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Innovative California Worksite Instruction Program Matching Immigrant Janitors with High-Tech Firm & University Mentors Earns National Award for Exceptional Immigrant Integration Initiatives

Press Release
Thursday, September 20, 2012

Innovative California Worksite Instruction Program Matching Immigrant Janitors with High-Tech Firm & University Mentors Earns National Award for Exceptional Immigrant Integration Initiatives

WASHINGTON – The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) on Thursday announced that Building Skills Partnership (BSP) is one of four recipients of its 2012 E Pluribus Unum Prizes for exceptional immigrant integration initiatives. The national award honors BSP for its innovative efforts to improve the quality of life for janitors and other low-wage property service workers and their families by increasing their English language skills, access to education and opportunities for career advancement through on-the-job and off-site instruction.

In partnership with Service Employees International Union-United Service Workers West (SEIU-USWW), BSP has succeeded in bringing together business and labor to assist these largely immigrant workers through tutoring and formal instruction delivered by professional teachers, student volunteers and office mentors. Through one BSP initiative, engineers and other high-tech professionals from Google, Microsoft, Cisco and Juniper tutor the workers who clean their offices, teaching valuable English and computer skills.

The E Pluribus Unum Prizes program, established in 2008 by MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy with generous support from the J.M. Kaplan Fund, seeks to encourage the adoption of effective integration practices and inspire others to take on the important work of integrating immigrants and their children so they can join the mainstream of U.S. society.

The 2012 E Pluribus Unum Prizes winners will be honored at a ceremony in Baltimore, MD, on September 24 during the annual National Immigrant Integration Conference. The national award is accompanied by a $50,000 prize.

BSP provides training in civic engagement (including parent involvement in schools), citizenship, general and occupational health, computer and vocational training, as well as English as a Second Language (ESL) and basic literacy. The training is offered at union halls and work sites in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, Sacramento, Oakland and Orange County in three or six-month blocks.

BSP also offers the ADVANCE program, which blends Vocational English as a Second Language with on-the-job skills instruction at the service workers’ job sites, and, at some locations, pairing janitors with corporate volunteers from high-tech client corporations for one-on-one English and computer tutoring. Through a relationship with SEIU and affiliated property service companies and building owners, Building Skills Partnership provides training to more than 2,000 mostly janitorial workers in California each year, but also security officers, maintenance and custodial workers and stadium and airport workers.

BSP’s language instruction model extends to university campuses such as Stanford and Cal Berkeley, matching student volunteers with the schools’ service employees. These on-site training models help workers overcome traditional learning obstacles: multiple jobs, family and child care obligations, transportation and other challenges associated with adjustment to a new country and culture.

BSP also works at the policy level. It participates in collaborative efforts to advance smart workforce policymaking in the state with organizations and initiatives such as the EDGE Campaign: which aims to increase and improve state workforce training. Another key initiative is the ALLIES network, which works to enhance opportunities for adult immigrants in Silicon Valley to acquire English language competency.

“As California’s adult schools and community colleges have been forced by budget cuts to reduce their basic skills and vocational training, Building Skills Partnership has smartly brought together key actors from the business, labor and academic sectors to deliver cost-effective language and vocational instruction to some of the hardest-to-reach workers,” said Margie McHugh, co-director of MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy. “At the same time, the organization is playing a broader role in bringing statewide policy attention to the need for English language and workforce training for low-skilled immigrant workers.”

“BSP represents a powerful two-way model of integration: As janitors acquire language and job skills that accelerate their integration, their volunteer tutors get a deeper understanding of the immigrant workers’ stories,  struggles and labor market potential,” said MPI Senior Vice President Michael Fix, who is co-director of the National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy.

Though fewer than 30 percent of BSP participants have been formally educated beyond 6th grade in their native countries, BSP courses consistently achieve student attendance rates of more than 80 percent when service workers are given this second (or sometimes first) chance at education.

“We have seen repeatedly that janitors who graduate from the 50- to 100-hour intensive courses have more opportunity for promotions to higher-paid and even supervisory positions and to move from the night to the day shift,” said Aida Cardenas, executive director of Building Skills Partnership. “The next step beyond language training is moving these workers forward toward the eventual goal of passing their citizenship test.”

From its start in Silicon Valley, BSP has expanded across California and its curriculum has served as a model for programs training janitors in Chicago, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

The other 2012 winners of the $50,000 E Pluribus Unum Prize are Californians Together, a statewide group that has won important education reforms, including a Seal of Biliteracy that more than 10,000 graduating seniors earned last year on their high school diplomas, and the metro Detroit-area ACCESS, the largest Arab American human services nonprofit in the United States. The Prizes program’s 2012 Corporate Leadership Award was given to Citi Community Development for its work reducing financial barriers to citizenship.

Winner highlights can be found at www.integrationawards.org. For more information or to set up interviews, contact Burke Speaker at 202-266-1920, or [email protected].

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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan think tank in Washington, D.C. dedicated to the study of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels. Its National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy is a crossroads for policymakers, state and local agency managers, local service providers and others seeking to respond to the challenges and opportunities today’s high rates of immigration create in local communities.