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Workforce Preparation: Why You Should Learn More

by Heidi Silver-Pacuilla

The Commonwealth of Virginia Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Combined State Plan Modifications requires that “programs receiving Adult Education and Family Literacy (AEFLA) funds deliver workforce preparation activities concurrently with adult education, correctional education, and English language acquisition activities. This emphasis on integrated workforce preparation activities will increase the college and career readiness and employability of participants by engaging them in activities of deeper learning and application of practical skills, such as teamwork, communication, problem-solving, and understanding systems. Training for instructors on how to integrate workforce preparation activities with standards-based instruction and for administrators and instructional leaders on how to support and recognize this enhanced instruction will be ongoing” (page 239).

This article provides background and resources to help you meet this requirement.

What is workforce preparation?

The definition of workforce preparation as an adult education activity was finalized in the WIOA regulations, Sec. 463.34:

Workforce preparation activities include activities, pro-grams, or services designed to help an individual acquire a combination of basic academic skills, critical thinking skills, digital literacy skills, and self-management skills, including competencies in:

a) Utilizing resources;

b) Using information;

c) Working with others;

d) Understanding systems;

e) Skills necessary for successful transition into and completion of postsecondary education or training, or employment; and

f) Other employability skills that increase an individual’s preparation for the workforce.

These competencies should be familiar to those teaching with the College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education. They may remind you of previous initiatives to prepare students for success in their careers such as 21st Century Skills, the Employability Skills Framework, or the SCAN Skills from the late 1990s.

The requirement in the Combined State Plan indicates that these skills and competencies are to be integrated into instruction and taught concurrently with academic skills, thereby deepening and contextualizing the learning experience.

Why is workforce preparation important?

You may have heard business and economic reports calling for better preparation of the workforce for the jobs of today, even as they caution that the jobs of tomorrow will be different. Voices from higher education research also raise concerns that students starting community or four-year colleges are underprepared for the coursework. However, nearly half of our adult education students are already in the jobs of today, and they are preparing for their jobs of tomorrow.

In program year 2016-2017, 49 percent of our students reported that they were employed when they enrolled. An additional 25 percent reported that they were looking for work or looking to advance in their jobs. Last year, 534 adult education students achieved an industry-recognized credential to help them advance in their careers, and 2017-2018 is on track to see more students achieve these credentials through the many Integrated Education and Training programs that are in place across the state. These working learners attend our programs to develop their academic, workforce preparation, and occupational skills.

What skills do employers want to see in job applicants?

In Virginia, we know what skills employers are seeking. The Virginia Department of Education, in collaboration with the Demographics Research Group of the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia, recently published Virginia’s Workplace Readiness Skills: Framework for the Future. The purpose of this research was to evaluate Virginia’s current 21 Workplace Readiness Skills, which provide the framework for the Commonwealth’s Workplace Readiness Skills assessment, and to make certain they are up to date and aligned with the needs of employers. For more than 30 years, in each decade since the 1980s, hundreds of employers throughout the Commonwealth have been interviewed or surveyed to determine the most essential workplace skills for entry-level workers. Major findings from the report indicate that employers continue to value the existing Workplace Readiness Skills, available as an infographic, with some refinement.

In addition, the Combined State Plan Modifications includes tables of updated economic analyses, some of which are presented by Local Workforce Development Area (LWDA). These regional snapshots give a clear picture of the current high-demand and emerging occupational trends in each of the LWDAs across the state. Helping students explore careers and skills for in-demand or emerging occupations can present new opportunities to reach higher and pursue additional credentials or degrees.

How can you learn to integrate workforce preparation activities?

Below are two online, self-paced courses offered by LINCS that local Professional Learning Communities could engage in as individuals or as a cohort:

Through VALRC, there are several ways to learn more about incorporating these skills and competencies into your instruction.

  • Contextualization in Action (6 hours, on-site): This training is designed to address the importance of integrating contextualized instruction in adult education; participants review key definitions and integration models, analyze classroom-relevant examples, and practice planning contextualized lessons and activities. Contact VALRC’s Jeffrey Elmore or Kate Daly Rolander for more information or to schedule a training.

  • Building College and Career Readiness and Workforce Preparation Skills (3 hours, on-site): This workshop introduces Virginia’s Workplace Readiness Skills and is designed to assist instructors in integrating workforce preparation into academically rigorous, standards based instruction. Participants will engage in hands-on instructional and lesson planning activities with a focus on writing, reading, and discussion skills. Contact VALRC’s Hillary Major for more information or to schedule a training.

For more resources, see the chart below.

Heidi Silver-Pacuilla is Adult Education Coordinator at the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education in the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE).

Workplace Preparation Resources

                                Resource                                                                        Summary
IET Blueprint Find workplace resources listed at the bottom of the page.
Workplace Literacy Guide This guide presents practices and procedures that can be adapted to a variety of workplace literacy programs.
Skills to Pay the Bills This curriculum for young adults in transition (ages 1421) focuses on masatering soft skills in the workplace.
Bridges to Careers for Low Skilled Adults This is a program developemnt guide for implementing bridge programs, which help improve adult basic skills.
Life Skills, College, and Career Readiness Guide According to LINCS, “This guide provides suggested classroom tasks that combine academic knowledge and skills described by the College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education with behaviors and composite skills needed to succeed in college, workplace, and civic life (essential competencies).”
Bridging Cultural Gaps in the Workplace This curriculum is designed for immigrants and refugees who are entering or currently part of the workforce.
Employability and Soft Skills Manual Drawn from youth workforce development efforts, this manual provides guidance to work readiness training; it includes checklists and rubrics.