 million adults—including a disproportionate number of racial and ethnic minorities—have low basic skills that must be raised in order to fill these open positions. Expanding access to education that prepares low-skilled adults to enter postsecondary education or obtain quality employment is key to ensuring that workers within minority communities—which are often most impacted by limited access to basic skills training—can obtain the skills they need to meet the demands of the labor market.

Panelists explored potential policy solutions and highlighted quality programs that are preparing low-skilled minority workers for family-sustaining employment. Speakers included NSC’s senior federal policy analyst Angela Hanks, Marcie Foster of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Peggy McLeod of the National Council on La Raza (NCLR), Marita Etcubañez of the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), and Joseph Jones of the Center for Urban Families (CFUF).

While the panel drew from diverse areas of expertise, the briefing revealed a general consensus of effective solutions and best practices. Speakers agreed that the United States has a tremendous unmet demand for basic skills training—36 million adults have low basic skills yet only 1.7 million adults have access to services—and that Adult Basic Education, English language instruction and occupational skills training are essential to transitioning adult learners to family-sustaining careers. Proposed solutions included increased federal funding, increased attention to immigration reform, and scaling up models that move low-skills adults along a sustainable career pathway.

Marcie Foster of CLASP discussed how the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) reflects an updated emphasis on postsecondary transition and employment and encourages the use of innovative models such as career pathways and integrated education and training, while noting that the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) currently serves only a fraction of eligible students and does not have the capacity to serve all who are in need. Peggy McLeod of NCLR offered strategies for bringing programs to scale, such as blended learning approaches that integrate intensive case management with online platforms. Marita Etcubañez of AAJC emphasized the high percentage of linguistically isolated, limited-English-proficiency households in Asian American communities and suggested a focus on disaggregated data to target linguistic needs for English learning. And Joseph Jones shared CFUF’s Family Stability and Economic Success Model, which employs a comprehensive approach that includes occupational training courses, life skills development, employer partnerships and housing support. The briefing offered diverse insight into the U.S. basic skills training deficit and potential strategies to meet the needs of millions of Americans.