When adult education classes aren’t available, employers are stepping in to teach reading, basic math and English fluency to low-skilled workers, writes Sarah Butrymowicz on the Hechinger Post.
Mya Maw, a 52-year-old Burmese immigrant, longs for a stable office job in Boston, where she’s raising twin teenage daughters and washing dishes at a hotel. To help reach her goal, she spends most mornings sitting through two hours of English or computer instruction, taking advantage of free basic-skills classes that are a small but significant part of a fractured U.S. adult-education system.
Hospitals, hotels and the food-service industry often offer classes on company space and sometimes company time. Maw’s classes are offered by her union.
Despite the recession, some employers can’t find entry-level workers with academic skills. They hire for “a rudimentary grasp of English and a good work ethic,” then provide training.
At the hotel training center, workers in basic-skills classes hope to qualify for a “coveted banquet-server position, which can pay up to $70,000 a year.” (Why so lucrative?) Others go on to community college and beyond.
In 2004, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston began training employees to fill dozens of vacancies for lab or surgical technicians. Many needed remedial coursework in basic reading, English, math and science. Then the center added GED preparation and English classes for immigrants.
Jobs for the Future, a Boston-based nonprofit that helps health care companies train their workers, reports that 60 percent of its participants earned certification or a degree and 47 percent received raises.
Some of these workers are immigrants, but others went through U.S. schools without acquiring basic reading, writing and math skills.
Years ago, my grandfather figured out why shipments were going astray in his factory. Some of the forklift drivers couldn’t read; they usually guessed correctly about what went where, but not always. He offered free reading classes after work to anyone who wanted help. The turnout was huge. These were native-born, U.S.-educated Americans.