Global Talent Bridge Partner Blog

News on practice and policy affecting internationally trained immigrants and refugees

How an Adult Education Coalition is Advancing a More Inclusive Workforce

Wednesday July 27, 2022 | by Hillary Gardner

adult basic education texas

Efforts to create a vibrant, responsive Adult Basic Education (ABE) system can advance racial equity and economic mobility both inside and outside the classroom: Over the past two decades, 78 percent of adult education students self-identified as people of color, according to the National Association of State Directors of Adult Education. In 2019, 23 percent identified as low-income, 8 percent as single parents, 4 percent as having a disability, and 5 percent as unemployed. At least half of ABE students were English-language learners.

Ensuring all students can meet career and educational goals is essential for a more inclusive workforce. To advance these goals, the Coalition for Adult Basic Education (COABE), recently convened a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Virtual Symposium to equip adult educators with strategies and resources to provide more tailored, effective support to all adult education communities. This blog highlights efforts from adult educators in Texas to champion a specific group of immigrant and refugee students—internationally trained workers—and offers a model for other states to follow.

The Impact of Adult Basic Education

Adult Basic Education (ABE), the state and local programs that serve adult learners in gaining literacy skills, earning high school equivalency diplomas, and improving English language proficiency, plays an important role in support of the inclusion of immigrants and refugees, who represent one in six workers in the United States. Yet these programs can—and must—do more to meet the unique needs of immigrants and refugees who have international education and experience, known in the field as internationally trained professionals (ITPs). Promising practices emerging from a state-level network of adult educators in Texas hold potential for advancing ITP inclusion across the country.

“Too often, ITPs are told that their credentials and experience don’t have value in the U.S., that they’ll have to start over in their education or professions,” said Debra Means-West, director of network and resource development at WES Global Talent Bridge. “This misguided advice keeps hundreds of thousands of individuals with valuable training and experience from rejoining their careers in the U.S. The ABE field is making gains in better serving ITPs but needs support and resources to scale best practices.”

Ensuring Equitable Access to Educational Pathways

There is an urgent need to ensure that ITPs can meet career and educational goals in the U.S. Despite record numbers of job openings and labor turnover, more than two million college-educated immigrants and refugees living in the U.S. are unemployed or underemployed. Sixty percent hold international credentials, according to the Migration Policy Institute. In response, the Coalition for Adult Basic Education (COABE), a nationwide professional organization that reaches more than 65,000 adult education stakeholders serving more than a million adult learners, is striving to create a system that more effectively supports the ITPs in its programs.

“Ensuring that these adult learners are able to access the services they need is critical not only to their future but also to our country’s economy,” said COABE CEO Sharon Bonney. “We know that contextualized English-language courses, industry-recognized training programs, and wraparound services for immigrant and refugee job seekers are keys to success.”

National Conference Highlights State-Level Success

Earlier this year, COABE held its 2022 conference, “Move the Nation with Adult Education.” Programming included a track on English-language learners, discussing how ABE can play a role in maximizing career and educational opportunities for internationally trained immigrants and refugees.

WES Global Talent Bridge convened a session, “Skilled Immigrant Integration: Serving Internationally Trained Professionals through Adult Education and Literacy Programs,” that highlighted the efforts of Synergy Texas, a statewide, volunteer-run movement of Texas-based adult education stakeholders.

“As our communities and students continue to recover from the pandemic, we are so grateful that COABE is shining a light on this important issue and population,” said Kelli Rhodes, president and CEO of Restore Education, a San Antonio-based non-profit that is a founding partner of Synergy Texas. “In Texas, we are helping adult educators become immigrant advocates. Our volunteer-led movement is committed to addressing academic and employment barriers to better support the 1,800 internationally trained immigrants and professionals that our system serves in Texas—and to sharing promising practices so that other states can do the same.”

Building an Effective Volunteer Network

With support from the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), Synergy Texas is formalizing a network of volunteers to support statewide efforts in professional development that will prepare adult educators to better recognize and support ITPs. Synergy Texas provides the field with resources, referrals, and training opportunities related to contextualized English language programs, credential evaluation services, professional development, and employer engagement.

Texas-based higher education institutions have developed customized curricula and programming to support the effort. Since 2019, Austin Community College has offered a series of ITP-tailored courses that support students in learning how to apply international education and training to career pathways in the U.S. The Texas Center for the Advancement of Literacy and Learning (TCALL), housed at Texas A&M University, has developed a “train the trainer” curriculum that provides professional development opportunities to the ABE field. In response to the growing demand for these resources, Austin Community College has developed a new pilot course that offers intensive, contextualized language training to ITPs.

“The response from the field has been tremendous,” said [TBD]. “Our adult educators are committed to ensuring the best outcomes for students but haven’t always had reliable information or resources in knowing how to best support ITPs. We’re now seeing incredible systems-level impact from our efforts to empower individual educators to better support ITPs in their classrooms and to equip their peers to do the same.”

Investing in Promising Practices

WES Global Talent Bridge is proud to support Texas’ efforts through its Skilled Immigrant Integration Program (SIIP). Since 2017, SIIP has provided training and resources to 32 cities, regions, and states committed to advancing the inclusion of immigrants and refugees who hold international training and experience.

The Adult Education and Literacy (AEL) division of the Texas Workforce Commission was one of multiple stakeholders representing Texas in the 2019 SIIP cohort, which supported efforts to develop the ITP-specific curricula now being offered through Austin Community College, TCALL, and Texas A&M. In 2021, Synergy Texas was selected to participate in a SIIP Demonstration Opportunity, receiving technical assistance to further develop a statewide framework for supporting ITPs.

“Texas’ commitment to building a state-level network to advance the career and educational outcomes of internationally trained immigrants and refugees is innovative and impactful,” said Katherine Gebremedhin, director of state and local initiatives at WES Global Talent Bridge. “It’s a model for other states to follow, and we’re proud to support the network via SIIP.”

Advancing a National Dialogue

For its part, COABE is continuing to advance national dialogue around how the ABE system can effectively support ITPs. WES Global Talent Bridge was proud to have served on the advisory board which planned COABE’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Symposium in June 2022.

“This was a first-of-its kind effort designed to advance the field’s commitment not only to the inclusion of ITPs, but also a broader conversation around racial equity, inclusion, digital literacy, and how to engage adult learners of all backgrounds and abilities,” said Shaketta Thomas, COABE DEI chair and vice president for membership. “Adult Basic Education is foundational for so many people in advancing in career pathways. Ensuring our field is as inclusive as possible is essential to advancing an inclusive workforce and economy.”

Access a comprehensive toolkit from COABE’s Diversity Equity and Inclusion Symposium here.

Learn more about the WES Global Talent Bridge Skilled Immigrant Integration Program (SIIP) here.

Hillary Gardner is a Project Consultant for WES Global Talent Bridge.