Adult education, training: A foundation of performance leads to long-term success
This is a question-and answer with Mike Fazio, the keynote speaker for the Iowa Adult Education and Literacy Summer Conference, Building Your Future with Adult Education, to be held in Ankeny, July 18-20.
Fazio is the founder and CEO of Workforce180, a national workforce training and consulting organization, focused specifically on results-oriented activities. He and his team have assisted more than 400 workforce organizations, non-profits, schools and government agencies in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and Canada. His more than 25 years of sales, management and leadership allows Fazio to bring specific, proven methods of success to workforce and education professionals so they can achieve successful outcomes.
Conference registration is still open and Fazio also will be conducting sessions on communication and overcoming obstacles to success, in addition to the keynote.
Below, Fazio reflects on today’s collaborative workforce system, focusing on continuous improvement to better serve the most vulnerable workers.
What experiences do you have helping agencies serve disadvantaged and unemployed adults and adult learners?
My expertise falls into a lot of different areas. I have spent the last 10 years working with the workforce development industry – American job centers, community colleges, high schools and anything geared toward employment, re-employment and training, specifically for groups who require advocates, such as veterans, the disabled, dislocated and ex-offenders to name a few.
I provide consulting, training, and marketing assistance to help them be better at what they do.
As you work with state agencies across the country, what are some of the challenges you see them facing?
The most important thing I am asked for is performance. Helping people is a nice notion, but ultimately it comes down to performance. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which was signed into law in 2014 and marks the first reform of the pubic workforce system in 15 years, mentions performance hundreds of times. We are a result-driven society and we want them now. State agencies are challenged to improve outcomes with limited resources and funding with an already low-unemployment rate. That is a combustible combination of “uh oh, what do I do now?”
With WIOA laying the foundation for an integrated workforce system, what advice do you have for state agencies as they are challenged to innovate, collaborate and work together more than ever?
My best advice? Pick up the phone! What I have found in my travels is that agencies have been used to living in their own world, in their own silos, and doing things their own way. As great as people are, reaching across party lines isn’t something they are used to doing. My advice is to force yourself to pick up the phone. It will lead to greater things. Collaboration and partnerships are essential to our current and future successes. We can no longer do it alone. We need a community.
How do you get people more comfortable with networking and forming partnerships?
Pushing people outside of their comfort zone is something we ask job seekers and adult learners to do every day. We are asking it of them, so why not of ourselves?
Rather than networking, I prefer to think of it as connecting. How often do you have conversations with each other about what you can do with each other to better serve adult learners? Communication is an overused word. When you break down the mechanics it includes a lot of different components. I will actually have a whole session dedicated to the topic of communication at the conference.
I bet that when I look into the audience, I will probably see everyone who works together sitting together. We need to change that. I know the conference is going to include an optional networking event. That is a great opportunity to meet others, share information, and walk away with one or two new ideas. Challenge yourself to take one idea back and to change the life of one more person than you would have otherwise.
Change is hard for most people, how do you deal with resistance to change?
The first thing to note is that we aren’t talking about change – change is the end result of a process. Part of that process is our ability to evolve, which is a slow and gradual process that you don’t see on a day-to-day basis. Change is overused and confusing to people. Change is the end result that includes our ability to evolve by using innovation to adapt.
How can educators and administrators support each other and to continue to grow?
Fundamentally, people today, even educators, aren’t investing enough time to learning things themselves. If you invest 16 minutes a day learning – watching Frontline on PBS, reading an article, listening to a podcast -- that is about 100 hours a year and more than what the average worker gets in training annually. So I say to not wait for your employer – you need to self-invest. More employers now not only allow you to set your own schedule, but they also expect you to keep up with your job off-hours. Do you watch You Tube educational videos? Listen to podcasts? Watch public television? As we have become a shrunken workforce with reduced funding, it isn’t enough to sit back and wait for employers to provide all the meaningful professional development we need.
How would you describe the state of adult literacy and education in the United States over the years and how do you see it today?
Employers today are more aware of their responsibility to include all types of candidates for consideration for jobs. How do you overcome employer concerns? You do it by educating people and removing the stigmas. For example, I work with a lot of veteran representatives. One concern that they hear from employers is that all veterans seeking employment have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Statistically, that is simply not the case. Generally speaking, about 15-20 percent of all people have some type of stress disorder and those same percentages apply to veterans. It is completely in line with the general U.S. population.
Adult literacy and training is going to be even more important as our population ages. Over the next 30 years the population age 85 and older will increase 350 percent. People are living longer and they will be working longer. For a young person, finding that entry-level job will be even harder as they will be competing with an older workforce for the same types of jobs.
What does a top-notch adult education and workforce system look like?
Is there a perfect system? Probably not. Anything that is performance-driven allows results to happen. It is amazing what happens when you inspect what you respect by setting deadlines and goals. People get into the field of adult education and literacy by wanting to help people. But then numbers and meetings get involved and all of a sudden this meaningful work turns into a job.