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The Not-9-to-5 Crowd: How Inconsistent Work Schedules Make it Harder for Adults to Get Ahead

How do you steadily attend GED® classes when you never know what your work schedule is going to be?

As adult literacy professional Jeff Carter pointed out in his blog post, irregular work schedules can be a huge detriment to adults trying to attend GED or basic education classes.

Unfortunately, people who are most in need of class time to improve their skills have the least regularity when it comes to their work schedules.

A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute found that being employed part-time more than doubles the likelihood that work hours will vary from week-to-week. When broken down by income level, people with the lowest incomes have the most irregular work schedules.

Women Employed, a Chicago-based organization that seeks to eradicate the barriers working women face, created a great infographic that illustrates the many financial and scheduling repercussions of erratic work.

For people who don’t complete high school, typically the only employment available to them is such part-time and erratically-scheduled work.

The catch-22 is almost painful: if these adults had improved skills, then they could likely attain more stable jobs, and if they had more stable jobs, then they would have regular time to attend classes to improve their skills. As it is, their low-paying and part-time jobs keep them from being able to regularly devote time to studying and attending set class sessions.

Though some employers may be open to scheduling around classes so that their workers can increase their skills (which in turn would improve work performance), most employers don’t make room for such needs.

This leaves adult education programs to meet beyond the middle and offer flexibility where employment offers none.

Unfortunately, being bound to a traditional class structure can hinder an adult education program’s ability to offer any flexibility. Miss a class, and you fall behind. This is especially problematic because the adults in these classes are people for whom a traditional class structure didn’t, for whatever reasons, work out the first time around.

Our response to this at Seeds of Literacy is to base our program around the needs of the individual student. Instead of traditional classes, we hold three different class sessions a day, wherein each student does individualized work one-to-one with tutors.

We don’t tell the students which classes to come to; they can attend whatever works for their own schedules and can switch from day-to-day, or miss a day altogether. This ability to attend classes around their other obligations — like work — is always one of the key things our graduates say helped them earn their GED.

It can be hard to find ways to offer flexibility, especially when resources might be limited or traditional structures are already embedded into a program.

But in order for a program and its students to be successful, such flexibility needs to be a fundamental aspect of the program, a core around which the organization functions.

When adults’ work schedules are unpredictable, the flexibility of their GED classes actually offers them a kind of stability.

They know that, no matter what, they always have a chance to come in and learn.

You can provide the opportunity for adult learners to succeed by supporting Seeds of Literacy. Donate today.

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