NSC staff participated in adult English learners and workforce convening

By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, August 04, 2016

In 2015, California became the first state to create a Director of Immigrant Integration position within the governor’s office. Last month, the state built on that momentum by bringing together nearly 100 workforce, adult education, and immigrant advocates for a day-long meeting in Sacramento. The statewide gathering focused on workforce issues facing immigrants and adult English learners.

The convening was spearheaded by the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency and the state Workforce Development Board, working in close collaboration with the state’s Director of Immigrant Integration, the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office, and the California Department of Education, as well as other state agencies.

The day opened with comments from Robin Purdy, chief deputy director of the labor and workforce department, and Tim Rainey, executive director of the state workforce development board. Both speakers emphasized the importance of the event’s topic and the state’s commitment to advancing effective immigrant workforce policies.

Next, state secretary of labor and workforce development David Lanier welcomed attendees with a reflection on the role of immigrants in the state’s economy. “We are proudly a state that benefits and thrives based on our diversity…. We’re also the best example of some of the real challenges of integration and how to [ensure that the] benefits from that include everyone,” Lanier said, listing income inequality as an overarching challenge that Governor Brown’s administration has taken numerous steps to combat.

“Immigrants and their families are critical to our shared success [and] shared prosperity,” Lanier added, citing the California Dream Act as an example of state legislation that is transforming the lives of foreign-born Californians.

Next on the agenda was an overview of key policy issues in providing workforce services to immigrants and adult English learners. National Skills Coalition senior policy analyst Amanda Bergson-Shilcock shared examples of innovative practices in Boise, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, St. Louis, and St. Paul, MN.

Amanda also highlighted several California-based programs, including Building Skills Partnership’s Green Janitor training program and the Welcome Back Initiative for immigrant health professionals. Finally, she reviewed opportunities for California to advance skills policies – such as SNAP Employment and Training programs, state data systems, and career pathways – in ways that are inclusive of immigrants.

Next, Margie McHugh of the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) walked the audience through key demographic highlights about California immigrants, and the resulting implications for the provision of services under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Margie’s presentation drew on MPI’s California fact sheet on immigrants and WIOA; local fact sheets for several California counties are also available from MPI.

Participants also heard from two practitioners in the field:

  • Glenn Scott Davis of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs in Seattle provided a deep dive on the city’s pioneering Ready to Work program for low-level English learners. (NSC profiled the program on our Skills Blog earlier this year).
  • Sue Gilmore of the Sacramento City Unified School District and Connie Lee of the Capital Adult Education Regional Consortium (CAERC) described their partnership in serving adult English learners. CAERC is one of 71 such consortia in California, funded by the $500 million statewide Adult Education Block Grant known as AB-86.

Following a lunch break, the afternoon was spent in small-group breakout sessions. Attendees tackled one of four discussion topics:

  • Incentivizing innovations to serve English learners and immigrants
  • Improving participation and ensuring success for English learners and immigrants in the workforce
  • Providing a support system to improve the pipeline for English learners and immigrants in the larger workforce system
  • Exploring the possibility of a Workforce Navigators program, modeled after the health care navigators and promotoras models.

The day concluded with a wrap-up from Jennifer Hernandez, associate secretary for farmworker and immigrant services at the department of labor and workforce. Hernandez thanked attendees for their active participation and promised to circle back in the coming weeks with an event recap and proposed next steps.

Also making concluding remarks was Dan Torres, the state’s director of immigrant integration.  “On behalf of Governor Brown, I want to thank you for what you’re doing. It’s inspiring,” he said, adding: “No other state has as great a stake in immigrant integration as California.”

*Photo of CA Secretary of Labor courtesy of California Labor & Workforce Development Agency.