Preparing English Learners for Work and Careers: We've been there before! Or have we?

This video presentation by researcher and educator Heide Spruck Wrigley discusses work and career contextualized instruction for English language learners and important changes that are being made in the field.

Heide Spruck Wrigley, PhD
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Literacy Works
Publication Year
Resource Type
Instructional Material
Product Type

An overview of the history of working with immigrants around work-based education. The key concept is that there has been a shift away from placement in any available job to jobs that pay a living wage. Wrigley discusses changes in the way concepts such as context instruction are viewed with the passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). The focus has gone away from placement in any available job to a focus on career pathways placing an emphasis on career-focused instruction that include:

  • preparation for jobs with “family sustaining wages”
  • instruction contextualized to career and technical training
  • case management and support (e.g., life coaches)
  • focus on marketable skills for mid-level jobs
  • Career Pathways with stackable certificates.

Lessons learned include:

  • most immigrants are employed and make lower wages than native born;
  • a significant percentage of higher skilled immigrants are underemployed
  • skills certificates are linked to “good jobs with good wages”
  • mid-level jobs offer opportunities for both high and low skilled immigrants

Includes an example of a Career Pathway program with stackable certificates in Pharmacology from South Texas College.

What the experts say

The resource is an overview of the changes in career pathways in adult education by Heide Wrigley, one of the most prominent adult education ESL researchers today. Wrigley presents a review of the literature and examples of programming, past and present, to demonstrate the changes from adult vocational ESL instruction to career focused instruction.

Heide Wrigley draws on labor market information and refers to the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) in contextualizing her remarks about the state of the field vis-a-vis shifts in thinking from placing adult learners into jobs to developing pathways through which learners can enter into careers that are sustaining and which offer room for advancement.

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