WIOA Youth Program Updates and Resources

The implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) creates several ways for refugee clients to access the mainstream workforce system and offers young adults in particular some valuable resources. (If you are new to the WIOA program, check out this previous Higher blog for 5 easy first steps to connect with WIOA opportunities.)

The Youth Services Team within the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration recently launched “Our Journey Together: The WIOA Youth Program Technical Assistance (TA) Series” with four webinars in October. Whether you are new to the world of WIOA or consistently refer clients for WIOA services, here are some updates and resources shared in the webinar series worth knowing.


  • The WIOA Youth Program Fact Sheet gives an overview of available services and outlines eligibility requirements, which you may find helpful in making appropriate referrals to your local American Job Center.
  • The WIOA Youth Program Element Resources web-page covers 14 key topics related to youth education and employment, such as Paid and Unpaid Work Experience, Occupational Skills Training, and Leadership Development Opportunities. You can access a wide range of topic-specific resources from here, such as links to workforce training materials, toolkits, and webinars.

Focus on Out-of-School Youth

There has been a shift toward primarily serving out-of-school youth (OSY) with the passage of WIOA. To review out-of-school eligibility requirements, you can watch this brief 5-minute video presentation.

What’s Ahead

Stay tuned for upcoming WIOA Youth Program TA resources relevant to your work with refugee youth employment, including topics such as: Job Corps, Mentoring, Financial Literacy, Trauma-Informed Care, Summer Employment, Career Pathways, Entrepreneurship, and Apprenticeship. Enroll in the Workforce GPS system here to receive notifications about future webinars and resources.

Written by Carrie Thiele.


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DOL Training Announcement: WIOA Youth Eligibility Live Question and Answer Session

Register Now

The Department of Labor presents the “Our Journey Together TA Series.” This training will include a review of the eligibility portion of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Youth Final Rule webinar and a live questions and answers session on WIOA youth eligibility through the webinar platform chat feature.

One of the most common topics which we receive questions on is WIOA youth eligibility.  This is not surprising as the eligibility requirements are fairly complex. We will replay the WIOA youth eligibility portion of the WIOA Youth Final rule previously recorded webinar as a refresher on WIOA youth eligibility and will provide an opportunity for live questions and answers on all issues related to WIOA youth eligibility.  Come prepared with all of your eligibility questions.

WIOA Youth Eligibility Live Question and Answer Session

Presenter(s): Evan Rosenberg, Division of Youth Services, U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration

Moderator(s): Sara Hastings, Division of Youth Services, U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration

Date: Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Time: 2:30 PM-4:00 PM ET

**Registration for this event is limited and seating is on a first-come, first-served basis; please register today.**

Register Now



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Want a well-paying job with benefits for your clients? Consider apprenticeships!

According to experts on National Public Radio’s (WAMU 88.5) program that originally aired on June 12th titled How To Earn Six Figures Without A Four-Year Degree, by 2025 there will be two million jobs needing skilled labor that will go unfilled if today’s labor market conditions hold. The program featured four experts from different backgrounds who discussed the merits of apprenticeship job training over more traditional forms of education.

The takeaway for you:

  • Many jobs do not require four year college degrees and pay middle income wages, including some in the six figures
  • Many positions are most easily accessed via apprenticeships

What is an apprenticeship?

  1. It is typically a three to four year training program where you are learning the building blocks of a specific job, leading to mastery in an occupational area and professional certification that travels with you. Some apprenticeships are for a set amount of time, while others are competency-based, allowing apprentices to complete their training as fast as their aptitude allows.
  2. You are working and getting paid while also completing academic coursework that is tailored to the position and provides a foundational and conceptual framework.
  3. You are learning under direct supervision of a skilled expert.
  4. You are training to take an available job with that same company.

Apprenticeships have been around for centuries but in the last century they lost favor as the four-year college experience was increasingly sought after and promoted by parents and school guidance counselors. This trend appears to be reversing however. Factors including an aging American workforce, the career preferences of younger American workers, and the emergence of new technologies requiring specialized skills have all contributed to an ever-increasing gap between available jobs and good candidates for those jobs. As a result, there is a renewed interest in apprenticeships as a strategy for incentivizing workers and filling labor shortages.

Panelist Robert Lerman, a Fellow at the Urban Institute and a founder of the American Institute for Innovative Apprenticeship, discussed the difficulty of the school-based-only approach for some young people.  Courses in a four-year degree program do not always feature relevant, skill-based learning, so why spend the time and money? To illustrate this point the program spoke with Cory McCray, a current Delegate in the Maryland House of Representatives and former electrician who completed an apprenticeship with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. As an apprentice in the construction trade McCray did not assume the levels of debt accrued by his peers who went to four-year colleges because he had fewer classes and completed paid work as part of his training. He argues that the academic coursework he did have was motivating because it led to a quality performance on the job.

Other panelists spoke about the challenges of making an informed decision about a career path without some significant exposure in the workplace. For example, businesses in the tech industry find that hands-on workplace learning is essential to helping staff gain mastery in their field. Ken Hitchcock, Director of the Pickens County Career and Technology Center in Liberty, South Carolina stated that many apprenticeships provide additional support to those that believe they have poor math abilities or those that need English language support by providing remedial classes.

In what industries are apprenticeships located?

According to guest Nicholas Wyman, CEO of the Institute for Workplace Skills and Innovation, there are lots of opportunities in a variety of industries: manufacturing, IT (including cyber security), health, finance, aeronautics, mechanics, electronics, culinary arts, and construction.

Finding national and state registered apprenticeship programs in your area.

Check with your Workforce Development Board for the resources in your community. As an example, check out this great resource produced by the Oakland County Workforce Development agency in Michigan and provided by Jennifer Llewellyn, Manager of the agency.

You will find general and location-specific information on apprenticeships here at the Department of Labor Apprenticeship USA website.

So let’s get to work for our clients of all ages!

Additional Resources                                                      

See previous blog post on apprenticeships from Higher:


National Apprenticeship Week is November 13-19


This post is written by Guest Blogger Alicia Wrenn, Assistant Director of Integration at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. Does your agency utilize apprenticeships for clients? If, yes please let Higher know by writing us at information@higheradvantage.org.

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Webinar Alert: Post-Employment Services and Strategies for TANF Programs

August 2, 2017, 1:00 – 2:00 PM EST 

Post-employment services that align with individual’s interests, strengths, and abilities are necessary to ensure they can maintain or advance in employment. Unfortunately, many TANF participants tend to obtain low-skill/low-wage jobs with little room for advancement and can experience difficulty retaining jobs.

TANF programs strive to address this issue by offering a variety of post-employment education, training, and supportive services designed to help TANF families sustain long-term livable wage employment and occupational advancement. Given the significant flexibility TANF programs have in the type of post-employment support offered, these services vary across states and programs, depending on the needs of TANF participants.

This interactive webinar will highlight how TANF programs continue to support TANF participants post-employment through a variety of approaches.

Register here.

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Webinar Alert: TANF, Childcare and Workforce Development (Today!)

Note: After posting this announcement yesterday, it came to our attention that the registration had been closed. Following this information, we removed the announcement from our site. We are happy to announce that registration has been reopened for this webinar, in case you are able to attend today. We apologize for any confusion. 

Possibilities for Coordination between TANF, Child Care, and Workforce Development
July 26, 2017, 3:00 – 4:00 PM EST

Child care subsidies are critical for families receiving TANF cash assistance, as well as those transitioning off assistance, to be able to participate in employment activities, to maximize educational activities, and achieve better employment outcomes. Studies show that parents receiving child care are likely to have more stable employment, which enables them to support their families and gain increased financial security.

This webinar will explore how states have coordinated TANF and child care services to enhance workforce development outcomes. The webinar will also examine the research associated with TANF and child care to highlight best practices. Presenters will include Heather Hahn, Senior Fellow, Urban Institute; Erin Oalican, Reach Up/TANF Program Director, Vermont Department for Children and Families; and Paulette Bushers, TANF Program Manager, Oklahoma Department of Human Services.

Register here.

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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 information@higheradvantage.org.

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


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Resource Post: Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act State Plans

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) State Plans are now available to the general public on the Department of Education’s site. States submitted their four-year WIOA State Plans for Federal review and approval in early 2016. State Plans provide valuable information about the various investments, programs, and initiatives underway to serve our job seekers, students, and businesses across the country.

By taking the time to familiarize yourself with how WIOA is administered and its requirements in your local Workforce Development region you can gain a better understanding of labor market information and identify high growth industries and high demand jobs in your area.

The state plans are very long and dense, but you may find it helpful to learn about what your state plans to do with its mainstream workforce development programs over the next 4 years.

Higher has reviewed the state plans and identified three important sections of each plan that we’d encourage you to look at in order to learn about your local workforce area: Economic and Workforce Analysis, State Operating Systems, and the Strengths and Weaknesses of Workforce Development Activities. Consider working as a team to review the different sections of your state plan and then report your findings in your next employment staff meeting.

Each section can be found in the table of contents of each state plan. These three sections will help you improve your knowledge of your local labor market, the WIOA programs that exist in your area, and the current strengths and weaknesses of your area’s current mainstream workforce development activities. Here is a brief summary of these three sections:


This section is great to help job developers identify opportunities for strategic employer partnerships within the fastest growing industries. Employment staff can use labor market information and other data to respond to real world job shortages and local community needs. This section also highlights the number of jobs posted in each sector.

For example from January 1 to October 5, 2015 there were 842 job posting for Registered Nurses in the State of Hawaii. The State Plans then address which areas inside the state saw the largest job growth and those areas that posted the most jobs. The most in demand jobs and their average salary are laid out in this section. As you look at these reports pay attention to wage data to avoid pursuing limited career opportunities or partnerships with employers that may be in high growth industries, but offer low wages.

 The map above is from the North Carolina State plan and its lists the strongest industries in each region across the state and the aver number of people employed within each industry.


This section describes each tool, program, and resource that each state has created and funneled WIOA money into. Here you will learn about all the core programs your state has, where the American Job Centers are located, and what resources are available through community colleges.

In looking at the plans, each state has very different names for their programs so we did not list any but please take note of this section to find the resources in your state. For example a job center in Colorado is called Colorado Works and in North Carolina its NC Works but each offers a different menu of services.


In this section, each state was required to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each of their workforce development activities. In order to make the best use of federal money the states were asked to make a cohesive 4 year plan on how to utilize all their workforce programs and initiatives together so that a job seeker only has to go to one location to receive information about all services they need.

Workforce development staff will create individualized employment plans for job seekers and then enroll them in all necessary vocational training programs, apprenticeships, ESL courses, etc., that each person needs in order to find a job. This section also takes a look at the operating systems that are already in place and discusses the strengths and weaknesses of each.

Pay attention to strengths listed in your state plan to identify opportunities that your clients may be able to take advantage of. For example, many state plans emphasize the expanding role of apprenticeships, especially in non-traditional industries and occupations such as healthcare, IT, and green jobs. The weaknesses are important to note because this is where you will want to advocate for your clients. See what is lacking in the state plans in order to understand what challenges the mainstream system has identified that also might present difficulties for your clients.

We hope this information will allow you to better digest your state plan. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us at information@higheradvantage.org.

*Each state plan will have different headers/tiles for sections but the ones Higher used are the keywords found title and will be easy to find in the table of contents.

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Workforce Collaboration Case Study: New Collaborative in Bowling Green, KY Helps Fill Key Manufacturing Positions

Photo: www.gm.com/AJ Mast for Chevrolet

Bowling Green, KY may be a smaller city, but it has developed a reputation for being a great place to do business, coming in at #39 this year on Forbes Magazine’s Top 200 “Best Small Places for Business and Careers” list .

Bowling Green’s high income and job growth combined with a low cost of doing business has made it a popular destination for many major companies including Fruit of the Loom, Camping World, Magna International, Holley Performance Products, Russell Brands, and General Motors (The Bowling Green Assembly Plant has been the source of all Chevrolet Corvettes built since 1981).

During the past decade, Bowling Green’s economy weathered the recession and rebounded surprisingly well with a 5% increase in manufacturing employment, a 5% increase in professional and business services, and a 6% increase in leisure and hospitality since 2005. With all of this growth however, some local employers, especially those in manufacturing, have struggled to find enough workers.

Higher Peer Advisor Kelly Rice is the Employment Services Manager at the International Center of Kentucky in Bowling Green and recently told us about a new collaborative effort called Team Workforce that is working to solve the worker shortage issue that employers are facing.

Here is an excerpt from our interview with Kelly:

Can you tell us about Team Workforce? What is it and who is involved?

Team Workforce is a local team of partners from different agencies including mainstream workforce development, non-profits, and educational institutions. At this point the collaborative includes our local Chamber of Commerce, Kentucky Career Center, Goodwill Industries Job Junction, Southern Kentucky Technical College, Western Kentucky University, Department for Community Based Services and the Kentucky Works Program. Our goal is to eliminate the unemployment rate for our local counties and bridge the gap between motivated workers and employers with positions that they are struggling to fill. Our group meets on a bi-weekly basis to discuss current job openings, strategies for helping our clients access these openings, and whether or not we might have good candidates for these positions.

What have been some of the early accomplishments of the collaborative? 

So far we’ve worked a lot with the manufacturing industry and some of our early accomplishments have been the development of a production certificate program and a manufacturing skills program that helps gives clients the skills they need to access better employment opportunities. We’ve also been able to reach out to our city officials and work with them to alleviate some of the transportation barriers job seekers face by changing some bus routes to provide greater access to local industrial parks.

How has your involvement in the Team Workforce collaborative benefited refugees in Bowling Green? Have the other collaborative members and the local employers you are targeting been receptive to working with your clients? 

Our clients have definitely benefited from this collaboration. Of course any collaboration has its challenges. It’s a learning process and we are all still learning how to best accommodate each other’s needs. As anyone who works with refugees knows, issues such as language, transportation, and childcare needs always present challenges and sometimes cause employers or mainstream workforce development programs to be hesitant to work with our clients. We’ve continued to educate our partners and local employers about our clients strong work ethic and skills and have provided support when necessary, such as coordinating interpretation.

Job Preparation Class at ICKY/www.icofky.org

Our employment program has benefited because we are more aware of local employment and training opportunities than we were before and they are more aware of our programs.

Our network has expanded and this has created more training and job opportunities for our clients, which is encouraging.

We have also worked with the local career center to design a weekly basic computer skills training class for clients without much experience using computers. Additionally, we have seen an increase in clients enrolled in the GED program at Southern Kentucky Technical College, which has also opened up pathways to other vocational training programs offered by the school.

Many thanks to Kelly Rice for sharing this collaboration case study! To check out past collaboration case studies, click here.

We’d love to hear your collaboration success story. Please email us at information@higheradvantage.org.

Kelly RiceKelly Rice has a B.S in Finance from Virginia Tech and an HR certificate from Western Kentucky University.  She worked at Wells Fargo for 8 years and joined the International Center of Kentucky in Bowling Green as Employment Program Manager in May 2013.


Note: Information and statistics about Bowling Green’s economy were obtained at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bowling_Green,_Kentucky#Economy.

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Reminder: Higher Webinar Tomorrow!

Collaborating with Mainstream Workforce Development and Taking Advantage of WIOA-funded Training Opportunities


Thursday, December 15, 2016

2:00 – 3:30pm EST

Higher has made a concerted effort over the past couple years to educate our network about the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA) and the ways in which collaborating with the mainstream workforce development system can increase training and career opportunities for refugees. When it comes to helping refugees transition from survival jobs to fulfilling career pathways with better wages, the mainstream system has a lot to offer.

The webinar will offer both government and refugee agency perspective on current opportunities and strategies for collaboration between refugee employment programs and mainstream funding.  Featured guest speakers include representatives of the U.S.of Department of Labor, the U.S. Department of Education, and the International Institute of Saint Louis, a refugee agency that has a long history of successful mainstream partnership.

We hope you will join us!

Register here

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Bridging Access to Mainstream Workforce Resources: Rockford, Illinois

-This piece was contributed by Rock Valley College

Rock Valley College—working in collaboration with Catholic Charities, The Workforce Connection and other local partners and employers— offers comprehensive workforce services tailored to the needs of refugees to create a multitude of mutually beneficial relationships and success stories. Heilman attributes some of this success to Rock Valley’s intensive case management concept. A caring case manager matched with interpreters who understand refugees’ adjustment problems all work together to make a huge difference.


Rock Valley College in Rockford, Illinois has been a hub for social networking, employment services, and adult education for refugees since 1978. The college’s Refugee Training Program (RTP) is imbedded in The Workforce Connection, an American Job Center (AJC) channeling mainstream workforce resources to all Rockford job seekers. RTP services and funding streams are integrated, as are programming options for refugees. This is a unique hybrid model that

illustrates some of the WIOA-funded resources refugees can access. Eighteen workforce agency partners are located under one roof at The Workforce Connection office, so refugee clients can easily navigate career opportunities while also taking care of their family’s social and educational needs. The relationship with Rock Valley College is consistent with the concept of a “one-stop-shop” upon which AJCs across the U.S. are structured.

Rock Valley, the only community college in Illinois to receive refugee social service funding, is positioned to offer a full scope of resources and services to refugees including childcare, housing assistance, food stamps, energy assistance, public school resources, and employment assistance.

The college not only facilitates access for refugees by partnering with community agencies but by also applying their connections with workforce resources to create customized career pathways. They are the bridge between training resources and the goal of getting their clients and their skill sets ready for the U.S. workforce.

Populations Served
Catholic Charities Diocese of Rockford resettles approximately 350 refugees in Rockford each year. The majority of these receive services from Rock Valley College at different times in their initial resettlement period when they are no longer participating in other programs that might involve duplication of services. The largest refugee populations being resettled in Rockford now are from Congo, Burma, and Iraq.

Facts about Rockford

The Rockford metropolitan area’s population is 348,360 and projected to decrease. The 8.3% unemployment rate is higher than the national average

Centrally located between Chicago; Milwaukee; Dubuque, Iowa and Madison, Wisconsin, the logistics and transportation sector is one of Rockford’s major industries.
Rockford is home to the nation’s first Harley Davidson Dealership, the rock band Cheap Trick and the Rockford Peaches all-women baseball team from the 1940s and 50’s (made famous in the film A League of Their Own, 1992).

Amy Heilman, who has served refugees at Rock Valley College since 1992, is now the RTP Program Director. According to Heilman, RTP has connections to clients, interpreters, and employers that result in specialized expertise in workforce development for refugees and immigrants. The larger workforce system is not set up to serve every special population that needs to access workforce services. Reliance on specialized community agencies is an approach that has proven effective elsewhere with other special populations (e.g. people with disabilities or urban youth). RTP provides this specialized expertise for refugees and immigrants at The Workforce Connection.

“From the first day of enrollment, we know who refugees’ relatives are and where they live. We might know their neighbors, and we know our clients’ backgrounds. Heilman said. “Most refugees in the community live within a five-mile radius of Rock Valley College. RTP is not only familiar with their culture and their networks, but also their general barriers to employment.”

Core Programs Are the Foundation for Success

Intensive Case Management – The strength of Rock Valley College’s program is due in large part to its Intensive Case Management, a rather stark contrast to other mainstream workforce and adult education programs. Intensive case management is the process of identifying, planning, coordinating, and monitoring services and resources to meet the individual client’s goals. As soon as an individual is enrolled in the program, a case manager begins coordinating services, based on individualized strengths and needs assessments, and establishes a service plan with that individual. Case management services are made possible with diverse funding sources including the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and Work Force Innovation Act (WIOA).

English-language Training – The college’s English-language training program is another strong success factor. All adult refugees are eligible to enroll in Rock Valley College community ESL courses. Clients are either ready for job placement or they continue their study. The next step essential for so many clients needing extra support to gain English skills, and to get oriented to the workplace, they attend the Workplace Transitions for Refugees and Immigrants class: a contextualized and blended ESL/job readiness class covering topics including American workstyles, communication on the job, pay checks, workplace rights and responsibilities, and how to write a resume. The intense course is offered three hours a day for three weeks.

Refugee Youth Program Mural located in the neighborhood. All photos provided by Rock Valley College.

Refugee Youth Program Mural located in the neighborhood. All photos provided by Rock Valley College.

This course will have 30 attendees in 2017 and in WIOA terms it is a short-term pre-vocational training. After completion of this class the participants can enroll in an Individual Training Account (ITA). ITAs are a training option available to eligible and appropriate participants when it is determined by a career planner that they will be unlikely or unable to obtain or retain employment that leads to self-sufficiency or higher wages from previous employment through career services alone. An ITA gets the participant a credential which they can put on their resume. WIOA offers the option to enroll job seekers into Individual Training Accounts which are a per capita funding mechanism paying for training to support the job seekers specific career goals. Eligible clients purchase training services from eligible training providers – in this case the Transitions class – that they select in consultation with a career planner.

Participants are expected to utilize information such as skills assessments, labor market trends, and training providers’ performance, and to take an active role in managing their employment future through the use of an ITA. An ITA may be awarded to eligible adults, dislocated workers, and out of school youth ages 18-24. ITAs are not entitlements and can be provided to eligible participants on the basis of an individualized assessment of the person’s needs and documented on the participant’s Individual Employment Plan (IEP). RTP applies ITA funds to help refugees gain the skills they need from among all of the training options offered.

From these courses, they are referred to job search activities which can include placement, transitional job programs, additional vocational training or OJT.

Job Development and Placement Services – Job Development staff within the mainstream workforce development system are most commonly called Business Service Representatives (or BSRs).. Rock Valley’s BSRs work with employers and identify job opportunities for job seekers who visit The Workforce Connection. One BSR and one Employment Specialist manage all employment functions for refugees as a part of Rock Valley’s staff structure. These services include interviewing refugee students about employment needs, maintaining the connection to employers, providing job leads, and referring enrollees to classes.

The program has exceeded its goals for the last program year:

  • Percentage of Participants students placed in employment – 96% last program year (goal of 75%)
  • Percentage of Participants students retained in that job after 90 days – 89% last program year (goal of 80%)
  • Average earnings 90 days out – exceeded the set dollar amount set for last program year

This tracking has continued to fuel the success of the program as they continually gather outcome information that informs the way they work with their clients. Additionally, clients in WIOA-funded programs get a 12 month follow up after job placement and it too has shown good outcomes again allowing for continued learning.

Rock Valley’s BSR maintains contact with a variety of companies, from large corporations to independently owned shops. Lowe’s Home Improvement hires for a variety of jobs – pickers, packers, loaders, unloaders, transportation and sales associates. A large commercial laundry employs many as do small business environments.

On-the-Job Training (OJT) – On average about 15% of refugee clients access On the Job Training programs. These courses provide a bridge or on-ramp to

Refugee Worker at Rock Valley commercial laundry

Refugee Worker at Rock Valley commercial laundry

allow refugees to transition into more advanced job training programs in healthcare, manufacturing, transportation or logistics. Instructors also offer specific guidance to explore career options and develop the study skills required for a certificate or degree programs. The OJT program provides refugees with a real job and subsidizes up to 75% of wages and training costs to the employer. Participants earn money while learning new job skills with an employer. “Upon conclusion of the training time, most applicants are hired with no strings attached,” said Mark Spain, Business Services Coordinator in Rock Valley’s Refugee Training Program. “The program can be utilized in a variety of occupations, from entry-level to professional,” he continued. Refugees have been placed in jobs from manufacturing to technology professionals, depending on employers’ needs and participants’ skill sets.

According to Heilman, the reason that more refugee clients do not access OJT is that they do not meet the English language proficiency requirement (the standard varies depending upon the industry but often centers around an 8th grade English level). Additionally, the paperwork required of employers sometimes discourages them from participating in the federal OJT program. The employers utilizing OJT are often employers who are struggling to find qualified workers. “[In Illinoise], it is typically manufactures who find the OJT program to be a valuable approach to filling vacancies.” Learn more about OJT programs.

Refugee Success Stories

Mu Dah

Mu Dah spent 13 years in a Burmese refugee camp in Thailand. After resettlement in the U.S., initially this single mother spoke no English and lacked reliable transportation or childcare. The combination of intensive case management and an observant ESL teacher proved to be life-changing. “The ESL instructors saw in her a desire to learn and encouraged her,” Heilman said. “She slowly gained self-confidence, began attending the job readiness class consistently, and eventually achieved her first employment opportunity, at Goodwill Industries.”

The skills and training provided at Goodwill – part of a WIOA-funded work experience training opportunity – helped her transition to a job at Spider Company, a 70,000-square-foot facility in Rockford that produces small high-tech engineering parts for the aerospace, farming and healthcare industries. The Workforce Connection paid her salary at Goodwill and provided a training plan for the skills they wanted her to learn for the job. “Rock Valley College helped me get trained and then find employment at Spider Company which helped my family succeed,” Mu Dah said. “I am so happy about getting a job and now have money to afford better things.”

Mulenda Bisoga

Mulenda Bisoga left Congo in 1998, when rebel and government forces were in conflict. After a long and painful journey, Mulenda and his family came to Rockford in 2014. He began taking English classes through Rock Valley College. He soon went to work in Rochelle, Illinois and has now been working with the same employer for more than a year and enjoys his position. Out of hundreds of nominees from throughout the state, Mulenda received Illinois’ annual Workforce Partnership Award for his success.

Amy Heilman, Program Director of the Refugee Training Program

Amy Heilman, Program Director of the Refugee Training Program

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