Models for Integrating Language and Workforce Development Skills

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to attend a 1-day conference at Johns Hopkins University’s American Institute for Contemporary German Studies in Washington D.C. The theme of the conference was “Integrating Migrants into the Workforce” and focused on immigrant integration efforts in both Germany and the U.S.

One of the most interesting presentations I heard was by Dr. Heidi Wrigley from Literacy Work International. The Presentation focused on models in the U.S. that are leading the way in offering both English instruction and vocational training.

Here are four models that Dr. Wrigley highlighted:

McDonald’s: English Under the Arches

English Under the Arches (EUA) is one of four Archways to Opportunities programs designed to help employees grow professionally.

The program launched in 2007 with the mission to provide English as a Second Language (ESL) classes that teach managers and crew the English they need to communicate effectively and confidently with customers, staff and in their lives outside of McDonald’s.

These classes are free for employees and they are also paid their hourly wage while they are in class. Helping non-native speakers learn English allows them to break down barriers and feel comfortable when communicating effectively with fellow team members, customers, and, most importantly, in their everyday life.

Proficiency in English is often a prerequisite for most jobs in the U.S. and provides mobility for individuals to pursue higher education opportunities, which in turn leads to increased earning power. To learn more about this program, visit the EUA webpage or read the most recent Archways to Opportunity Progress Report.

Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs: Ready to Work

Ready to Work (RTW) is a workforce development program in Seattle, WA designed for immigrants and refugees who face barriers to gaining employment.

The program combines English as a Second Language (ESL) classes with computer literacy instruction and case management to help immigrants gain job readiness skills and take steps toward economic self-sufficiency.

RTW was created as a prototype model of English language acquisition offered in a community-based setting, and focused on career development, and employment. Classes meet four days a week, three hours a day, for a total of 12 hours per week.

Instruction is provided by two Seattle Colleges and Literacy Source (a community-based adult education provider). Unlike many other programs, RTW tracks participants’ progress over a longer time frame than conventional funding streams typically allow.

For more details, see National Skills Coalition’s Amanda Bergson-Shilcock’s blog post from June 2016: Ready to work: Seattle creates new on-ramp for immigrant English learners.

Washington State: I-BEST

Washington’s Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training Program (I-BEST) quickly teaches students literacy, work, and college-readiness skills so they can move through school and into living wage jobs faster.

Pioneered by Washington’s community and technical colleges, I-BEST uses a team-teaching approach.

Students work with two teachers in the classroom: one teacher provides job-training and the other teaches basic skills in reading, math or English language.

Students get the help they need while studying in the career field of their choice. The I-BEST program offers several career pathways including Hospitality, Manufacturing and Nursing.

I-BEST challenges the traditional notion that students must move through a pre-determined sequence of basic education or pre-college (remedial) courses before they can start working on certificates or degrees.

The combined teaching method allows students to work on college-level studies right away, clearing multiple levels with one leap.

Check out this video, which features three students sharing their experience with the I-BEST model:

OneAmerica’s English Innovations

English Innovations (EI) is a blended social learning model that integrates English language learning and combines a collaborative, supportive classroom environment with online tools that enable self-paced, independent learning.

Offered as an alternative approach to conventional systems of language instruction which often do not provide the flexibility and resources that adult immigrants need, the EI program includes:

  • Tailored curriculum framework integrating digital literacy skills & language development
  • Blended model for in-class and self-paced learning through online tools and game-based learning
  • A collaborative classroom environment which facilitates cognitive, social and emotional engagement
  • Tutor-facilitated activities, volunteer involvement, and peer support
  • A model grounded in communities, engaging immigrants and immigrant-serving organizations in advocacy for effective English learning and immigrant integration

How do you see ESL and Vocational Training intersecting in your area? Are you aware of an innovative model that we should highlight? Let us know at

*Note: Some language in this post was pulled directly from program websites for the purpose of accurately describing these programs.


Please follow and like us:

Workforce Resource: On-the-Job Training

On the Job TrainingWelcome to the third post in our series featuring some of the tools, resources and programs available in the mainstream workforce system, shaped by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and delivered through the national network of American Job Centers serving all U.S. job seekers.

It’s a complex, resource-rich system underutilized in refugee employment services. Higher is determined to change that so our clients benefit from new opportunities and employment services.

We’ll do the research you don’t have time for amidst managing client caseloads and employer relationships. You can focus on using highlighted resources to help your clients succeed in the U.S. workforce.

In our first two posts we highlighted online tools that you can utilize in your job counseling and job development efforts. In the next few posts we want to shift to highlighting programs within the mainstream workforce system that can help your clients break into career fields that they are interested in.

Breaking into a Career through On-the-job Training

Breaking into one’s field of choice can be a challenge, even for native-born Americans. On-the-job Training (OJT) is funded through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), and is one strategy for obtaining or updating skills and securing employment.

OJT is a win-win situation in which the OJT participant receives training and employment and the employer is reimbursed for the training costs (usually calculated at half the pay rate for the agreed-upon training period- although under the new WIOA legislation states can choose to increase employer reimbursement up to 75%).

OJT & Refugees

For refugees, OJT can be a strategic way to either re-enter one’s former industry or gain new skills that will put them on a stable career path in the US.

Because OJT is a comprehensive skills training program, it will be most useful for refugees with higher levels of English and literacy. Some programs, however, have found success placing LEP clients in OJT placements when there is a strong relationship between the employer and the refugee employment program in which they work as a team to make sure the OJT training is successful.

From the research Higher has done so far, refugees with backgrounds in “blue-collar” industries (e.g. construction, manufacturing) seem to be a particularly good fit for OJT, because of the experience they bring to the table, and because the federal reimbursement opportunity is attractive to small and medium sized business in these fields.

That being said, there have also been successful OJT placements with both high skilled refugees with more professional backgrounds and low-skilled refugees with little to no work background (see examples below).

Places Where it’s Worked

OmahaOmaha, NE:

Partnership: Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska (Omaha) with WIOA Contractor Goodwill Industries of Omaha, NE

Population: Afghan SIVs

Industry: Construction


“With [WIOA/OJT] dollars and Lutheran Family Service’s reputation and connection to the community, we’re able to put together a package that speaks to a hiring manager or organization…and it’s quick—participants are getting enrolled in our program and within 3 or 4 weeks they’re working. We use our dollars to pay for tools, steel toed boots—whatever they need to be successful on the job, as well as paying money towards the employer for hiring through our program” –Justin Dougherty, (former) Director of Workforce Services, Goodwill Industries, Inc., Omaha, NE

Orlando__Lake_Eola_1Orlando, FL:

Partnership: Catholic Charities, Orlando, FL and local employers (Catholic Charities operates the OJT program in house using WIOA funds)

Populations: Cubans, Haitians, and Iraqis

Industries: Dentistry (Dental Assistant), Childcare (Assistant Teacher), Logistics/Warehouse, Hospitality (Maintenance Technicians and Front Desk), Food Processing

“OJT is a good option because it provides employment that is higher paying than most entry level positions, gives some clients an opportunity to continue in their field, and gives others a great ‘stepping stone’ job.” –Daisy Clemente, Employment Services Coordinator, Catholic Charities, Orlando, FL

Salt Lake CitySalt Lake City, UT:

Partnership: IRC, Salt Lake City, UT with Utah Department of Workforce Services Office

Populations: Sudanese, Burmese, Iraqi

Industries: Sewing, Construction/remodeling, Glass recycling


“We keep OJT in our back pocket as an incentive for employers who are a little hesitant [to hire refugees].” –Nolan LaBarge, Employment Specialist, IRC, Salt Lake City, Utah

Tips for Success

In talking to these 3 sites, some common themes emerged in terms of what made their OJT efforts successful:

  • Commit to learning the system: If you don’t already have someone on staff who has a background in mainstream workforce development, identify someone who can commit the time to learning the process and be the liaison between your office and the American Job Center (AJC). Additionally, look for allies within the mainstream system who are excited about your work and can give you an insider’s perspective on how to navigate the system.
  • Strong job development makes strong OJT placements: Often times it’s the employers you already have strong relationships with who will be most interested in placing your clients in OJT. You can also use OJT as a selling point when approaching new employers. Either way, you can put the opportunity on their radar and if they’re interested, you can can make the connection to the AJC to continue the process.
  • Provide good marketing materials for employers: In the same way that you provide employers good information about refugees, consider also leaving them with a nice brochure about OJT. Give them something to think about, and follow up with them shortly afterwards.
  • Offer employers additional support (coordinating interpretation, etc.): Let them know that you not only can provide them with strong candidates, but you are available to provide reasonable support to them to help with some of the challenges that come along with hiring refugees.
  • Make the right match: Always remember to take your clients past experience and skills into account when recommending them for OJT. While OJT may at times provide an opportunity for someone to learn completely new skills, the OJT program is primarily designed to be a skills upgrade program, and trainees are expected to begin contributing as productive workers on day one. The refugee programs that have found success with OJT have done so largely because they capitalized on skills their clients already had.

Getting Started & Learning More

If OJT is new for you, the best place to get started would be to contact your local American Job Center (AJC). Click here to find an AJC near you.

Once you identify the OJT resources and process in your community, you can begin marketing the program to employers that you work with.

The Employment Training Administration (ETA) is in the process of updating its’ OJT Toolkit which will be made available soon on the new Workforce GPS website, but in the meantime click here to access a recent webinar entitled “Strategies for Implementing OJT Simply and Effectively” as well as an OJT Training Brief and Resource Guide by the same name (you can find it in the left hand column called “Related Resources”).

Coming Soon…

Also, keep your eyes out in the next month or so for the next edition of our Workforce Collaboration Case Study Series, which will take a deeper look at the OJT partnership (highlighted briefly in this post) between Lutheran Family Services and Goodwill Industries in Omaha, NE.

Have You Placed Clients in OJT?

It’s impossible for us to know everything that everyone is doing out there. If you’ve placed clients in OJT, please let us know so that we can learn from your experiences as we continue to look at this strategy for refugee employment! Send us an email at


Please follow and like us:

Simple Strategies to Address Common Barriers, Part 4

digital literacy 1At a recent Maryland-wide workshop which focused on refugee workforce development, Higher had participants do a brainstorming activity, in which groups worked together to list common barriers refugees face to employment as well as possible solutions.

These types of activities inevitably generate a “wish list” of solutions which are great ideas but not always in our power to implement quickly (e.g. adding staff members, ESL at work sites, home-based self-employment for refugee women).

While there are certainly times to pursue those big ideas, perhaps the best thing about exercises like this is that they allow groups to identify simpler solutions that can be implemented immediately.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll share some of these insights from your Maryland peers, focusing on simple and practical strategies that are relatively easy to implement! So far, we’ve focused on tips for overcoming Limited English Proficiency (LEP) challengestips for overcoming transportation challenges and tips for overcoming childcare challenges. This week we’ll share a few tips on overcoming the barrier of Computer Access/Digital Literacy.

Tips for Overcoming Computer Access/Digital Literacy Challenges:

  1. Connect clients to local computer labs and/or digital literacy training opportunities. Suggested Resource: The Literacy Directory lists free resources to help adult students reach life goals in areas such as improving reading, math, and science skills, learning English, building job and job search skills, becoming a U.S. citizen, and finding adult education, child, family, and digital literacy programs.
  2. Help clients access low-cost computers. Suggested Resource: EveryoneON is a national nonprofit working to eliminate the digital divide by making high-speed, low-cost Internet service and computers, and free digital literacy courses accessible to all unconnected Americans. A true digital literacy initiative, they aim to leverage the democratizing power of the Internet to provide opportunity to all Americans – regardless of age, race, geography, income, or education level. Let’s help them do this!
  3. Educate clients about affordable internet options. Suggested Resource: ConnectHome is a public-private collaboration to narrow the digital divide for families with school-age children who live in HUD-assisted housing. ConnectHome is the next step in President Obama’s continued efforts to bring affordable broadband access, technical training, digital literacy programs, and electronic devices to all Americans.
  4. Utilize interns and/or volunteers to help clients improve their computer skills. Suggested Resource: is a collection of self-directed tutorials for end-users to increase their digital literacy, and a community of practice for digital literacy trainers to share resources, tools and best practices.
  5. Encourage your clients to work with you on this challenge, asking them to network within their community to explore solutions.

Stay tuned for more tips from MD refugee employment programs and stakeholders. The final part in this series will address unrealistic client expectations.

Do you recommend any additional digital literacy resources? Feel free to participate in the conversation by leaving a comment below or sending us an email at

Please follow and like us:

Collecting Arabic Language Job Readiness Resources

Arabic calligraphy is so beautiful. Can anyone tell me what this says?

Arabic calligraphy is so beautiful. Can anyone tell me what this says?

We’ve recently received several requests for job readiness materials translated into Arabic.

The only resources available on our site now are picture vocabulary guides for housekeeping and food service. Click here to download those.  They’re great for use in interview preparation or ESL classes.  Employers love them, too.

If you have resources to share or helpful online resource links, comment on this post or email us at We’ll make them available on our Downloadable Resource page so everyone can use them.

Thanks in advance.

Please follow and like us:

Targeted Employment Training: Dream Big and Think Outside of the Box

All photo credits: Caritas of Austin

Estrella Liu didn’t know she would teach healthcare professionals when she was hired as an Employment Specialist at Caritas of Austin (TX). Because of her experience in the healthcare field, she quickly took on the Employment Program’s Introduction to Health Professions (IHP) class targeting highly skilled clients.

Intended to provide a U.S. healthcare system overview, Estrella restructured the class adding Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) and cultural role-play scenarios of doctor/patient interactions.

She also looked into adding specific job skill training. She decided to focus on phlebotomy training because it is a recognized medical certification obtainable in a relatively short period of time.

Source of Funding

Caritas’ Employment and Development teams worked together to obtain funding for the project.  In three months they secured partnerships with the Topfer Family Foundation and the Sooch Foundation to fund a phlebotomy training course for 25 clients.

Estrella – and Caritas – dreamed big and thought outside of the box to create and fund a new type of training that would open new employment opportunities.

Community Partners

Next, Estrella needed to quickly find an accredited training provider. Central Texas Phlebotomy Institute, LLC agreed to offer a two-day phlebotomy course on-site at the familiar Caritas office and training facility. The course included both classroom instruction and a laboratory practicum.

The course instructors said they had never worked with such an engaged group of students. Estrella and the Employment Team deepened Caritas’ client educational opportunities, while strengthening ties to the healthcare industry.

Expect More from Clients

Estrella and the Employment team decided on the following selection criteria for trainees:

  1. Prior medical background, or dedicated to pursuing a job in the medical field;
  2. Compliant with Employment Program eligibility requirements including
  3. perfect attendance in both Job Readiness and English classes; and
  4. Completion of a prerequisite two day IHP training.

Selected clients demonstrated motivation and interest. Because they were invested in their own success they became full, responsible, and active partners in the educational process.

cassie pic intangibleTangible Benefits

The phlebotomy class drew significant interest from the refugee community because it offered both a certificate in the medical field and hands on experience.  Phlebotomy certification is a recognized credential in every state but California and it never expires.

This transferability and longevity made it an effective resume builder that will assist clients beyond their involvement in the Employment Program.

Intangible Outcomes

Many of the benefits cannot be listed on a resume. Throughout the course, clients asked questions of healthcare professionals to adapt to U.S. work and educational styles.

One of the most important benefits is a feeling of accomplishment and hope for the future, something that Estrella says is key.

“The biggest thing they got was hope…they have something to stand on.”

Hope cannot be measured or included in a cover letter but it boosts client confidence, job search ownership and job retention.

cassie pic next What Caritas Learned and What They’ll Do Next

The Caritas Employment team will offer the Phlebotomy training again, informed by the lessons learned from this first trial program. They plan to cut down on class size so interpretation is easier; and increase focus on targeting employers and job placements.

Amitiss Mahvash, current Caritas Employment Program Manager at Caritas, and Estrella both said that the program graduates still needed additional relevant U.S. work experience and higher levels of English proficiency.

 Program Success Factors

The Caritas of Austin employment team worked hard to create a new and innovative educational opportunity for their clients. They believe in their clients’ ability to succeed and pursued an innovative program rich in both tangible and intangible benefits to their clients, the organization, and the community. The ability to partner with other agency departments, client and other community organizations is based on skill in collaboration and planning.

cassie pic 1Cassie Smith is a doctoral student in the Department of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico. She worked as a Refugee Employment Specialist at Caritas of Austin in Austin, Texas from 2010 until 2014.



Please follow and like us:

Two WIOA Opportunities Available NOW


Graphic Credit:

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunites Act (WIOA) doesn’t go into full effect until July 2015, but it is already creating tangible new opportunities for refugee clients and agencies serving them.

Read below for new detail about a shifted focus in youth programming and a 5 year funding opportunity for healthcare career training.

Click here for additional background information about WIOA in case you missed previous Higher blog posts and a webinar.

Youth Programming:  Significant Shift in Focus to Older Youth

WIOA shifts the primary program focus of Title I youth formula programs to support the educational and career success of out-of-school youth (OSY), ages 16 to 24. A minimum of 75 percent of WIOA youth funds must be spent on OSY, an increase from the minimum of 30 percent under the former Workforce Investment Act (WIA).

With an estimated 6 million 16-24 year olds in this country not employed or not in school, WIOA youth programs will provide a needed continuum of services to help disconnected youth navigate between the educational and workforce systems.

Click here to read the entire Guidance Letter from the Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration (DOL-ETA) with clarification and detail about this important new emphasis in WIOA.

These two points included in a list of the possible types of clients speak directly to refugee client eligibility:

  • eligibility is based on age at enrollment, participants may continue to receive services beyond the age of 24 once they are enrolled in the program
  • …an individual [that]…is either basic skills deficient or an English language learner

The letter strongly encourages the mainstream workforce system to begin adjusting programming NOW and begin to identify sources of this newly emphasized population. Many refugees fall into this category.

How You and our Clients Can Benefit:  There are opportunities for us to offer assistance so that refugees can be considered in the planning phase.
“NOW” includes Summer Youth Employment Programs that are likely already advertising for applicants.

Health Profession Opportunity Grants (HPOG)

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Administration for Children and Families (ACF), Office of Family Assistance (OFA) is announcing a large funding opportunity supporting education and traning for occupations in the health care field,…that could also fund child care, case management and other supportive services, as appropriate.

The primary recipients of a previous round of funding (see page 2 of the announcement) were mostly mainstream workforce stakeholders and community colleges.  A possible role for resettlement agencies is outined in the announcement as follows on page 7 of the announcement:

HPOG programs can also include other partners that provide resources or expertise to better coordinate services and improve outcomes for program participants, such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicaid, legal aid, and especially services funded by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), such as Head Start, child care, domestic violence prevention, and refugee resettlement programs.

Download the full application here and visit the Office of Family Assistance/HPOG website for more details.

How You and our Clients Can Benefit:  This could be a great opportunity to build on existing relationships with workforce offices or begin establishing working relationships now.


Please follow and like us:

Skill Training, Mentors and Community College Partnership

Photo Credit:  TaRhonda Thomas
Photo Credit: TaRhonda Thomas
a success story from the African Community Center’s Commercial Food and Safety Service Training Program.

Higher featured this innovative Denver, CO program in a 2013 postClick here for an update and get some great ideas you can consider in your own programs, including:

  • how mentors can help clients learn more, explore career paths and deepen community connections, and
  • the value in forging relationships with community colleges.

Think food service means dead end dishwasher jobs?  Reconsider with this story, and a previous Higher blog post with suprising industry stats about upward mobility in the restaurant field.

Please follow and like us:

DOL Apprenticeship Funds in the Fall

DOL LoglThe Department of Labor will announce $100 million in funding for apprenticeship programs later this year.  Read more here.

It is likely that the funding will target public-private partnerships, including community colleges and employers in key growth industries.

A series of consultation roundtables includes these industries:  Transportation and Logistics; healthcare; Construction; Energy; Manufacturing and Information Technology.


Please follow and like us:

Free Download of Picture Vocabulary Guides

picture guide snip

Selected images from the Food Service Picture Guide in Arabic. Provided by Caritas of Austin, TX

Blending short term vocational training, job readiness and ESL is a best practice we see across the refugee employment network.

When the trainings also respond to employer needs and engage employers in the design and implementation, they boost both job development success and client self-sufficiency.

Caritas of Austin, TX developed a series of picture vocabulary guides in a number of client languages for use in their short term training programs focused on entry level hotel housekeeping and food service careers.  The guides have been very well received by employers and clients.

  • Clients find them helpful for learning English and communicating with guests.
  • Employers have been able to use them to facilitate supervisory conversations.  They perceive them as a valuable resource provided by a valued partner helping them meet their hiring and employee objectives.

These great picture vocabulary guides are once again available for donwload at Higher’s website.

Click here to find versions in multiple languages.  We hope to make additional language versions available later, so stay tuned.

A recent webinar highlighting Job Readiness Class Models offered several great resources and field experience that will be highlighted in blog posts over the next several days.

Please follow and like us:

05/14 Webinar Explores Programs for Immigrant Nurses, Engineers and Teachers

MPI webinar pic

Photo from Latino Community Credit Union and Migration Policy Institute

It never gets any easier to help highly skilled clients.

There are many challenges along the employment service continuum:

– helping them to develop more realistic expectations;

– finding resources to pursue long term career goals;

–  understanding what kinds of entry level jobs they could so to match their long term goals with the need for a survival or starter job.

Migration Policy Institute (MPI) webinar on Wednesday, May 14 at 4:00 pm EDT will present models in three different States (IL, MA, WA) that are addressing the needs of Highly Skilled Immigrants and Refugees with a special focus on Nurses, Engineers, and Teachers.

Read more details here or go directly to the registration page here.




Please follow and like us: