A new report from the nonprofit English for New Bostonians is providing a unique view of adult English learners in Massachusetts. The report is based on a survey of nearly 1,500 adult English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) class participants at 39 different programs statewide. National Skills Coalition conducted the data analysis for the report, titled Talking Jobs: Lessons from ENB’s 2016 Student Employment Survey.
The analysis found that the overwhelming majority of survey respondents (85%) were in the labor force, including 62% who were currently employed and 23% who were looking for work. Among survey respondents who were working, fully half (50%) said their co-workers also need English classes.
The survey also explored whether respondents’ employers were making investments in their skills and providing opportunities for growth. Respondents who were working were asked whether their company provided benefits such as tuition assistance or reimbursement, fixed schedules, opportunities for promotion, and training to help employees do their jobs better.
Each of these benefits has important implications for English learners:
- Fixed schedules can make it easier for ESOL students to attend classes regularly. Sixty percent (60%) of respondents reported that they are given a fixed work schedule.
- In-house training can signal a company’s interest in retaining and promoting workers. Nearly half (49%) of respondents reported that their employer provides them with some type of training.
- Having opportunities for promotion can inspire workers to build English and other skills in order to move up the career ladder. A relatively small number of respondents (34%) reported having such opportunities at their current job.
- Tuition assistance is both a symbolic and tangible investment in a worker’s continued upskilling. Just 9% of respondents reported having tuition benefits.
Notably, workers who were employed at larger companies of 50 or more employees were more likely to have access to the above benefits. However, only 43% of working survey respondents were employed at these larger companies.
Other data from the survey provided a vivid illustration of the under-employment of many Massachusetts immigrants. Numerous respondents were working in entry-level positions in the US, despite having held professional jobs in their home countries. Among these respondents were an immigrant architect who is now selling cell phones, an auditor working in a pizzeria, and a dentist making fruit smoothies. Prior research has found that lack of English language skills is a major contributing factor to such under-utilization.
Key conclusions from the report include:
- There is unmet demand for adult ESOL classes in Massachusetts.
- Although workers’ direct supervisors are often aware that they are participating in ESOL classes, it is not known whether higher-level managers are similarly informed.
- Immigrant workers may be unaware of opportunities for promotion at their current place of employment, or may lack such opportunities.
- The mismatch between a worker's home-country profession and his or her current occupation can be dramatic.
- There are opportunities to further engage employers in key industry sectors regarding immigrant skill-building issues.