Report: Immigrants’ ‘Credentials Waste’ is Widespread in Massachusetts

Boston, Nov. 1, 2016, — A report published by Massachusetts nonprofit English for New Bostonians (ENB) finds that immigrants in the Commonwealth have substantial untapped human capital. However, due to insufficient English language learning opportunities, their often highly developed skills are frequently wasted.

The report, Talking Jobs: Lessons from English for New Bostonians’ 2016 ESOL Student Employment Survey, is the product of a statewide survey of nearly 1,500 adult students enrolled in 39 English for Speakers of Other Language (ESOL) programs in Massachusetts.  The students, 85% of whom were actively in the labor force at the time of survey, were employed by a combined total of nearly 700 different businesses.

Fifty percent of employed students surveyed said their coworkers also needed English classes.  Survey respondents were found to be over-represented in the food services and hospitality; retail; health care and social assistance; and other services (such as beauty, auto repair, etc.) sectors compared to Massachusetts immigrant in general. In contrast, respondents were underrepresented in the white-collar sectors of finance, insurance, scientific, professional and technical services compared to the same group.  ESOL student respondents were also more likely to work as “temps,” and more likely to be employed in smaller firms, than the state’s workforce overall.  The findings have implications for these workers’ opportunities for training and promotion in their places of work.

Significantly, the survey results point to a “credentials waste” occurring in Massachusetts, where the foreign work experience and professional credentials of many English language learners remain untapped.  Examples of such waste include an immigrant architect selling cell phones, an auditor working in a pizzeria, and a dentist making fruit smoothies.

Talking Jobs reignites the fire on the topic of ‘credentials waste’ and points to the hundreds if not thousands of Massachusetts workplaces in which employees could benefit from investment in their English language learning so that they can contribute to their full potential,” said Claudia Green, Executive Director of ENB.

Drawing on data from diverse immigrant workers, Talking Jobs makes the case for key private-sector and policy reforms to help meet a critical demand for ESOL classes in Massachusetts.  The report calls for customized ESOL for professionals and corresponding policy and resources to permit immigrant professionals to contribute their skills and training to their new country. Talking Jobs also points to the need for work-based learning, industry sector partnerships to create career pathways, incumbent worker training, and combined ESOL/basic skills with occupation-specific training.  Companies are encouraged to partner with ESOL providers such as community colleges and community-based programs to design and implement on-site ESOL classes for employees.

Talking Jobs comes at an opportune time, as ESOL programs deepen their labor and business connections under the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.

“These survey findings affirm the importance of investing in workers’ English language skills to equip them to meet local labor market needs” says Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, Senior Policy Analyst at National Skills Coalition (NSC), who analyzed the data from the survey and drew on input from NSC’s broad-based coalition of business, labor, education and community-based organizations to recommend potential policy solutions.

Commonwealth Corporation, a quasi-public agency whose mission is to strengthen the skills of youth and adults, also provided support for the survey.

English for New Bostonians’ mission is to increase access to high-quality English language learning opportunities for adult immigrants. English Works is a statewide, multi-stakeholder campaign calling upon business, labor, community and government leaders to dedicate the needed public and private resources to create a sustainable, high-quality English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) system that addresses the needs of immigrants, their employers and the Commonwealth.

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