Ruth is an outgoing, fifty-something grandmother and a proud graduate of the Arkansas Workforce Alliance for Growth in the Economy (WAGE), a statewide workforce education program for job seekers and workers who lack basic skills. As a child, she only had a few years of formal schooling, but she hadn't done well because of her disability. She is visually impaired and says, "Back in those days, they didn't do much to help out people like me." Her lack of a high school diploma was an obstacle to getting a good job. But Ruth decided to change this situation when her grandchild asked her to help him with his homework. She did her best, but when he got a poor grade on that assignment, he blamed his grandmother. It was at that moment she decided to go back to school to get her GED diploma.
Ruth enrolled in WAGE and also began taking GED preparation classes at South Arkansas Community College. After she earned her GED and WAGE certificate, she decided that was not good enough: she went on to enroll at the community college.
WAGE is a statewide program based on the idea of local partnerships and local control. Currently, there are some 20 local WAGE programs around the state, involving more than 250 businesses and more than 150 social service agencies, all uniting to help upgrade the academic and work skills of the unemployed and underemployed. WAGE has attracted national attention, and several states have turned to WAGE for inspiration in building their own workforce education programs. To download a PowerPoint presentation on WAGE, visit http://www.aalrc.org/resources/wage/index.aspx.
WAGE is designed both to prepare unemployed adults for entry-level jobs and to upgrade the skills of incumbent workers so that they can adjust to changing demands in their jobs. Local WAGE programs can choose to emphasize one over the other, depending on local economic conditions - specifically, whether or not local businesses are hiring. Participants, who numbered nearly 1,000 statewide in 2002, can earn three different WAGE certificates. Instruction is competency-based, and the curriculum is adapted to meet local business needs. To see the WAGE brochure, visit http://dwe.arkansas.gov/AdultEd/AdultEdWAGE.pdf.
Partnerships are at the heart of the WAGE model. There are two major types of WAGE partnerships. The first is with local businesses, which help WAGE design its competency-based curriculum and provide jobs for WAGE graduates. The second is with other public agencies, such as the Department of Human Services (DHS), the Department of Employment Security(DES), Workforce Investment Boards and One-Stops, community colleges, and employment and training providers. Partners of the latter type generally provide referrals and outreach or support services.