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Hundreds of immigration-related events are being held across the United States during Welcoming Week from September 15-24 (yes, it’s more than a week). Many of the events are focusing on the skills and contributions of immigrant workers.
National Skills Coalition began the week by joining more than 150 workforce advocates at the UnidosUS (formerly NCLR) 2017 Workforce Development Forum, held in Las Vegas. Director of Upskilling Policy Amanda Bergson-Shilcock presented two workshops and participated in a Best Practices Café.
NSC’s presentations included:
NSC’s Work-Based Learning Policy 50-State Scan was a popular take-home for attendees. Other publications shared with attendees included NSC’s new 2-page fact sheet on Latinos and work-based policy, and recent fact sheet on Dreamers and Middle-Skill Jobs.
Business Voices Speak Out on Upskilling
At the plenary session that began the UnidosUS Forum, upskilling was a major focus. Three business leaders participated in a panel moderated by Dr. Margaret “Peggy” McLeod, who serves as Deputy Vice President, Education and Workforce Development for UnidosUS.
“With 14,000 restaurants and 850,000 workers, we can have a real impact on the education gap that exists in this country,” explained Lisa Schumacher of McDonald’s. “There are business benefits and an ROI to us in making this investment.” McDonald’s offers a range of educational benefits to workers via its Archways to Opportunity program, including free individual educational advising services, available in English and Spanish.
Schumacher noted that while turnover rates in the fast-food industry are generally high, they were much lower among individuals who participated in upskilling opportunities. A full 89% of employees who had participated in McDonald’s English Under the Arches program were still with the same employer a year later, and 79% were retained for at least three years.
Also participating in the panel was Elly Dickerman of Charter Communications. “We’ve transformed into a 90,000 employee, Fortune 100 company,” she told conference attendees, “ready to invest in talent and upskill our workforce.”
For example, Dickerman said, Charter offers a Broadband Technician Apprenticeship Program for military veterans that currently has 1,000 participants across five states. “It’s a 2-1/2 year program in which apprentices start as a Field Technician 1 and become a Field Technician 5 by the time they graduate,” she explained.
Panelist Linda Rodriguez of JPMorgan Chase described her company’s evolving investments through its New Skills at Work initiative. To date, the initiative has pledged $75 million for career and technical education, and $17 million for Summer Youth Employment (SYE). “Kids rely on those SYE jobs” for their crucial first workforce opportunity, she explained. “They may not have a neighbor who can offer them that all-important first job.”
Employers Taking The Lead
The business case for upskilling was also a topic in one of the breakout sessions, which focused on the Skills and Opportunity for a New American Workforce program. The program is a partnership among community colleges in three cities – Miami, Houston, and New York – and the grocery store chains of Whole Foods, Publix, and Kroger. It is overseen by the National Immigration Forum and funded by Walmart.
Session participants heard from National Immigration Forum staff as well as representatives of Westchester (NY) Community College and the Community College Consortium for Immigrant Education. Among the program outcomes shared by presenters: Between 11 percent and 20 percent of participants (depending on the geographic site) have been promoted, and 79 percent are on track to be promoted. More than 90 percent of workers report that they are more confident on the job, and 89 percent say they have improved interactions with customers. Finally, 88 percent of managers report increased store productivity due to employee participation in the program.
A Congressional Voice for Skills
Wrapping up the UnidosUS Workforce Development Forum was a keynote speech by Representative Ruben Kihuen, a Democrat who represents Nevada’s Fourth Congressional District, including part of Las Vegas.
Kihuen began his speech with a nod to the hospitality workers serving Forum attendees, and a little of his own family’s story, including his father’s history as a farmworker and his mother’s work as a cleaner.
Kihuen emphasized the value of Pell Grants and federal work-study programs, saying that he had personally benefitted from both. He praised the role of high-quality career and technical education (CTE) programs in providing on-ramps to good jobs for youth and adults. Finally, he offered a strong endorsement of the DREAM Act, reminding attendees of the bipartisan support it enjoys.