Establishing pathways to align education and employment for adult learners

Integrating adult learners into postsecondary education and training programs is one of the many ways that the Texas Workforce Commission’s (TWC) adult education and literacy (AEL) program is improving connections that link adult students with workforce skills that will improve their employment prospects. In less than one college semester, Texas adults can move from lacking basic employment skills to being on track for a suitable occupation by participating in a career pathway training program.

Working alongside employers, Texas Workforce Solutions (local workforce development boards), adult education providers, community colleges, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), TWC’s AEL program is creating opportunities to further adult education programs and assist more individuals in gaining employment skills through grants supporting the expansion of integrated education and training (IET) programs. IET programs are successful because they concurrently enroll adult students in contextualized basic education courses, such as reading and math at the same time while they learn high demand skills such as welding. The classroom content becomes more relevant and meaningful to students who are applying what they learn in an employment setting, which results in accelerated learning, helping the adult learner to enter the workforce more quickly.

“Supporting the workforce needs of Texas’ diverse economy requires collaboration to scale innovative, accelerated models of training that provide adult learners with the in-demand skills required to go to work,” said TWC Chairman Andres Alcantar. “We will continue to gather input from regional stakeholder on the most effective strategies to achieve desired outcomes.”

In support of the state’s Accelerate TEXAS initiative, TWC is providing $500,000 in grant funding to support an expansion of the career pathway program through a community college mentoring grant. Houston Community College (HCC) will lead the mentoring college consortium consisting of Alamo Colleges, Amarillo College, South Texas College and the Tarrant County College District. These colleges will assist other colleges and providers in establishing career pathway programs, similar to the successful models operated by the consortium colleges for adults. Accelerate TEXAS is the state’s initiative to help adult students acquire basic skills and progress on a pathway toward a high-demand occupation.

“Accelerate TEXAS is the best thing that has ever happened to adult education. If you want underprepared students to complete postsecondary credentials and enter employment, integrated education and training is the best way to do it,” said HCC Director of Adult Education Dr. David Joost. “Of all the education and training initiatives that have come and gone over the years, Accelerate TEXAS is different, it works and it’s here to stay.”

Expanding these efforts, TWC has teamed up with the THECB to enable 620 adults to gain industry-recognized certifications through a $1.9 million grant to support the expansion of AEL and IET programs at South Texas College, Alamo Colleges, Lone Star College and Trinity Valley Community College. Accelerate TEXAS initiatives support the state’s ambitious 60x30TX strategic plan for higher education that has the overarching goal of ensuring at least 60 percent of Texans aged 25 to 34 have a postsecondary degree or recognized certification by the year 2030. One of the 60x30TX strategies is to provide high-quality education programs for educationally underserved adults.

“This important initiative allows us to partner with educational organizations that will help Texans gain basic skills needed for employment,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Employers Ruth R. Hughs. “These strong partnerships are also essential in creating the talent pipeline employers need to keep our Texas workforce competitive and growing.”

Continuing the effort to reach the goals of the state’s 60x30TX strategic plan, Region 6 Education Service Center was granted $515,020 in funds to develop reading and math institutes to enhance classroom strategies that will increase adult learners’ success in math and reading. Region 6 will recruit teachers in the various AEL programs across the state to become trainers for that region. AEL teachers will obtain math and reading knowledge needed to promote adult learner success in the programs.

“Career pathway training is an excellent resource to help individuals obtain the skills and credentialing needed to seek out and apply for the high-demand jobs across Texas,” said Commissioner Representing Labor Julian Alvarez.

In FY 2015, TWC found that more than 4,800 adult students, who had been unemployed when they entered an adult education program, began working in the first quarter after completing the program.