Finding a Balance. Beyond a focus on basic skills, a concern is how to balance education and work. Historically, adult educators have been very aware of the varied goals that adults attending adult literacy programs have. They may want to improve their own literacy skills in order to be able to help their children with homework. They may want to be able to read certain kinds of materials, e.g., the Bible, the newspaper, or a story for enjoyment. They may want to prove to themselves and others that they can study and learn and earn their GED, equivalent to a high school diploma. They may want to be able to improve their literacy and math skills to get a job or get a better job. Although it is still important to consider all of these authentic goals, the federal perspective has definitely placed a greater focus than ever before on increased employment as the key goal of adult education.
In 1998 the Adult Education Act of 1965 was reauthorized as the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). WIA (Public Law 105-220), replacing the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA), provides the framework for a workforce preparation and employment system and seeks to meet the training, education, and employment needs of individuals as well as the needs of businesses to have skilled workers. Via state and local Workforce Investment Boards, states will develop five-year strategic plans based on a one-stop approach where information about and access to a wide array of job training, education, and employment services is available for customers at a single neighborhood location. Core services include job search and placement assistance, labor market information, initial assessment of skills and needs, information about available services, and brief follow-up services to help customers keep their jobs once they are placed. Intensive services include more comprehensive assessments, development of individual employment plans, group and individual counseling, case management, and short-term pre-vocational services. If after intensive services adults are still not able to obtain jobs, they may receive occupational skills training, on-the-job training, entrepreneurial training, skill upgrading, job readiness training, and training in adult literacy activities. The act also provides for the training of youth 14-21 who face certain barriers to school completion or employment.
The implications of WIA for adult literacy programs are three-fold: (1) Local adult literacy organizations will need to work more closely with their local workforce investment boards, defining respective roles and forming partnerships; (2) Many local adult literacy organizations will be increasing their focus on preparing an educated workforce for success in the workplace; (3) Programs will need to continue to recognize that though work may be playing a greater role, they cannot lose sight of the other authentic literacy goals that adult learners in their programs have.