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How States Approach Workplace Education

by Diane Foucar-Szocki
To understand better the role state government can play in supporting and enhancing the provision of work place literacy programs, Focus On Basics asked me to contact adult education directors in Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia and prepare profiles of their statewide workplace educa tion efforts. Workplace education programs are business/education partnerships that provide work-related basic skills instruction to incumbent workers to help them maintain or advance in their jobs. Workforce education includes work-related adult basic education (ABE), preparation for the tests of General Educational Development (GED), and English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) services for adults entering the workforce and dislocated workers preparing for job training or new occupations. Both workforce and workplace education focus on skill development and are increasingly hard to separate. My discussions with each of these state leaders focused on workplace education, but often included workforce education.

These states are addressing workplace education in a variety of ways. Their efforts focus on creating identity via branding and high-profile products such as skills certificates; enhancing the expertise of providers via professional networks, credentialing, training, and curriculum development; providing financial support through, for example, grants, tax incentives, and tuition incentives; increasing accessibility via partnerships, brokering, and assessment; and collaborations. These states use a combination of strategies, with specialists, grants, partnerships, and assessment most commonly used. Branding, skill certificates, credentialing, specialists, and assessment seem to offer the most promise. In this article, each state's efforts are reviewed and elements for success are listed and discussed.

State by State Overview


Creating Identity
In 1994, Kentucky established the State of Kentucky Investment in Lifelong Learning (SKILL) initiative to support basic skills training in the workplace. The SKILL initiative has increased awareness on the part of employers and other Workforce Investment Act (WIA) service providers of ABE and has contributed to increased enrollments. There were approximately 51,000 workforce enrollments in 2004. Most recently, Kentucky Adult Education (KAE) established the Workforce Alliance in partnership with the Economic Development Cabinet and Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS), which has extended services to a broader audience of employers.

Along with these continuing efforts to create identity and understanding among educators and employers, Kentucky created the Kentucky Manufacturing Skills Standard Certificate (KMSS) and, most recently, the Kentucky Employability Certificate (KEC). The KEC is issued at the silver and gold level to those adults performing at a level four or better on the WorkKeys assessments in reading for information, locating information, and math (WorkKeys is the American College Testing Service Assessment system for academic skills related to the world of work). To date, more than 2,000 certificates have been awarded. These skills certificates align workforce education with workplace needs and provide employers with an educational credential they recognize and can support through their workplace education offerings.

Enhancing Expertise
In 1994, workforce education associates were hired in Kentucky to link local adult education providers to employers. Five associate positions exist today, with each associate responsible for approximately 20 counties. Each builds networks with human resource managers, chambers of commerce, and Workforce Investment Boards as avenues to reach employers. (Created by WIA, Workforce Investment Boards are local boards, at least 51 percent of which are comprised by employers that oversee distribution of funds for workforce development in their area.) Workforce education associates link employers with ABE providers who offer customized, onsite programs, including GED preparation, delivered at or through the workplace by local adult education personnel. In 2004, the associates reported serving 996 companies in 100 counties.

Providing Support
The Workforce Alliance provides funds to employer/provider partnerships to provide basic skill services to individuals pursuing the KEC or the KMSS. These funds are accessed through an application process often initiated by a workforce education associate. Full-time employees who enter into a learning contract with a local adult education program and earn a GED within one year are eligible for tuition discounts, and employers that provide release time are eligible for tax credits.

Increasing Accessibility
Kentucky Adult Education purchased two mobile units, known as SkillMobiles, equipped with Internet-connected computer labs that provide access to Kentucky's "virtual" adult education learning products, including curricula targeted to health-care pro viders, who are often employers of undereducated adults. SkillMobiles are available to employers on a first-come, first-served basis to meet the continuing education needs of Kentucky's workforce. A SkillMobile schedule is published on the Kentucky Adult Education web site.

Kentucky Adult Education has benefited greatly from statewide political attention, governmental reorganization, and collaborations linking basic skills learning with educational and economic achievement. Through a partnership with the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, adult education programs provide WorkKeys assessments and apply to the KCTCS on behalf of learners who have achieved silver or gold level certification. These learners include both incumbent workers in workplaces and other adult learners seeking certification. Thus, any adult eligible for ABE can take the assessments free of charge through adult education centers. Whether learners are working or preparing for work, this standards-based approach helps everyone know what is expected by employers. The state-funded agencies and employers collaborate to help adults meet the expectations. Taxpayers, employers, and the professional associations share the costs of program development and delivery.

Says Robert Curry, Director, Workforce Investment Division at Kentucky's Department of Adult Education and Literacy, "Workforce Alliance has been successful because we have brought together all the necessary partners. This allows us to maximize and leverage our resources to reach more learners in the workplace." In 2000, Kentucky Adult Education enrolled 50,000 learners in all programs. In 2003, enrollment surpassed 100,000, of whom 40,000 were accounted for by workplace education participants. The goal for 2005 is 115,000 workforce participants.


For more than 25 years, Virginia adult educators have served employers' needs through a series of initiatives. In the 1970s, workplace-based services were supported through direct grants to employers. However, services were often not sustained beyond the funding period. To increase sustainability, grants were made to adult education providers working with employers in their area. This approach, however, revealed that local programs lacked both the necessary skill and motivation to respond to employers' needs. As a result, in 1990 funding was redeployed to create the position of employee development directors (EDD) at five rural community colleges. These five EDDs brokered workplace education programs by explaining their benefits to employers and preparing local adult educators to offer them. Although this EDD-based approach was successful where implemented, for economic and political reasons funding for statewide implementation, which would have established 22 EDD positions, was not made available.

Enhancing Expertise
In 1996, to meet statewide needs with limited resources, Virginia funded the creation of a central professional development network to prepare and support local adult education programs providing workplace-based services. This entity, the Workforce Improvement Network (WIN) at James Madison University, initiated an affiliation program, certifying workplace program developers and preparing workplace curriculum developers and instructors. Programs and individuals could affiliate without having to become certified. Program Developer certification required an application, with explicit program support for the individual seeking certification, coursework, and completion of a portfolio. As an incentive for program developers to obtain certification, those who did so were provided access to small grants for their programs. By 2000, 40 Virginia adult educators were certified program developers. WIN continues to provide affiliate services including biannual meetings, a bimonthly online newsletter, and expanded web-based courses and certifications through the Workforce Develop ment Campus.

Virginia's current emphasis is on doubling its number of GED completers by December, 2005. WIN is working with 15 education programs, selected by the state as pilot test sites for the Race to the GED program, to develop partnerships with health-care providers interested in offering workplace-based GED services. WIN will conduct needs assessment and research, design a curriculum framework, and train programs in how to establish these partnerships with health-care providers.

Providing Support
From 1996 to 2000, both affiliated and certified program developers registered with WIN could obtain financial and marketing support, and training in how to establish or expand workplace-based basic skills programs. Certified program developers received a greater level of support than noncertified program developers. In 2002, despite a pool of more than 50 affiliated and certified program developers, applications for support predominantly came from just 10 to 15 of those programs. To encourage more involvement, contract support was abandoned in favor of larger mini-grants to a smaller number of programs. These grants produced valuable programming and produced greater program innovation. These mini-grants are now administered through the State Office for Adult Education and Literacy. As a result, WIN no longer monitors program initiation, but focuses instead on outreach and expertise development.

Creating Identity
One of WIN's initial tasks was to create a recognizable identity, or "brand," for Virginia's workplace adult educators. This did not happen. Now, however, the Governor's Educa tion for a Lifetime Initiative, with its workplace-focused Race to the GED program, is creating a recognizable identity for ABE across the state.

Increasing Accessibility
In 1988, Dr. Shirley Merlin, now a professor emeritus and Director of the Career Enhancement Program at James Madison University, created a mobile ABE unit used by a consortium of poultry industry employers and James Madison University. In 2004, this mobile unit (the precursor to Kentucky's SkillMobiles) continues to serve employers throughout the Shenandoah Valley. Like Kentucky, Virginia is pursuing a Career Readiness Certificate, offering basic skills assessment tests administered at One-Stop Career Development Centers, community colleges, local departments of social services, and other appropriate locations. Basic skills instruction for certification is available in many of these same sites, including workplaces, through local adult education programs.

Race to GED is a collaboration between the Virginia Department of Commerce and Trade and the Department of Education. Dr. Yvonne Thayer, Virginia's State Director of Adult Basic Education, works with her counterparts in several WIA partner agencies to maintain communication. Patty Short, Workforce Development Specialist, links adult education with the Governor's Council for Work force Development, local Workforce Investment Boards, community colleges, and economic developers. The Virginia Department of Business Assistance and ABE are collaborating to bring more basic skills learning to the workplace, through shared outreach letters and calls to businesses.


Providing Support
Massachusetts's success in garnering state funds allows for variety in meeting employers' needs. The state has extensive grant and funding programs for adult educators, employers, unions, other education providers, and WIA partners to provide workplace education. Collaboration between the Department of Education and the Department of Labor (now the Department of Workforce Development) began in 1985, and "laid a great foundation, providing good formative and summative data to inform workplace education policy," according to Bob Bickerton, Massachusetts Adult Education Director.

Andrea Perrault, Workforce Development Specialist, reports that after many years of trial and error, a procedure has been implemented through which workplace programming grants are awarded through a two-stage process. First, local programs, in partnership with employers and unions, apply for funding for planning grants (up to $6,000). The resulting plan for service delivery for classes at the worksite is then submitted for approval and can be funded for up to $60,000 per year. In recent years many more applicants have sought funds than could be funded.

These workplace programs must run a minimum of 34 weeks; establish leveled, four-hour classes per week; and ensure that the partnership remains intact for the duration of the grant (up to three years for mid- to large-sized businesses, up to five years for smaller businesses). A planning and evaluation team must be constituted to create a strategy for institutionalizing the program. Each grant requires employers to contribute cash and in-kind matching funds.

Another workplace education initiative in this system is Building Essential Skills through Training (BEST), initiated in 2002 through an interagency partnership spearheaded by the Governor's Office, and continued in 2003 using WIA incentive monies. This year, BEST makes funds available to partnerships interested in participating in industry-focused education and training initiatives through their local Workforce Investment Boards.

Enhancing Expertise
This year, the System for Adult Basic Education Support (SABES), the Massachusetts professional development system, is focusing on Workplace and Work force Education, at the request of the State Director. Each region of the state has a Workforce Development Specialist hired for his or her specialized expertise.

In Massachusetts, as in other states, the need for adult educators to work with other educators who serve adults is increasing. Workforce needs have driven employers to turn to community colleges and universities —where learner basic skills or preparation for earning a high school credential are the initial focus —for workplace-based services. Adult educators are best prepared to meet the basic skill needs of learners, but must recognize that those learners are working and employers are seeking support through other agencies. In 2005–2006, competitive grants will "encourage AE providers to work more in tandem with the workforce development system, including community colleges, and will strongly encourage providers out of the linear sequence model of service provision, thus getting players more closely connected to one another to meet the needs of the learner," explains Bickerton.

Other collaborative strategies used in Massachusetts include the outstationing of ABE program staff in career centers to assist in the intake, assessment, and referral of career center customers to ABE programs. In addition, the Massachusetts Department of Education allocates funds to the career centers to support their overall operation in serving the needs of undereducated adults, based on the numbers of undereducated adults in the regions as defined by the latest census data. Also, the DOE collaborates with the chief elected official in each region to determine which among the ABE providers in the region is best suited to serve on the Workforce Investment Board.


Enhancing Expertise
In Connecticut's 25-year history of serving employer, worker, and union basic skills needs, service provision was largely fragmented and conducted on ad hoc basis until 2002. In that year Connecticut used its $300,000 portion of Connecticut's Workforce Investment Act incentive grant to create the Workforce Education Initiative Model. According to Maureen Wagner of the Connecticut Department of Education, "we are trying to create a system from our ad hoc successes by creating a statewide approach that supports the local structure, gets regions to work together, and gets information to employees." Each local ABE program was asked to commit to being either a direct workplace service provider or a cooperator. Twenty local education agencies, well distributed across the state, agreed to be direct workplace service providers. These providers received training in workplace learning needs assessment, curriculum and instruction, and program implementation and assessment, with a stipend provided to those who participated.

In addition to providing training, the CDOE hired the Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment System (CASAS) to create the Workforce Learning System as an assessment tool for use with workplace-based programming. In 2005, the state's Adult Training and Development Network (ATDN) will provide training and support to the identified direct workplace service providers.

Providing Support
A small grants program supports the direct workplace service providers as they respond to employers' needs. Employer contributions depend on the size and scope of the program and participant eligibility.

With a larger number of ABE programs capable of responding to employers' needs, the CDOE is working more closely with WIA Title I programs to build collocation relationships within the workforce development system. Under collocation arrangements, services such as intake assessment, counseling, and classes are provided at One Stop Centers. Collocation also includes an emphasis on moving classroom-based activities into other settings, such as workplaces. (See the article on page 37 for an example of classes held in a nontraditional setting.)


Pennsylvania is in its sixth year of sustained support for workplace ABE programs through the Pennsylvania Workforce Improvement Network (PA WIN,, a project of the Department of Education's Bureau of Adult Basic and Literacy Education (ABLE). Penn State University's Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy coordinates PA WIN, an initiative focused on developing ABLE providers' capacity to work effectively with employers to offer customized basic skills instruction to incumbent workers. The goal of PA WIN is to position ABLE providers to receive funds directly from employers to support basic skills instruction for their workers, thus bringing in additional funds for basic education and serving additional adult learners. ABLE providers affiliated with PA WIN also are often key contacts within their regions for their local Workforce Investment Boards and One Stops (known as CareerLinks in Pennsylvania).

Marketing to and negotiations with employers as well as curriculum and assessment are grounded in the Bureau's Work-Based Foundation Skills Framework. ABLE initially provided funding for the creation of this framework through a WIA, Title II state leadership grant to the Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy. Its development, which extends Equipped for the Future (a standards-based approach to education), was completed with input from Pennsylvania's former Workforce Investment Board's incumbent worker committee. The framework's purpose is to build a common language across agencies regarding ABE and its role in the larger context of workforce development. Many of Pennsylvania's CareerLinks use this framework and its products as a resource in connecting with adults seeking services and with ABLE providers in their communities.

Rose Brandt, Director of the Bureau of ABLE, says, "Pennsylvania has recently established the Workforce Education Research Center (WERC) with the goal of providing contextualized adult basic and literacy education services. The context, in this case, is the workplace, and addresses learners' needs and goals to be successful on the job. Often, literacy is seen as a step in the education process that comes before the contextualized learning [that is] necessary for the workplace. In fact, developing literacy skills within the work environment [represents a more effective] model for the development of both literacy skills and workplace skills and knowledge."

The Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy coordinates the WERC , which will continue the work of PA WIN with incumbent workers but will also assist ABLE providers in using the Work-Based Foundation Skills Framework to develop classroom instruction focused on preparing adults for entry or re-entry to the workplace. Barbara Van Horn, Senior Research Assistant and Co-Director of the Institute at Penn State, adds, "the WERC provides ABLE identity within Pennsylvania's workforce development system. This identity can help ABLE providers secure their ‘places at the table' as viable workforce trainers."

Enhancing Expertise
PA WIN provides professional development opportunities and technical assistance to ABLE programs who affiliate with PA WIN to serve incumbent workers and to ABLE programs interested in building their skills in providing high-quality work-based instruction in their classrooms. WERC staff provides training for interested ABLE providers, while regional technical assistants with experience working with employers to offer customized work-based basic skills instruction provide technical assistance as needed throughout the state.

Michael Tucci, Adult Basic Education Advisor for Workforce Development in ABLE, reports that "literacy is a major component of Pennsylvania's workforce development strategy, with adult education recognized as a key player. The PA Department of Labor and Industry, which is responsible for statewide workforce development coordination and collaboration, has pulled together all statewide workforce related agencies to develop a planned approach to addressing the problems and issues we face in Pennsylvania. The Bureau of ABLE is part of that statewide effort. With an aging population, lower higher education completion rates, and high out-migration, incumbent and unemployed worker development is essential. In 1998, the Bureau of ABLE aligned its 150 provider agencies with Pennsylvania's 22 local Workforce Investment Board areas. As a result, 22 adult education workforce development coalitions were formed. State leadership monies were used to form and support coalition development, and each of the local coalitions nominated adult education administrators to serve on the local Workforce Investment Boards, where decisions are made about both workforce and workplace education needs and responses. One of the primary coalition goals is for all One-Stop partners to become aware of the range of adult education services, including PA WIN, that are available to One-Stop customers and incumbent workers."


Creating Identity
In the late 1990s, Florida worked directly with employers to create a curriculum framework known as FLORIDA WORKS. This framework serves as the basis for all basic skills workplace education. The curriculum's existence prompted employers and individuals throughout Florida to recognize the need and stimulated a demand for workplace education. More recent initiatives, including JUST READ FLORIDA and the Sunshine State Standards, guide education and remind employers and employees about the basic skills services available throughout the state.

Enhancing Expertise
Florida has focused its efforts on curriculum framework design, develop ment, and implementation of FLORIDA WORKS. When the curriculum was introduced, all ABE educators in the state were trained in how to use and evaluate the curriculum. Online support is available and regional specialists assist in customizing materials for use at the local level. Additional curriculum frameworks, such as ESOL, vocational preparation, mathematics, and reading, integrate workplace-based activities for use in workplace education programs focused on these specialized content areas. Regional literacy resource centers throughout the state serve as the dissemination and development source for all efforts.

Education in Florida from kindergarten through doctoral level is overseen by a single Board of Education. All educators, including adult basic educators, work within the same agency and are governed by the same board. "This unification has created a greater sense of shared purpose and greater interaction among and between programs, especially community colleges, universities, and adult education," says Robert Wofford, State Director of Adult Basic Education. "With all of education working together, more time and attention can be dedicated to other Workforce Investment Act partners such as Social Services and Employment."

Increasing Access
Throughout Florida, WIA One-Stop centers are most often located within the ABE centers, where intake assessment can help refer individuals, where appropriate, to other agencies involved in providing workforce-related services. This linkage among agencies also leads employers to seek workplace services for incumbent workers.

Systems Considerations

Creating Identity<
Increased capacity and capability are of little use if agencies, employers, legislators, policymakers, and potential learners do not know what services are available and where to get them. In Kentucky, Florida, and Virginia, where the marketing of ABE services, and workplace education in particular, is part of a long-term strategic plan, enrollments are on the rise.

Sector-focused program development, like Virginia's Health Care Initiative for Race to GED or Kentucky's workforce education-focused efforts, along with effective marketing, help reach more working adults by outlining benefits for these sector-specific employers who employ large numbers of undereducated adults.

Proficiency as a worker is important to both the incumbent and the new employee and the high school diploma does not always predict that proficiency with accuracy. In creating skill certificates that workers can earn in addition to the GED, employers and adult basic educators reach an agreement about what "basic" skills are and about their role in the workplace. This shared understanding among employers, educators, economic developers, and potential learners creates an interest in providing more "learning at work" for the basic-skills-level employee, whether or not that employee has a high school credential. The task of helping employers determine what proficiency looks like and what skills are needed to attain it is the point at which workforce and workplace education meet and must begin.

All these ABE leaders reported the need for stronger, more collaborative relationships among and between agencies at the local, state, and national level. In Massachusetts, Kentucky, Virginia, Florida, and Pennsylvania, where ABE has enjoyed the support of the Governor's office, progress has been made. However, changes in administration do occur and support must be sustained. Thus, institutionalizing positions, programs, and relationships becomes essential. For example, Florida's K-20 Department of Education, Virginia's Race to the GED, the Kentucky Man ufacturing Skills Standard Certificate, Pennsylvania's Workforce Education Research Center, Connecticut's Workforce Education Initiative, and Massachusetts' many grant programs are likely to endure because they were systematically created and endorsed not only by adult educators but by a broader range of constituencies.

Accurate data are the basis for accurate accountability. "Accurate data are critical to evaluating our work and measuring our progress," says Reecie Stagnolia, Associate Vice President for Kentucky Adult Education. "The WIA One Stop system helps coordinate services for adults, matching the distinctive strengths of each agency with local and community needs. Relationships across government, nonprofit agencies, and business sectors do matter and they deserve whatever attention and effort are necessary to make them work."

Providing Support
Not surprisingly, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Florida, where state funding is greater than federal funding, report sustained and measurable progress in basic skills workplace education. These states offer more workplace programs to more employers; have more learners completing identified certifications, including the GED; and more learners advancing to postsecondary education. However, the leaders in each of these states were quick to point out that tenacity and collaboration fueled funding. Approaches that simultaneously address the needs of the employer and the adult learner, as well as the concerns of the policymaker, lead to greater success. Thus, while more state and local ABE money seems to correlate with more services and greater progress, this enhanced capability is furthered by cooperative relationships across agencies where everyone is seeking the best for all concerned.

Enhancing Expertise
Increased capacity can only be filled if the capability of the adult educator includes the specialized skills necessary to work with employers and employees in the workplace. Meeting the needs of individual learners in the traditional classroom model is but one way to provide basic skills education. In Florida, and increasingly in Virginia, curriculum drives instruction. In Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Connecticut professional networks exist to develop and sustain expertise. Preparation is essential for adult educators moving out into the community to meet the needs of up to thousands of individuals through work place-based programming and sector-focused curriculum. Those states where professional development is systematically available create talent to respond to employers' needs.

Increasing Accessibility
Workplace education varies considerably in focus, delivery models, duration, and outcomes. Massachusetts' ABE Director Bickerton requires "programs of substance" where contact time is at least 60 hours, so that significant progress can be achieved. Other workplace programs focus narrowly on a computational skill such as algebra or ratios, or reading tasks such as locating information for a target population in that workplace. Florida brings a variety of curricula to the workplace and Kentucky has its SkillMobiles. Virginia is currently focusing on GED attainment and relating GED skills attainment to workplace accomplishment. Whatever approach is used, these leaders recognize that adult educators must be prepared to provide their basic skills expertise in a variety of ways and in a variety of settings. Responding to the work context and meeting expectations help sustain programs over time. The more workers are served the stronger the workforce, the workplace, and the overall economy.

Today, the majority of Americans work outside the home. Literacy is a moving target, always influenced by politics and commerce. ABE leadership can look to the states profiled here for effective, systematic strategies that provide appropriate support, create identity, enhance expertise, and build collaborative relationships to increase learner access to programming. These are both the means and the ends of workplace education. By increasing both the capacity and capability of adult educators to respond to the learning needs of employers and employees, we are promoting the value of learning and extending the reach of our profession into new arenas where our services are desperately needed. These states are part of the vanguard.

About the Author
Diane Foucar-Szocki is a professor of Adult Education/Human Resource Development and Director of the Workforce Improvement Network at James Madison University. She is also a member of the National Institute for Literacy's Workforce Collection Core Knowledge Group.