Literacy is especially important in Oakland County because of the county’s knowledge-based economy, according to Jennifer Llewellyn, manager of Oakland County Michigan Works!, which serves job seekers as well as business looking to hire and retain workers. Forty-four percent of the county’s workers have at least a bachelor’s degree, which is higher than the state and national average, she adds. As a result, while workforce agencies elsewhere in the country may consider workers to be proficient in basic skills if they have the equivalence of an eighth or ninth grade education, her staff uses 11th grade as the minimum benchmark.
“Literacy is a critical component of workforce development,” Llewellyn says. “Barriers to literacy can impact an individual’s career, lifelong learning, and opportunities for promotion.”
That is why Oakland County Michigan Works! has worked in close partnership with Oakland Literacy Council for at least 15 years. Llewellyn’s staff regularly refers job seekers to the Council for one-on-one tutoring if they need help improving their English skills.
“Because of the diverse population we serve, we find people who have a variety of barriers to employment, including literacy,” Llewellyn explains. Since her department added special programs for legal immigrants and refugees two years ago, those referrals have increased.
Likewise, the Council refers students to Michigan Works! if the students want assistance finding employment or accessing job training. The Council also has partnered with the agency to provide workshops for students—all part of the individualized attention provided by the Council to help students meet their individual goals.
“I think what makes Oakland Literacy Council unique is that it is a real grass roots effort,” Llewellyn says. “Because of that, you have folks who are passionate about what they do and that passion changes lives.”
The close ties between the Council and the Oakland County Workforce Development Board go beyond the referral relationship. The board regularly sponsors the Council’s annual Ex Libris fundraiser dinner. Moreover, Llewellyn’s predecessor, John Almstadt, now sits on the Council’s board of directors.
“We think Oakland Literacy is a valuable organization, and we’ve been proud to be a supporter,” Llewellyn says.