<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=341153139571737&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">
CAEL Pathways Blog

Opening Training & Learning Pathways for Speakers of Other Languages

By Dr. Katie Brown

Every year, thousands of adult learners take advantage of career training programs like apprenticeships, Integrated Education and Training (IET), and experiential learning. These “learn by doing” programs often serve as an on-ramp to high-demand careers with family-sustaining wages in sectors like health care, technology, skilled trades, and more. They also play a central role in building a fully staffed, economically mobile, future-ready workforce. 

But in order for these programs to be effective, we must ensure that they are accessible to all adult learners – and today, that includes intentionally focusing on English learners, who now account for 1 in 10 working-age adults in the U.S. 

Despite the changing demographics of the U.S. workforce, many career training programs are offered only in English. This disparity is part of a systemic issue: The U.S serves the needs of just 4% of adult English learners. Persisting English barriers limit access to career pathways and drive chronic unemployment and underemployment amongst workers from immigrant and refugee backgrounds, even as local employers struggle with critical staffing shortages across the country. 

There’s good news: workforce development programs are well-positioned to connect working adults with both English and career skills simultaneously – if adult educators reimagine their approach to second language instruction. Rather than treating English proficiency as a prerequisite to workforce training, adult educators can now access tools to incorporate English instruction directly into these programs. 

Models For Success 
Many of the most popular career training pathways – occupations like Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), Building Construction and Maintenance, CDL Driver, Hospitality, and Child Care Professional – are in frontline fields that are experiencing acute and ongoing worker shortages. Immigrant and refugee workers are well-positioned to help fill staffing gaps,  and forward-looking adult educators are using an approach called upskilling with English upskilling to open opportunity: 

  • Bucks County Community College, based in Pennsylvania, is committed to connecting adult English learners – including a growing number of Ukrainian refugees - in its most popular career programs, including CNA certification. Adult English learners can access courses like “English for Certified Nursing Assistants” to prepare them for CNA courses and licensing exams. 
  • Denver-based Emily Griffith Technical College uses English upskilling to prepare adult English learners for its barbering and cosmetology programs. English learners can access a mobile-first English platform that includes pathways like “English for Cosmetology,” built with real-world content focused on hair, skin, and nail care, along with salon management. The approach connects learners with both English vocabulary and basic job skills simultaneously – and instructors see adult English learners advance to career programs more efficiently.
  • In Texas, Austin Community College uses English upskilling to open career pathways for Internationally Trained Professionals (ITPs) – immigrants and refugees who have experience and credentials earned in other countries – by connecting learners with English, career skills, and tools to search for jobs, network, and prepare for interviews simultaneously. Rather than requiring ITPs to repeat coursework and training, the approach connects ITPs with the English and U.S. workforce skills to leverage their existing education and experience in the U.S. job market. 
  • California-based ADVANCE, a workforce development network that includes Lake Tahoe Community College, used English upskilling to make its ski lift apprenticeship program more accessible to immigrants and refugees. A custom English course built with real-world apprenticeship materials – including training manuals and technical training – effectively serves as an on-ramp to the full apprenticeship program, helping adult English learners meet their career goals faster.

English upskilling is a proven approach: A recent survey of more than 6,000 workers from immigrant and refugee backgrounds shows the promise of this approach for IET programs and more.  A full 95% of workers said that English upskilling helped them improve their confidence in using English; another 93% reported saving time at work as a result of improved English skills. And 87% achieved a career goal like getting a promotion at their job – or starting a new one. 

English skills are workforce skills – and should be taught like any other career skill in job training programs. 

Dr. Katie Brown is Founder and Chief Education Officer at EnGen, a Certified B Corporation that partners with community colleges, employers, and government institutions to deliver personalized, career-aligned, mobile first English upskilling to speakers of other languages.

Subscribe by email