The impact of the COVID-19 crisis is far reaching, impacting not only health but also financial security, particularly among the most vulnerable populations. While recessions typically hit the lowest-wage workers the hardest, these workers have suffered disproportionate and unprecedented job losses since mid-March 2020 (a 35% decline vs. 9% among high-wage workers). The economic recovery is also likely to take significantly longer for the groups that make up the low-wage workforce, especially those 54,000 adults in Allegheny County without a high school credential or adequate English language skills.
Helping these individuals gain vital skills and credentials is Literacy Pittsburgh’s expertise. Their mission of better lives through learning is even more critical during this time of economic crisis. A high school diploma is a foundational requirement for any job in the middle skills workforce and will increasingly be required for low-skill jobs when available labor exceeds the supply of jobs.
Feeling a responsibility to reach those in need and broaden opportunities for those who are struggling, Literacy Pittsburgh is launching its first-ever student recruitment campaign in September. The goal is to ensure that individuals without a high school credential know that they can acquire the skills to become more competitive in a tough economy.
Digital learning is now a centerpiece of Literacy Pittsburgh’s instructional model. Prior to the pandemic, the agency was engaging with digital platforms on a limited basis, planning to slowly incorporate technology into its work, while acknowledging that access to technology is a barrier for many of its clients. The pandemic changed that, and staff moved quickly to implement new instructional methods. With creativity and determination, staff launched YouTube channels, Google Classrooms, instructional videos for volunteer tutors, and live Zoom classes. Students have gained confidence using an unfamiliar platform and have exhibited gratitude and willingness to learn at every step of the way.
Now, as the world settles into this “new normal,” Literacy Pittsburgh is looking at how it can truly maximize virtual instruction and digital platforms while helping unemployed and underemployed individuals pursue a family-sustaining wage. Through a grant from the BNY Mellon Foundation, the agency will soon start a tech lending library for students, helping to break down a significant barrier to learning. A new Digital Literacy Fellow will develop the programming and capacity to accelerate the digital literacy of staff, volunteers and students.
This fall, the agency is launching an exciting partnership with the Career Development Center at Jewish Family and Community Services (JFCS). A 12-week Career Accelerator class will help students without a high school credential jumpstart their job search. To qualify, students will have at least a ninth-grade education and the drive to make the commitment to this accelerated course. Literacy Pittsburgh will help students brush up on key skills and knowledge to pass the high school equivalency exams. JFCS will provide career search advice, resume preparation, and access to critical supports such as utility assistance, transportation or childcare if these present barriers to learning. Instruction will be a hybrid of online and in-person instruction. Students without access to technology will receive a Chromebook for use while enrolled in the program.
While the world around us has changed, Literacy Pittsburgh remains committed to its mission of Better Lives through Learning. The agency is prepared to play an important role in the economic recovery of our region and its families and encourages individuals without a high school diploma, or those who need help with math, reading or English language learning, to visit www.startclassnow.org or call 412-393-7600.