Promising Practices: Career Pathways Help Immigrants in High-Tech Regions Across the U.S.

Policy and Advocacy Associate

May 11, 2017

Investing in the skills development of our workers, including immigrants, is crucial for economic growth. With workers who possess the skills employers need, we can better create a prosperous and vibrant community for all Americans in which immigrants are able to seize all opportunities and reach their full career potential.

Examples in Silicon Valley, Boston and Seattle — three important high-tech hubs — highlight promising practices for helping immigrants and English language learners prepare for jobs and connect to employment services and career opportunities.

High-tech industries are an essential part of our economy. In 2014, nearly 17 million people worked in the sector, accounting for about 12 percent of overall employment, and created almost 23 percent of total U.S. output.

The Silicon Valley area is home to many of the world’s largest technology companies and is thought of as the birthplace of the American high-tech sector. With immigrants making up more than 45 percent of its total labor force, the region’s economy is among the fastest-growing in the United States. But other areas across the U.S. have a strong or emerging high-tech industry presence and robust immigrant and refugee populations.

Boston is well-known for its strong and growing tech sector, which employs the second-largest tech workforce, behind Silicon Valley. Moreover, the foreign-born population in Boston increased by 19.2 percent from 2000 to 2014, and the city now has the seventh-largest immigrant population among the 25 largest cities in the U.S. Immigrants in Boston comprise more than 27 percent of the population. In Seattle, immigrants make up about 18 percent of the population, a 285 percent increase since 1990. The city, especially the Bellevue area, has been considered another of our nation’s major tech hubs.

Immigrants have been contributing significantly to economic growth in these three regions. In Santa Clara County, California, the core of Silicon Valley, immigrants contributed an estimated $77 billion to the county’s economy through consumption and taxes and held about $27 billion in spending power in 2014. In Boston, immigrant household income was $26.7 billion in 2014. Foreign-born Bostonians paid about $8.3 billion in taxes and had an estimated $18.4 billion in spending power that year. The income of immigrants in Seattle was $23.4 billion and they contributed $6.5 billion in taxes in 2014.

Because immigrants make significant economic contributions and are a large percentage of the population in these regions, it is important to make sure they possess the skills and experience local employers need and have opportunities to thrive and reach their full potential.

One option to connect immigrants to career opportunities is through career pathways programs with a clear sequence of education and training credentials aligned with employer-validated competencies. Career pathways can be particularly successful in serving people facing barriers to employment: The approach aligns employers, adult basic education, occupational training, postsecondary education and supportive services to provide comprehensive and flexible education and training programs aimed at preparing individuals for employment and career advancement in a specific sector.

Moreover, “bridge” programs, which combine basic academic and English language instruction with postsecondary occupational training, can serve as a critical component of career pathways programs by providing individuals who do not meet the minimum eligibility requirements for a formal program with additional instructional time to develop foundational skills needed to advance in a training program. Bridge programs generally focus on adults who are low-skilled, including English language learners.

Silicon Valley has several career pathways programs aimed at preparing workers for in-demand occupations. The Silicon Valley Career Pathways Program is focused on developing the workforce for five industry sectors: advanced manufacturing, engineering, medical service, computer information science and public services.

There are also promising integrated and contextualized learning programs in Silicon Valley. For instance, in San Jose, the Center for Employment and Training (CET), an eligible training provider under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act in California, has a program in which students pay for occupational training through Pell Grants that align training, adult education and supportive services. In addition, ALLIES in the Silicon Valley partners with the Workforce Investment Boards to provide immigrant adults contextualized English language learning, work readiness training and career-technical training so that immigrants can access career pathways.

Boston is home to another promising program that provides career pathways for individuals interested in high-tech industries. The JVS Bridges to College (BTC) program is a college preparatory program that has equipped more than 550 students for academic success. Participants must be 18 years or older, have a high school diploma or equivalent, have intermediate to high verbal and written English skills, and be a lawful permanent resident or U.S. citizen.

The program partners with two local institutions of higher education and focuses on preparing students for further learning in general studies, health information technology and biotechnology. Participants receive, free of charge, academic preparation in English, math, and science; academic and career coaching, including help with job and internship searches; assistance with academic course selection; tutoring; computer skills and LinkedIn workshops; and networking with alumni. The program also offers participants and alumni the opportunity to open Individual Development Accounts to accrue matches for their savings toward a degree or certificate program from an accredited, federally sponsored institution of higher learning. Since 2009, out of nearly 690 students enrolled in the BTC program, about 80 percent completed it. Almost 85 percent of program graduates enrolled in college level classes.

The Seattle Jobs Initiative (SJI) also administers a promising career pathways program focused on obtaining jobs in four specific industries. The SJI’s Career Pathways Program aims to help individuals attain a one- to two-year college credential in an industry sector. Partnering with area community colleges and community-based organizations, the program links short-term and long-term training in four targeted industry sectors with high-tech jobs: Automotive, Trade, and Logistics; Healthcare; Office Occupations or Medical Office Professional; and Manufacturing. Services such as career coaching and connections to employers also are available.

Career Navigators are a critical component of the program. These professional staff have expertise not only in serving individuals who face challenges to successfully develop workforce skills, complete educational programs and/or obtain employment, but also with community colleges and the targeted industry sectors. Participants in the Career Pathways Program are matched with a Career Navigator at the time of enrollment. Career Navigators support participants for up to three years while they complete their credentials and start their careers. The Career Navigators help participants access supportive services such as tutoring, housing, transportation and childcare; enroll in college; access financial aid; select appropriate educational programs and courses; and prepare and access career opportunities during and after completion of the program.

Preparing immigrants and English language learners for jobs in high-tech industries is an important step toward expanding the capacity of our immigrant workforce to work in jobs that will help our economy grow and benefit all Americans. Investing in career pathways programs focused on those populations would ensure that more low-skilled adults are able to reach their full career potential and thus fully contribute to our economic growth.