Building Skills Partnership

2012 E Pluribus Unum WINNER

Building Skills Partnership

Media Contact:
Burke Speaker
(202) 266-1920
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Building Skills Partnership (BSP) works to improve the quality of life for janitors and other low-wage property service workers by increasing their English language skills, access to education, and opportunities for career advancement and community participation. Launched in the San Francisco Bay area in 2000 in partnership with Service Employees International Union-United Service Workers West (SEIU-USWW), BSP has expanded to other parts of California by bringing together unlikely allies — labor and business interests — to offer workers and their families help on the job from professional instructors, volunteer tutors, and office mentors.

BSP provides courses in basic literacy, civic engagement (including parent involvement in schools), citizenship, general and occupational health, computer and vocational training, and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at union halls and at worksite settings, and through the ADVANCE program, which blends Vocational English as a Second Language (VESL) classes with job skills instruction.
Engineers from Google, Microsoft, Cisco, Juniper, and other companies as well as student volunteers tutor the mostly immigrant janitors and service workers who clean their offices, teaching valuable English and computer skills to a population that has few opportunities for educational or career advancement. BSP’s language instruction model extends to university campuses such as Stanford and UC Berkeley.

Each year, BSP provides training for more than 2,000 low-wage property service workers, primarily immigrant janitors, but also security officers, maintenance and custodial workers, and stadium and airport workers.

The organization also is playing a broader role in focusing statewide and local policy attention on the need for ESL and workforce training for low-skilled immigrant workers.

FOCUS ON EXCELLENCE: A Cooperative Labor-Business Model that Allows the Hardest-to-Reach Service Workers to Gain Language Training and Other Skills While on the Job

In an era when state budget cuts have forced California’s adult schools and community colleges to decrease basic skills and vocational training, BSP leverages its SEIU relationship to gain access to 40,000 property services workers in California, the majority immigrants from Latin America.

The organization’s success owes much to the fact that stakeholders from across the spectrum — SEIU, property management companies, building owners, high-tech and other businesses, the college world, and the wider community — have allied to assist a population of low-wage workers who would be hard to reach through traditional ESL and instructional programs. Many of these workers would otherwise be unable to access English language instruction because of the hours they work, the multiple jobs they juggle, child care and family obligations, and transportation issues.

BSP can help workers overcome these learning obstacles as well as other challenges associated with adjustment to a new country and culture by offering training at worksites and mostly on paid time. The working-hours training model is especially important for women, who often otherwise aren’t able to enroll in English classes because of child care needs at home and second jobs — and who represent more than 70 percent of BSP’s students.

As immigrant workers learn important skills that will allow them to better integrate into the United States, tutors gain insight into the stories of newcomers, including their hopes and dreams, and the challenges they face. This two-way model of integration builds stronger ties between the foreign born and native born.

BSP has served as a model for others, sharing its curriculum with programs in Chicago, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC.

Program Leadership

Aida Cardenas
Executive Director, Building Skills Partnership

As Executive Director of Building Skills Partnership, Aida Cardenas leads a unique training collaboration between the janitors’ union (SEIU-USWW), responsible businesses, and the community to advance the skills and opportunities of low-wage building service workers across California.

A daughter of Mexican immigrant service workers, Cardenas graduated from the University of California-Los Angeles and has over 16 years experience coordinating and directing educational, leadership, and organizing initiatives with janitors and other low-wage service workers.

As the Southern California staff director for SEIU-USWW, Cardenas led organizing campaigns and contract negotiations. Her leadership was crucial in bringing together representatives from several organizations, including industry employers and building owners, to expand a statewide training collaborative and create the new statewide nonprofit, Building Skills Partnership.

Cardenas was appointed to the Workforce Investment Boards of both the city and county of Los Angeles, and she is a member of the Council for Immigrant Integration.