Study Examines Teaching Occupational Skills Along with English

Print More

This new evaluation from the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration deals with lessons learned from the Limited English Proficiency and Hispanic Worker Initiative (LEPHWI).

In short, the initiative was designed to help Hispanic Americans and other individuals with limited English and occupational skills prepare for jobs in high-demand industries by simultaneously providing instruction in English and occupational skills.

Projects were set up at five sites, including Omaha, Neb., where roughly one-third of the population is foreign-born.

In Omaha, Metropolitan Community College was the project grantee and worked with Hispanic and Sudanese youths and adults through a program called STEP UP to prepare them for jobs in health care, construction and transportation. More than two-thirds of the 802 participants studied English in a literacy lab, using the Rosetta Stone software program; 77 percent of those ultimately enrolled in college credit programs and “thus put themselves on track for achieving additional career mobility and advancement.”

STEP UP participants were also paired with mentors who helped them understand the “college culture.” In some cases, employers gave participants bonuses of up to $350 for successfully completing the program, although they learned about the bonuses only after completing the program.

STEP UP achieved a 67 percent employment rate and a 77 percent retention rate.

Among other things, the evaluations of the five sites suggest that the optimal way to operate programs for English language learners is to make them flexible, convenient and heavy on personal engagement – all lessons that might seem like common sense, given the nonsensical nature of their extreme opposites (inflexible, inconvenient and leaving participants with limited English skills to figure out things on their own).

The evaluation found that it would also be beneficial to incorporate a job search component into the program and provide services that transcend language and vocational needs, such as child care and transportation.

The study also deals with various reasons employers may get involved in such a program, such as improved worker safety, better customer service and helping English language learners become better citizens.