Join LINCS member, Tadd Wamester, and Career Pathways Moderator, Mike Cruse, for an informal conversation about lessons from Tadd's career supporting adult learners through significant life transitions. Tadd is currently the Director of the New Americans Initiative at Voxy, where he builds partnerships supporting careers for New Americans, through up-skilling and incumbent worker training programs.
Tadd has over 12 years of experience in immigrant and refugee workforce development and education programs. Prior to working with Voxy, Tadd spent nearly a decade at Upwardly Global, where he used digital learning technologies for collaboration with states to outline immigrant relicensing pathways and eliminate barriers to immigrant workforce integration.
Tadd will share his experience with us in light of the current climate of all-digital learning, unemployment, and uncertainty about future of adult education and career pathways. Come with your own questions and ideas as we reflect on what we know about our learners' ability to adapt in the face of great change, and our determination to continue supporting them on their academic and career paths.
This conversation will be hosted as an asynchronous discussion HERE in the Career Pathways group, and cross-posted to the Integrating Technology, Program Management, and Adult English Language Learners communities. This conversation will begin with an introduction and moderator question at 9AM EST and continue throughout the day. We hope that you will join us, right here, for our conversation!
Career Pathways Moderator
Good Morning, and welcome to today's conversation with Tadd Wamester on the impacts of COVID-19 on continuous learning and career pathways. Tadd brings a wealth of experience working with adult learners and programs supporting English Language Learners and career pathways programs. I asked Tadd to share his experience with how transitions in adult learning can be capitalized on as opportunities for reflection, change, and growth. Without further delay, let's get started.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted both adult educators and learners. It has moved instruction online and led to the unemployment of many adult learners. What has your experience working with skilled immigrants in transition to new languages, cultures, and careers taught you that may be applicable to the situation we find ourselves in today?
First of all, good morning and thank you for inviting me to take part in this discussion. It's my first time taking part in this type of event.
Throughout my work with skilled immigrants who are restarting their career, I have witnessed so much resilience and adaptability, and I think adult educators are experiencing a similar transition. So many of us are being asked to perform our job in very different circumstances and conditions. Teachers are being asked to use technology tools they may be unfamiliar with, without the time for planning. However difficult that may be, it presents a unique opportunity to reinvent educational models to meet the needs of diverse adult learners.
As many programs are starting to get through the emergency period where everything changed on a dime, this presents a unique opportunity to reflect upon the strategies we are using to educate and prepare learners for work and academic success.
For many highly skilled immigrants who are restarting a career in the U.S., there is a great deal of stress and frustration that is experienced when the activities that made them successful in their home country, are now not resulting in success within their new context (and home). I think a lot of adult educators (and learners) are experiencing a similar "crash". As a community, it is very important to have empathy for our peers who are experiencing significant change without the benefit of time to plan and fully understand their new context and "learning environment". We can reflect on what has been difficult in this rapid transition and learn from peers who have found strategies that work. After leading many cohorts of skilled immigrants who are restarting their career, it has always been heartwarming to see the learners/job seekers sharing strategies and resources with their peers. That is one of the countless things to think about in the present moment: how do we recreate peer support in the virtual space? This often happens naturally within classroom and in-person educational experiences, but it is going to take intention to recreate that in the virtual space.
For all adult learners who are seeking jobs, there are topics that we now need to highlight in order to assist them in navigating the job search. Remote work is here to stay, virtual interviews (already commonplace) will be the norm, and understanding social distancing in the workplace are now incredibly important topics to include within our instruction/curriculum.
Tadd, you mention topics that we now need to highlight in order to assist learners in navigating a job search. Let's talk about this more. What are your thoughts about growth sectors, in the near and longer-term, for workers who have recently lost jobs due to the economic downturn? How can adult educators work with ABE/ESL and IET learners to develop skills that may increase their chances of quickly rebounding once businesses resume hiring? You highlight virtual interviews as one trend that will likely become a new norm. What other changes do you foresee, and how do we think about preparing more adult educators to teach towards these changes in the labor marketplace? Are there other barriers facing skilled immigrants that we should also be considering?
This is a popular topic I am seeing at the present moment: the acceleration of the "Future of Work" and changing hiring demand. I think it is becoming more and more clear that immigrants have been or will be disproportionately affected by job losses, and many of the sectors that were steadily growing and employing New Americans will be slow to come back. The airline industry, hospitality, restaurants, retail and so many other sectors are being negatively impacted and transformed by the COVID-19 shut downs. My prediction is that the recovery will be slow with a number of bumps in the road. However, we also see increased demand in healthcare, transportation/logistics, e-commerce, technology, infrastructure, and a few other sectors. It is going to be incredibly important for adult educators to pay attention to the changing job market and work to prepare their learners for the jobs of the future. Adult education has never been more important or needed, and our learners are going to need more bridge and career pathway programs in order to reconnect with employment. This may mean putting a pause on programs that have been successful in the past. I also think we should all be paying attention to short-term certification programs that are in-demand, as we should try to align with these programs.
A couple key steps I see include a) identifying the employers and sectors in your area that are hiring, b) use those job descriptions and industry-specific materials within your lessons and classes, c) incorporate job preparation activities into your classes (virtual interview practice, online job application, LinkedIn profile development, etc.). There are many transferrable skills that have cross-sector appeal (writing professional & succinct emails, phone conversations, even video conferencing is now a job skill). We can make our instruction relevant to the current job market and application process, but it requires being agile. This emphasizes the importance of incorporating authentic, present-day materials in the classroom. In general, Voxy is a proponent of task-based language instruction.
I do believe that apprenticeship, pre-apprenticeship and work-based learning are trends that will continue, so the more that we can all try to partner with industry and educational training programs to create those bridges for our learners, the more helpful we can be to those learners/job seekers.
For highly skilled immigrants, the predictors of success will likely be the same: strong English language (& technology) skills, U.S. certifications or degrees, and the size of one's network are indicators of likely "success". I think perseverance should be added to that list, as competition is going to be even more intense. https://www.imprintproject.org/stepstosuccess/
Clearly, adult education can support with language acquisition, pathway, bridge and transitions programs, and we can also support network development in different ways. Consider partnering with a nonprofit that wants to bring in professional mentors and volunteers to add extra support, practice, and industry-specific knowledge.
Thanks for your thoughts on supporting English Language Learners through up-skilling. COVID-19 has brought into sharp focus the need for increases in healthcare, transportation/logistics, e-commerce, and technology infrastructure sectors. You noted that, "it is going to be incredibly important for adult educators to pay attention to the changing job market and work to prepare their learners for the jobs of the future." What can you tell us about your work with skilled immigrant education and developing healthcare career pathways to help frame how we can better prepare more learners to explore healthcare-related educational opportunities in the future?
I think we can all agree that healthcare career pathways and employment opportunities are likely to see increased demand for the foreseeable future. There were already significant talent shortages and projected talent shortages across the hospital and allied health sectors. This is one area where we at Voxy are working closely within the new Futuro Health initiative, to create new on-ramps and bridge programs into allied health careers www.futurohealth.org. This program has opportunities for English language learners to access the vocational language skills that will allow them to succeed in allied health certification programs (CNA, MA, LPN, LVN) and is creating new growth-sector employment opportunities for LEP incumbent workers and job seekers.
I know in New Jersey, they are taking initial (temporary) steps to activate foreign-trained healthcare professionals within their communities, and hopefully this may result in long-term programs to better streamline relicensing pathways in the state (and create models for other states to do the same). https://www.nj.gov/governor/news/news/562020/20200401b.shtml
In this situation, the challenges related to immigrant workforce integration span language, licensing, and labor concerns, but the benefits to the local community in terms of linguistically and culturally competent healthcare workers, make this an important long-term challenge to work on post-crisis. New American Economy is a resource to learn more about how important immigrant populations are within our healthcare workforce. https://research.newamericaneconomy.org/report/covid-19-immigrant-healthcare-workers/ "In New York State, the epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, more than 400,000 immigrants made up at least one in three healthcare workers in 2018."
I am seeing more hospital systems and unions that are working together and in parallel to create more English language development, upskilling and credentialing opportunities for LEP populations, and Adult Education is an important partner in these efforts.
Tadd, you mention that New Jersey is 'taking initial (temporary) steps to activate foreign-trained healthcare professionals within their communities, and hopefully this may result in long-term programs to better streamline relicensing pathways in the state (and create models for other states to do the same)'. I've had conversations recently with staff from the National Conference of State Legislatures. (NCSL), regarding their assessment of states' policies and practices around occupational licensing. NCSL, along with the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and The Council of State Governments (CSG), has developed a National Occupational Licensing Database, with funds from the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration. This database was designed 'to contribute to the understanding of the variation in occupational licensing burdens across the country and particularly among professions for which these laws may pose unnecessary barriers to employment'.
I'm planning a similar style conversation with NCSL staff to talk more about the database, how adult education programs can use it to help educate staff and learners in IET, apprenticeships, and other career pathways programs. We'll also be looking at states' responses to increasing portability across state lines, in the wake of COVID-19. Keep an eye out for an announcement on this conversation in early summer.
Hello Tadd, Mike and others,
Tadd, you wrote, "My prediction is that the recovery will be slow with a number of bumps in the road. However, we also see increased demand in healthcare, transportation/logistics, e-commerce, technology, infrastructure, and a few other sectors. It is going to be incredibly important for adult educators to pay attention to the changing job market and work to prepare their learners for the jobs of the future. Adult education has never been more important or needed, and our learners are going to need more bridge and career pathway programs in order to reconnect with employment. This may mean putting a pause on programs that have been successful in the past. I also think we should all be paying attention to short-term certification programs that are in-demand, as we should try to align with these programs."
I completely agree. One program that appears to be doing that, and also addressing the needs of the great majority of ESL students who do not qualify for their IBEST (based on the I-BEST model from Washington State) program, is the Pima Community College (Tucson Arizona) Early IBEST (not I-BEST) program. The Early IBEST was designed to meet the needs of the 90% of their ESL students who do not meet the qualifications needed for their IBEST program. It focuses on industry-recognized training programs as well as programs that may lead to industry-recognized qualifications. The courses, for example in Caregiving, Computer Science, Building and Construction Technologies, and Entrepreneurship also tend to be shorter than IBEST courses. Yesterday there was a fascinating one-hour COABE webinar with two presenters from Pima Community College's Adult Basic Education for College & Career (ABECC) programs, Laurie Kierstead-Joseph, and Wendy Scheder-Black. COABE members may be able to get the slides from this presentation, or possibly a recording of the webinar. I found it inspiring, especially because they are so attuned to both ESL learner needs and to changing employer and industry needs and because, as program designers, Laurie and Wendy have mastered the resilience so required in the time of this pandemic.
David J. Rosen
Increased stress is a challenge many learners and educators are dealing with right now, and will need to continue navigating as we move forward. There are a number of virtual mental health resources I've seen or read about more recently to help us all cope with the feelings of stress and anxiety. While many are excellent resources, I don't know that they can replace the support that learners and educators receive in the classroom. Without that physical classroom environment facilitating a sense of community, we need to find other ways to create it virtually for our learners, and ourselves.
In this time of social distancing, we are all looking for ways to reduce feelings of isolation, while also encouraging physical distancing. The term social distancing has found its way into everyone's vocabulary - and native language - over the last six weeks. We, as adult educators, play a critical role supporting learners in adapting to this and other public health measures. What thoughts do you have for how educators can support integration of these safety measures into different types of instruction with learners? This is important now, but will be essential to programs re-opening classrooms in the future.
Integrating social distancing safety measures into the classroom and our instruction is an incredibly important topic. First of all, I have heard how this situation is a broader challenge within many immigrant communities. Are the guidelines translated and contextualized for different ethnic and linguistic communities? What role can adult educators and ESOL instructors play in helping to get the word out and flattening the curve? And what guidelines are going to stay with us even after the immediate spread of infection has been slowed down? From my understanding, we will all have to be vigilant until we have a long-term solution like a vaccine. Whether the classes are being delivered virtually or in a blended format, I think adult educators will play an important role in sharing more of the "why" behind the social distancing guidelines that have been put in place.
I would imagine the ground rules for in-person classes will be very different when those programs and schools reopen, and lessons that explore why everyone following these guidelines is going to be incredibly important. I don't want to pretend to be a public health expert, but it is interesting to think about the increased interconnection between public health and education programs. It certainly presents opportunities for new lessons and discussions that take place early on within the launch of a new class. We can all use public health materials and flyers as authentic pieces of content that can prompt discussion and be the basis of new lessons.
I do think this topic presents a real opportunity for discussion amongst the LINCS community. What do peer activities look like with social distancing measures in place? How do we model and share recommendations that our learners can bring to their own families, friends and neighbors? I think we are all going to be looking for guidance and leadership in this area. But I also would like to see adult educators share their favorite activities that they won't be leading when classrooms reopen, and alternative activities with similar learning outcomes that align with social distancing guidelines. How do we translate effective peer activities to adhere to social distancing guidelines and so that they minimize the risk of infection?
The last conference I attended before everything shutdown was the OTAN Technology & Distance Learning Symposium. Within the presentations I heard excellent examples of how teachers were using WhatsApp and Remind to engage students in online discussion and chat via mobile devices. I am really curious to hear about what is working for teachers, in terms of keeping peer engagement and discussion going online. Since so many of the learners already use WhatsApp for communication, it seems like a good option, but I would love to know more about what is working (and challenges that you are seeing as well).
Tadd, you say that "Whether the classes are being delivered virtually or in a blended format, I think adult educators will play an important role in sharing more of the "why" behind the social distancing guidelines that have been put in place." I'm curious if and how educators are fielding questions like this from learners?
While we're all hoping for a return to public life, as the pandemic is brought under greater control, we may also find ourselves in the coming months having to adapt to temporary and targeted restrictions on in-person classes that will require learners to quickly pivot between classroom and virtual learning spaces. How do you see blended learning helping us to navigate these transitions?
I also think your ask of educators to think about favorite activities that they won't be leading when classrooms reopen, and alternative activities with similar learning outcomes aligned with social distancing guidelines is a good one. These are important things to consider before classrooms re-open. Now may not be the easiest time for some teachers to be thinking this far ahead, but for those who have ideas, we would love to hear them.
I would love to learn more about how educators are fielding these questions and if our public health systems are partnering with adult education in any way!
In terms of blended learning helping to navigate these transitions, I think all of us want to see classrooms and schools reopened, as soon as it is safe to do so. But as you mentioned, there is a lot of uncertainty if we will experience closings again in the fall and winter. It is very likely that many communities will experience another pause. For this reason, it is incredibly important to intentionally include more strategies and tools for reaching learners both in and out of the classroom, and to build in virtual peer support from the get-go. Blended learning offers more safety in terms of program continuity, as the program can shift the blend as needed. As new programs launch in the summer and fall, it is important to quickly get learners comfortable with using communication technologies for email, chat, 1-1 and group video conferencing, and discussion boards. This allows the instructor more flexibility to rapidly shift the blend should they have to suspend in-person classes for a period of time. Tools for personalized, self-paced learning and small group virtual live instruction are safety mechanism to keep the learning going, through whatever situation arises. They also allow the learner more flexibility in terms of schedule, location, topic and the amount of time that they consume content. I know that for many of the partners that we work with (and new partners) it is always easier to introduce new digital tools when there is some in-person or lab time available. For that reason, integrating more digital tools seems like an important primary objective once physical classrooms open up again.
I think the importance of combining digital literacy instruction and English language instruction has never been as obvious as it is right now.
We are just starting to grapple with this at our adult education non-profit. We're in Western Pennsylvania. The State is on 'stay at home' orders until May 8. Our governor has put a reopening plan in place but it's based in data and science and a gradual reopening. Right now the teachers I supervise cannot even imagine going back into the classroom given our space. Everything you said in paragraph 1.
But I also would like to see adult educators share their favorite activities that they won't be leading when classrooms reopen, and alternative activities with similar learning outcomes that align with social distancing guidelines. Our in-person ELL classes always have some element of greetings, some times handshakes. Thinking about alternative no touch greeting, a head nod, a wave elbow bump? -still too close! But how to we check progress when they're working on worksheet? How do they work in small groups? What if we still need to wear masks? Do we get these? https://www.lex18.com/news/coronavirus/college-student-makes-masks-for-the-deaf-hard-of-hearing So many questions still.
Thanks for joining in the conversation Allegra!
I know this is going to be hard, but our community of teachers and educators will find activities and strategies that work. Obviously, we do need to think about what can be translated into the digital space. I was just speaking with a woman from an organization that seeks to empower refugee women through entrepreneurship and English language acquisition. For those who have a baseline of digital literacy, their in-person cultural mentor matches have been able to meet through web communication tools like Skype, Google Meet or the like, but that doesn't work for low digital literacy participants, at least not without some 1-1 support. I have heard that Youtube is generally a very accessible platform (that someone in the household may be able to help with) for one way communication and recorded demos.
Let's keep in touch as solutions emerge and share those strategies with the LINCS community of educators.
You wrote: "For many highly skilled immigrants who are restarting a career in the U.S., there is a great deal of stress and frustration that is experienced when the activities that made them successful in their home country, are now not resulting in success within their new context (and home). I think a lot of adult educators (and learners) are experiencing a similar "crash". As a community, it is very important to have empathy for our peers who are experiencing significant change without the benefit of time to plan and fully understand their new context and "learning environment". We can reflect on what has been difficult in this rapid transition and learn from peers who have found strategies that work. After leading many cohorts of skilled immigrants who are restarting their career, it has always been heartwarming to see the learners/job seekers sharing strategies and resources with their peers. That is one of the countless things to think about in the present moment: how do we recreate peer support in the virtual space? This often happens naturally within classroom and in-person educational experiences, but it is going to take intention to recreate that in the virtual space."
This is a great point. I have frequently heard adult basic education teachers and program administrators use the words "pivot", "adapt", "experiment," "try it", "cut your self some slack," "relax the standards temporarily by which programs are held accountable" and others. The DigitalUS inititative in the Ed Tech Center at World Education has been using the word "resilience" which, while it also fits well with everything teachers and adult learners need to do during the pandemic, they apply in particular to one aspect of learning, pandemic or not: digital literacy and problem solving. As I understand it, resilience is the ability to recover quickly from difficulties. The central questions for me are: Why are some people more resilient than others? Can resilience be taught? If so, how? How can we help ourselves, and the adult learners we teach, pivot, regroup, reduce stress, develop solutions to try -- and evaluate -- when solving problems in using technology, including the problems that the hardware, software, or the design of the software create for us? Tadd, with your experience in helping immigrants who may have little or no experience in using online learning technology, I would be interested to hear what you have learned about what helps adult learners -- and their teachers -- reduce stress and frustration, and develop resilience in digital literacy and online learning problem solving. I am especially interested in learning about ways to build peer support, for both adult learners and for teachers, to strengthen digital literacy and problem solving resilience.
David J. Rosen
Thinking about DL & online learning, I think one way to reduce stress is to make the individual activities/assignments discreet and to set expectations early on. As they say, "Rome wasn't built in a day".
Within ESOL classes, I think digital literacy activities should be started on day one, even if it's just a simple task like group chat, signing into email, or navigating a mobile browser to a specific website. You have to start somewhere! When introducing Voxy to low digital literacy learners, I advise focusing on introducing just one area of the platform and one specific task or learning activity. Screen shots and print outs with visual directions can be helpful resources that make the task less overwhelming. When possible, the activity can be done in small groups or pairs to take advantage of peer support.
In terms of teaching resilience, I'm no expert in teaching that specific topic, but I have taken part in classroom activities that "celebrate failure" and what has been learned through mistakes.
Thanks to David Rosen and members of the LINCS Integrating Technology group, there has been a wealth of information and reflection on what has been working for programs who've pivoted to virtual learning in a matter of days. If you haven't already, check out the conversation here.
I want to thank Tadd for joining us in this conversation and sharing his knowledge and experience in supporting adult learners through times of great transition in their lives. I hope others have learned something, or gained a new perspective in their thinking about how we may move forward in the coming months. If you have questions or answers for Tadd, please feel free to post them here and we'll be sure to address them. Again, a big thanks to Tadd and everyone who commented or followed this conversation.
Take good care, everyone!
Career Pathways Moderator