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Ready & Relevant update: Upskilling in the face of uncertainty

Apr 14, 2020 : Articles

Literacy Pittsburgh launched its Ready & Relevant initiative last summer against the backdrop of a growing economy, with the lowest unemployment rate in decades. Our goal was to fast-track students into employment and job training for high-demand careers.

Today, the world has changed, but our goal remains equally relevant. Literacy Pittsburgh expects to see a significant increase in the number of adults seeking to upskill in the face of historic unemployment. Some estimates indicate that unemployment rates could hit 20-40% by July, if not sooner. Those hardest hit will be immigrants, minorities and those with limited education. Helping these individuals gain the skills to compete for available jobs is Literacy Pittsburgh’s expertise. Our mission is vital to the community in good times and bad. Together, we will help our community recover.

 Those who are out of work will be looking for ways to improve basic skills, get their high school credential, and enter training for available jobs. Literacy Pittsburgh was experiencing significant growth when the economy was good, with enrollment up more than 50% from two years ago. To meet what we expect will be enormous demand, we will need to increase capacity—additional teachers, space, and volunteer tutors coupled with enhanced technology and a curriculum focused on workplace readiness.

When our physical locations temporarily closed, we quickly ramped up virtual learning opportunities for students. Our professional staff has shown enormous creativity and innovation. Our volunteer tutors have demonstrated flexibility and a dedication to learning new skills and staying connected. Our students have shown resilience and an eagerness to embrace these technologies so that they can continue to work on their learning goals.

This experience has highlighted an important opportunity within the adult education space. Virtual learning can help us engage students on our waiting list. It can help students gain valuable technology skills. It can help enrolled students advance faster with platforms that augment classroom learning. While our staff quickly mobilized to record YouTube lessons, teach classes over Zoom, and establish virtual classrooms, we need to refine and focus this work moving forward. We need equipment, training, and talent to leverage this progress.

As demand for upskilling increases, we will need more volunteer tutors and paid teachers. We need to be ready to help students become competitive for available jobs. For some that may mean a high school credential or better math skills to enter job training.  For others it may mean improved English skills or enhanced digital literacy. As the economy rebounds—and it will—these men and women need to be ready and relevant for the opportunities available to them.

We are in this together. With your continued partnership, we can help the most vulnerable of our neighbors get back to work. Thank you for sticking with us and doing what Pittsburghers do best—rise to the occasion as a community.

Literacy Pittsburgh (formerly Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council) helps create better lives through learning. Recognized as a national leader in adult and family literacy, Literacy Pittsburgh is the largest provider of adult basic education in Allegheny and Beaver Counties. Last year, Literacy Pittsburgh helped more than 5,100 individuals acquire reading, writing, math, English language, computer and workforce skills so they may reach their fullest potential in life and participate productively in their communities. Literacy Pittsburgh provides free, personalized instruction in workforce readiness, high school diploma test preparation, English as a second language, basic skills, and family literacy through one-to-one and small class instruction, along with referrals to other family support organizations. Founded in 1982, it serves local adults through numerous neighborhood locations and its Downtown Pittsburgh Learning Center.