California releases policy brief on serving English learners in the workforce system

By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, March 10, 2017

A recent brief from the California Workforce Development Board and the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency is providing guidance for the state’s local workforce agencies on improving services to English language learners (ELLs).

The brief, released in January, provides local workforce stakeholders with detailed examples and resources to inform their development and implementation of local/regional WIOA plans.  While focused on California, many of the recommendations in the brief are equally applicable to other states and localities.

These recommendations are especially important given the relatively low number of ELLs who participate in WIOA-funded training services. Just 1.5 percent of such participants nationwide are ELLs, and the number rises only slightly to 4 percent for California. In comparison, ELLs comprise a full 10 percent of the US workforce.*

Of special note to immigrant workforce advocates are three items:

First, the brief includes a recommendation from the State Board that local boards work with WIOA Title II and California Adult Education Block Grant (AEBG) providers to convene an ad hoc committee on immigrant and ELL workforce issues, noting:

These ad hoc committees can help strategize how to better serve local and regional ELL individuals and identify ways adult education partners and community-based organizations (CBOs) can braid resources to provide supportive services to program participants.

The State Board further recommends that ad hoc committees build on existing organizational structures, as appropriate, to avoid duplication of effort.  

This recommendation is significant because it acknowledges the importance of collaborative planning and braiding resources across the adult education and workforce development worlds, factors that are crucial to ensuring that jobseekers and adult learners get access to the full range of support services needed to successfully achieve their goals.

Second, the brief emphasizes the importance of demand-driven employer engagement, particularly with regard to identifying businesses whose need for bilingual employees or workers with international trade experience can be met by qualified immigrant jobseekers.

This recommendation is particularly relevant because it helps stakeholders to flip the conversation from a deficit-oriented model into one that recognizes the assets that many immigrant jobseekers bring to the table.

Finally, the brief urges workforce boards to consider the pipeline that brings ELL participants to job training programs and “examine [their] recruitment and intake processes to ensure that ELL individuals are able to get the information and tools needed to learn about their educational and vocational options and start them on a career pathway.”

This recommendation is especially valuable because it addresses a common concern among immigrant and adult education advocates: that entrance requirements for job-training programs may unnecessarily exclude or screen out qualified immigrant or ELL applicants.

Other resources provided in the brief include:

  • Statistical information on the demographics of immigrant and ELL jobseekers and workers in California, and links to resources on how many immigrants and ELLs may qualify for WIOA-funded services
  • Affirmation of work-authorized immigrants’ eligibility for WIOA Title I services, including young immigrants who have received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Links to relevant federal policy guidance are provided. (NSC has written frequently about this issue, including in our policy Q&A on Dreamers and WIOA.)
  • Resources and program models that can ensure that immigrants with credentials from abroad can access English language instruction and find skill-appropriate employment.
  • Reminders on CA state requirements for addressing ELL needs and incorporating partners from immigrant-serving organizations and the adult education field as part of local WIOA planning.
  • Examples of partnerships between immigrant and/or adult education service providers with local workforce systems, such as this one in Lancaster, PA. The brief also encourages partnerships with public libraries, labor-management partnerships, and other stakeholders.

Among the program models featured in the brief are several that have been previously spotlighted by National Skills Coalition, including Building Skills Partnership and the Seattle Ready to Work program.


*Source: NSC analysis of data from the WIASRD Data Book and US Census Bureau/American Community Survey.