Upskilling New Americans: Innovative English Training for Career Advancement

Jennie Murray & Ana Negoescu
Date of Publication: 
November, 2019
Source Organization: 
National Immigration Forum

The purpose of this paper is to share promising practices and lessons learned from the National Immigration Forum’s (Forum) Skills and Opportunity for the New American Workforce (SONAW) project, an industry-contextualized, English language training program designed to be replicable and scalable in a variety of settings. The program is the product of a partnership between Miami-Dade Community College, which develops the curriculum along with experts at the Community College Consortium for Immigrant Education; and World Education, which provides advice on technology solutions. Community colleges and nonprofit organizations provide instructors. The Forum recruits employers willing to provide the benefit for their workers. The prototype was tested in the retail context, with major grocery chains. The program consists of 40 percent in-person classroom instruction and 60 percent online, self-paced learning. The report goes into great detail about lessons learned and how the program evolved in response to those lessons. For example, the technology platform was changed to allow for more customization and greater scale. The curriculum was modified to include a stronger digital literacy component, so that it could be delivered by mobile device to accommodate those without computers or internet service. The program is being constantly monitored by an outside evaluator, which has allowed for quick changes as problems are identified. Thus far, the program has been customized for retail, manufacturing, ride-sharing, and other industries with more than 400 participating employers. Funding for the program is also evolving to allow for scale; going forward, employer partners will pay for the training of their workers, while the Forum will continue to rely on philanthropy to support the program’s continued evolution and promotion. With SONAW, the Forum has created a program in which participants have a very high completion rate, and achieve language gains at rates double the national average for similar programs. Managers report greater self-confidence in their workers, higher productivity, and better customer interactions. There is some evidence of lower worker turnover for companies. Nearly all managers say they would recommend the program to other employers. (Maurice Belanger, Maurice Belanger Consulting)

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Murray, J., & Negoescu, A. (2019). Upskilling new Americans: Innovative English training for career advancement. Retrieved from