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April 2, 2019

In the spring of 2017, the San Diego Workforce Partnership was awarded $500,000 to serve English language learners (ELL) in a pilot project that relied on a partnership with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Grossmont Unified High School District (GUHSD) during the first four quarters and KRA for the remaining two quarters of the grant. This partnership and project, called the San Diego ELL Workforce Navigator Project, was designed to better connect with, serve and support ELL adults who need additional skills, training and assistance to secure and retain a self-sufficient living wage jobs in growing industries in San Diego.

Pharmacy Tbel Abuseridze 1296699 Unsplash 700pxNow, two years later, the pilot has ended, having served a total of 118 clients (18 more than the goal)—clients like Ahmed and Hala Al Izzi, who fled violence in her home country of Iraq and was resettled in the U.S. as a refugee in July of 2014. Hala graduated from high school in 2017 and enrolled in the ELL navigator program in pursuit of working as a pharmacy technician—a step in line with her goal of gaining employment and financial stability while continuing her education in pharmacy studies. To that end, Hala joined the ELL navigator program in March 2018 and enrolled in the East County Career Center as well as IRC’s Pharmacy Technician Bridge Program—a sector-specific career pathway program providing contextualized foundational skills, curriculum-based classroom training for the industry, and occupational skills training and certification from Western Medical Training Center and Sharp Healthcare.

The bridge program model of integrated service delivery includes employment and financial coaching, benefits screening and access to income supports and connection to additional services. Supportive services funded by WIOA Title I were used to support Hala with transportation as well as fees and supplies for training and licensing. Equipped with a Basic Life Support Certification, a Pharmacy Tech license, experience through an externship at CVS and bolstered by the support of her ELL employment advisor at the career center, Hala secured a pharmacy technician position at CVS earning $14 an hour with benefit options.

Having started the job in September, she is earning money to support herself while taking community college courses on a pathway to a four-year degree and eventually a Doctor of Pharmacy degree.

“Now I am confident about my future,” says Hala. “I can see my future right now.”

Let’s look back at what made the project work so well.

IRC and GUHSD took on a team-based approach to outreach and referrals. As IRC already serves ELL clients, they were able to outreach and refer from their existing clients, while GUHSD did outreach and referred from those interested and/or attending ESL classes through adult education.

After the success of the first three quarters of the project, the ELL community in the city of EL Cajon were being referred by existing clients. Good word-of-mouth of the highly effective program provided a steady pool of qualified candidates. The project partners also continued the “in-reach” strategy by tapping into the over 6,000 clients it has served through various programing.

ELL clients began by enrolling into a WIOA II Integrated English Learner Civics program where they were concurrently enrolled in occupational skills training with real-time weekly contextualized support. This design allowed clients to ease into occupational skills training by learning the perquisite foundational and training skills in order for them to be successful. In addition, the ELL navigator team provided holistic support, including financial coaching, supportive services, mental and behavioral health, job training and immigration services.

This pilot included two key positions designed to support recruitment, enrollment and support of ELL adults:

  1. Community-based IRC staff leads the outreach and case management (in the client’s native language) to help the client understand WIOA Title I (career center) services and with preparation of needed documents and enrollment of the client in these services.
  2. At the time of enrollment in WIOA Title I services, the IRC ELL navigator connects with the career center ELL navigator in a team meeting that allows for a supportive transition to career center services. The career center navigator then worked with the client to access career center services and training resources, while continuing to coordinate with the IRC navigator.

ELL navigators continued to serve as the cultural and linguistic bridge to career center services and connecting or providing wrap-around services, acting as a cohesive unit with ongoing and daily communication, including introductory interviews and assessments and ongoing training and job placement support.

The IRC leveraged experienced providers that have strong track records in serving the ELL population with workforce services and sought to pilot, evaluate, and systematize a model that works across the region.

This pilot focused on the east region of San Diego, which houses high populations of refugees from Iraq. We hope to replicate this model in other regions of San Diego to assist other ELL clients by creating similar partnerships between experienced community-based organizations that have strong track records in serving the ELL population and connecting them to career centers and adult education services—similar to team based case management between multiple providers like the navigators serve on this pilot.

San Diego has conducted surveys and is in the process of coordinating focus groups with the ELL participants to help inform us of the benefits of the service delivery model/partnerships of this pilot.

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