Expanding Horizons: Pacesetters in Adult Education for Work

This resource summarizes a Readiness Roundtable held in Washington, DC in April 2009.

F. P. Chisman
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Council for Advancement of Adult Literacy
Publication Year
Resource Type
Informational Material
Number of Pages

This resource summarizes a Readiness Roundtable held in Washington, DC in April 2009. The 20 Roundtable participants represent diverse programs from 15 states noted for providing outstanding adult-education-for-work programs. The group defined “adult-education-for-work” as instruction in basic skills (including English as a second language) and work readiness soft skills (such as problem solving and teamwork) that are part of a broader effort to move low-skilled adults along career pathways to occupational training and/or postsecondary education. The discussion focused on issues, successes, and challenges in transitioning from traditional adult education to adult-education-for-work programs.

Four types of program models were discussed:

  1. Training Programs for Occupations - sequential approach (teach basic skills first and then occupational skills and knowledge), an integrated approach (basic and occupational skills are blended), or a combination.
  2. Incumbent Worker Program - usually short-term and customized to address employers’ and workers’ needs to upgrade skills in selected areas of a company or industry.
  3. Postsecondary Transition or “Bridge” Programs - offered to adults with high school degrees or equivalents but lacking academic skills required for postsecondary (Washington state’s I-BEST model was cited as a model).
  4. Career or Academic Orientation Programs - incorporate occupation or academic preparation throughout the standard adult education curriculum.

Effective partnerships are essential to success. The relative importance of each stakeholder may depend on the program model which is employed. The participants identified challenges building effective partnerships with some organizations such as One-stops, WIBS, and post-secondary institutions. Participants cited the benefits of increased demand, persistence, completion, and transition rates of between 50 to 60 percent—far higher than those of traditional programs.

Required Training

Training materials are not provided but a handbook or study circle guide could be developed for local stakeholders to analyze, plan, align, or adapt their systems and programs.

What the experts say

This is a very valuable summary of arguments for well-crafted and –supported work-related adult basic education services in the United States. Some of the challenges discussed were efficient partnerships, inadequate or hard-to-access funding, inappropriate accountability measures, inadequate labor market data, unsystematic credentialing and program data. While much of this is not new, this summary is a succinct update of thinking on this issue by forward-looking experts. It should be required reading for all who are responsible for designing integrated adult education and workforce development systems at all levels.

Research Citation:

Sticht, T. G. (2003). Functional context education (FCE): Parts 1 & 2. Retrieved from http://www.nald.ca/library/research/sticht/octo3/fce/fce.htm

Jacobson, E., Degener, S., & Purcell-Gates, V. (2003). Creating authentic materials for the adult literacy classroom: A handbook for practitioners.Cambridge, MA: World Education.

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