for Collaboration in Workplace Literacy
Since the late 1980's in workforce development, educators and businesses have worked to form partnerships to serve adults who need to upgrade their skills to find a job, continue their employment, and/or advance at work. Collaboration has become the core strategy used in program planning. I was reading an article on "best practices" in workplace literacy efforts around the state, and each program was described as "...a collaboration between..." a triangle of stakeholders consisting of: the business (the employee and the employer); the educational provider (the instructor, administrator, staff); and the government (often the financier and lately the supplier of customers, i.e. students).
ELEMENTS OF SUCCESS
Business and company cultures differ. Allow the design of the program to be a response to the needs of the stakeholders.
Change the educational work process to align with the company's workflow, making it "employer driven." For instance, with one manufacturer, onsite classes were scheduled for the end of the shift. This accommodated employees who were getting off work and those just clocking in. It was less convenient for the instructor, but it precisely met the needs of the customer. Businesses stay in business because they deliver what the customer needs and wants. By customizing an educational program to meet the needs of the learner and/or employer, education can respond to the needs of their customer and increase their own employability.
Explicit, Consistent Communication
Don't take anything for granted. As part of a team to build partnerships with manufacturers in west Texas in the early 90's, I discovered that consistent and frequent communication was one of the most important strategies that contributed to our success. One of the first things we discovered was that we used different languages. For example, "short term" for an educator usually meant six months. To a line supervisor in that company, it meant six weeks.
Make what you do explicit, as it helps to clarify and distinguish roles. Last year a corporate manager made this all too clear. In a video interview, she said, "It's the business of education to tell us [industry] how to best teach language [for example]. Let us make the widgets, you make the education."
Weekly meetings are essential, particularly during program planning and start-up. Business wants a partner that knows education. Business also wants a partner that brings to the table experience with what works for the population, i.e., the employees. How do adults learn? What curriculum design works best, with what population of students, under what circumstance, and for what purposes?
Clarify from the beginning that one hour in a beginning ESL class once a week for eight weeks will not produce someone fluent in English, particularly if that learner returns to a monolingual work environment in which the language on the job is not English.
Collaboration is the creative outcome of a good partnership. Business knows the production enterprise. Education knows the business of learning. Bringing the strengths of both together to solve a specific workplace education dilemma and collaboration in program design can result in "best practices," producing the best possible outcomes both for learners and employers.
About the Author
Ann Savino is the Director of WLTTAP (Workplace Literacy Training & Technical Assistance Project), a Texas Education Agency Project housed at the El Paso Community College. This project produces cross-training opportunities for adult educators and their workforce partners. Prior to this project, Ms. Savino owned and operated a small business that produced commercial video and film products primarily for the education sector. She has also worked with the garment industry, labor, and government on three National Workplace Literacy Grant partnerships in the 90's. As Technical Coordinator, she designed curriculum materials and supplemental video products.
** According to the Adult Literacy Thesaurus developed by the National Institute for Literacy, definition of this and other related terms are as follows:
Workforce Literacy: the general body of literacy skills needed for any kind of employment;
Workplace Literacy: the literacy skills required to perform specific jobs
Workplace Training: training offered by an organization to its employees and held on the premises of the organization; and
Workplace Education: same as Workplace Training.
The Adult Literacy Thesaurus is found in: Starting Point: Guidelines, Standards and a Framework for Establishing a National Literacy Information and Communication Network. (Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy, 1997).