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Tennessee ESOL in the Workplace, July 21 - 25, 2008

Tennessee ESOL in the Workplace, July 21 - 25, 2008

Workplace Literacy Discussion List "Talk Back"

with Pat Sawyer and Barbara Tondre

Tennessee ESOL in the Workplace is a training manual for ESOL supervisors and instructors. It is available online at http://www.cls.utk.edu/pdf/esol_workplace/
Tenn_ESOL_in_the_Workplace.pdf
. The manual includes basic information, Powerpoint presentations, and very useful checklists on how to design a program, present a plan to a workplace community, and monitor and evaluate the program. This training manual has been added as an exemplary resource to the LINCS Workforce Competitiveness Collection. The training manual was the centerpiece for a discussion on the Workplace Literacy Discussion List from July 21 - July 25, 2008. The discussion was called a "Talk Back" because it featured the authors of the resource as the discussion guests. (Bios of Pat Sawyer and Barbara Tondre-El Zorkani are appended.) The discussion served not only to feature the resource, but also to introduce the Collection to the members of the Workplace Literacy Discussion List.

Announcement of the pending discussion was made on the Workplace list on July 16. Moderators of all LINCS discussion lists were apprised of the pending discussion and could invite their list members to participate. Announcement of and an invitations to join the discussion were made on the English Language, Professional Development, and Learning Disabilities Discussion Lists. The discussion was also announced to supervisors of Adult Education programs in Tennessee, as some of them had collaborated in the work that resulted in the resource. From the time the announcement of the discussion was made on July 16 through the end of the discussion on July 25, 49 new subscribers joined the list and 12 members unsubscribed. There were 60 posts made during this time that were related to the discussion.

Themes that developed in the discussion were:

  • Addressing the work-related language needs of learners in regular ESL classes
  • How to go about approaching a workplace about teaching Workplace ESL
  • Considering all the stakeholders in planning Workplace ESL
  • Managing client expectations, coming to agreement with a contract
  • Identifying the language skills needed in a workplace
  • How to address the needs of the learners in a workplace class as well as the needs of the employer
  • What to look for in choosing an instructor for a workplace ESL class
  • Possibilities of ways to extend the ESL instruction for workers beyond what the employer is willing to provide
  • Comparison of the terms workforce, workplace and work-based ESL
  • Background and current use of the term "VESL"

Points made by list subscribers during the discussion around each of these themes included these:

Addressing the work-related language needs of learners in regular ESL classes

Our program provides workforce content in our textbook series that is further enhanced with instructional handouts provided by the Texas Workforce Commission. We have posters provided by TWC that teach our students about getting a job, interviewing, calculating salary, and sustaining performance. We use some handouts from Equipped for the Future that show the importance of mastering English for home, work and community. In the spring of 2009, we will be offering a new program at our college, Basic Workplace ESL Skills, with a weekend college format, to allow students who want a greater emphasis on workforce skills to have their own program.

The instructor focuses on vocabulary and events that happen at the workplace so that the student immediately sees the relevancy to daily activities. Math topics deal with examples from the jobs people have to do. Instead of saying I cut the rod to 3 lines on the ruler, the student learns to measure 3/8 of an inch and can perform the mathematical calculations necessary for the job. The same is true when it comes to writing. Healthcare workers have to complete reports which need to be written in English that is legible and understandable.

How to go about approaching a workplace about teaching Workplace ESL

Obtain a business license and general liability insurance.

Do your homework to learn about the workplace.

Go to networking lunches, join associations, make contacts.

I use census demographics information and city statistical information to learn where in the area there is marked density of non-English language speakers. I drive through those areas and meet with directors or managers to talk about what I see. (I do this every summer in early July.) I have a document that shows that different programs and courses my college offers and emphasize that those courses can be adapted to fit industry.

Always do your homework, understand who the company is, what they produce, history in the area etc. Demonstrate your knowledge of the business culture because you may only get one shot at working with them, and also the opportunity to work with a group of employees that need your services the most.

Considering all the stakeholders in planning Workplace ESL

Workplace literacy is rarely delivered according to a college's academic semester schedule.

I like to provide a "mini-college fair" at the company. Once I am in the door, I feel that the first person I need to speak to is the one needing the language because in significant numbers they will clamor for the company to offer ESL. I also provide my customary presentation to the CEO, managers, etc. and provide a sample of what a Business Industry ESL class is like.

The language and literacy competencies needed by limited English proficient workers depend upon the job. This is why we always work with a TEAM set up by the business. This TEAM is composed of management, supervisors, workers, and CWL, the education provider. The TEAM decides the goals of the program, recruits the students, schedules the classes, works out rules and arrangements within the company, provides curriculum materials, and monitors the program. The TEAM meets weekly in the beginning and monthly thereafter. Once the TEAM has decided what the goals of the program should be, CWL, the education provider, assesses those workers who want to enroll into the classes in reading, writing, speaking English and math. The TEAM then selects the students for the classes. Also the TEAM arranges a tour of the facility so that the instructor and other CWL staff involved in the program can understand what is required in terms of language and literacy skills to do the job.

In the Workplace Cultures materials, they talked about identifying three key people for the training team (who would also be good spokespersons for the needs analysis): technical leader (person with best skills and knowledge to get the job done); the language leader (person with the best bilingual skills); and the social leader (person the group recognizes as the leader). This seems like a good strategy for workplace ESOL programs, especially for incumbent workers, so that the program targets needs from a variety of perspectives.

I always use an example from an electricians' union for which I once put together a VESL program when I first began this work: In the needs analysis, I did my language task analysis and I interviewed some workers, the union leaders, the apprentice coordinator, the organizer, and the contractor (the "big boss"). I felt good that this part of the needs analysis had been thorough and everybody shared an understanding of our goals. Yet, by the end of the semester, the otherwise very successful class was almost done away with!....why? Because the workers' foremen (who were not getting jobs finished on time because they lost some of their crew for a few hours each week) were angry and refusing to let their workers leave for the class. I had neglected to make them part of the process, and their differing expectations and needs led to revolt. We modified the course schedule and luckily continued on, but I learned some lessons about needs analysis.

Managing client expectations; Importance of coming to agreement with a contract

Shorter cycles of instruction are usually a better "fit" in the workplace but often lead to repeat business, second cycles, etc.

Many of the union personnel, supervisors, HR personnel, and upper management were not aware of the needs of their employees. Some of them said, "We don't know what they need, we just know they need to learn English. How many weeks will it take for them to learn English?" We assume that they know as much as we do concerning the employees needs and they don't.

I have found that it will take much more than one conversation before my clients really begin to understand what I'm saying regarding the process and time commitment of language learning and the goals of the course (which we develop together as much as possible through the needs analysis process.) The needs analysis itself is useful not only to identify students' and workplace needs, but also to bring out into the light of day the stakeholders' expectations....which are often unrealistic and/or conflicting with other stakeholders' expectations. The needs analysis process provides an opportunity to do the very important work of getting all stakeholders on the same page...it's a little teachable moment. If important stakeholders have different ideas of why we're doing this (say, union and management) and how it will impact them....that can deal a death blow to a program!

I believe that when we go to a company we must approach them on their terms, in their culture, and seek to understand them. Company training is very different from classroom teaching. The key to success was being able to approach the job as a workplace trainer, not an educator. And central to that is understanding that my client is the company, not the individual employees. The employees benefit tremendously, but my client is the company. Let me quickly add I would not sacrifice the employees to meet a client's expectation, and clearly there are times when you must teach the employer what is not acceptable, but it's the underlying attitude that you are serving the employer that is important.

Successful initiatives require that educators understand who their customers are and what is important to them.

Return on investment has little to do with the "educationalese" we use to communicate with our peers. The bottom line: our customers want to know if what we have to offer can result in changes in employees' behavior and performance. This is another reason why the language task analysis is so important.

Companies are used to offering training programs which result in a worker learning a specific skill in a specified time.

Customize, customize, customize, you have your audience generally for a short time, teach for application of skills to do the job better and safer.

Define your outcomes and expectations before you ever start a class. Know what success looks like for the client and yourself before you start.
And know that it's OK to say no, not all expectations are reasonable, nor are conditions for program delivery.

Identifying the language skills needed in a workplace

Once I choose the perfect instructor, we request permission to shadow the company, collect brochures to create vocabulary logs. This information is sorted and included in the various units presented in class.

I observed workers on the job, during their breaks, and at meetings to determine the skills needed for communicating with supervisors, with customers, with co-workers, and with union staff. I took extensive notes, which I later clarified/confirmed during interviews with union personnel, supervisors, HR personnel, upper management, co-workers, and the targeted workers themselves. For the literacy demands of the job, I collected and reviewed both all formally required texts: contracts, memos, manuals, recipes, policies, and so on, as well as all environmental print…for example, signs and notices posted on the job. Hanging around during the breaks was especially useful as I was able to see how co-workers communicate, topics discussed, level of formality of discourse, and so on.

First, I read all of the processes that each employee needs to read, understand and implement in running their machines or carrying out their tasks and do a vocabulary scan; from this I create a basic vocabulary that everyone in the plant needs to be able to use both verbally and in written form;
Second, I collect all of the documents relative to employee benefits; explanations of medical coverage, death benefits, days off, procedure for calling in sick, etc. and add the vocabulary needed for that;
Third, I train English speaking employees to tutor ESOL employees to understand presentations that are given in which outsiders are not permitted-several companies that I have worked with are Dept. of Defense Subcontractors and I do not have clearance for the missile program components.

When I get a call from an employer I also ask what the problem is that needs to be corrected. What mistakes do people make because they cannot speak, read or write English. We assume the role of an education consultant.

We also find it worthwhile to conduct a fairly thorough needs analysis.

We do interviews and/or focus groups with various levels of management (very important to include line supervisors), union representatives, and a cross-section of workers. We are looking for what the education needs are in that workplace from the different points of view. Then we look for the common interests that have been expressed by labor, management and workers. The labor-management team reviews the needs we have identified, chooses which needs they want to tackle first and makes reasonable goals from those. Good candidates are those interests important to all parties (often having to do with improved communication and/or safety issues) and ones which classes could reasonably affect. Goals like increased productivity, for example, have a lot of other factors, such as availability of materials and staffing levels at play. Also, only a few workers may be able to attend the classes. We try to identify more specific goals, like being able to fill out routing sheets correctly, or having more people asking clarifying questions of the supervisor, or understanding the attendance policy.

How to address the needs of the learners in a workplace class as well as the needs of the employer

Several weeks ago an ESL student asked me what "gitit" means. She said that her employer will explain what she is to do in the factory where she works and then always ends her conversation by saying, "Getit." The ESL student said, "What do I say to her?" When I said, "You can say, got it." she was so excited. The other students who had been listening to our conversation actually clapped their hands.

Last year I hired an instructor for a class of professionals who were not able to speak very much English although their ability to read English was at a very advanced level. He began the class with common pronunciations like gotcha, gimme, etc. I observed some of the first class and was sorry to have had to leave. This is really what people need to learn becuz that is how we talk.

What to look for in choosing an instructor for a workplace ESL class

The instructor must understand who the customers are in workplace literacy.

In order to find the "perfect" instructor for our wonderful potential students, I offer a training session for the instructors who want to teach a workforce class. Once the training is completed, I offer a simplified adult-second-language learning class to help the instructor work effectively in teaching listening/speaking/conversation, reading, and writing.

Bring your seasoned veterans who have done workplace training before.

You have to have a background in ESL to understand the curriculum process and you have to have an instructor with a background in ESL and a lot of patience. I work extensively with the company, provide training and mentoring for the instructor and pay him or her $30 to $40 an hour. I also pay the instructor extra for any additional course planning or new materials.

Possibilities of ways to extend the ESL instruction for workers beyond what the employer is willing to provide

I've collected a binder listing details and contact info for local ESL programs, classes, tutors (including impressive teachers who have worked for me and have consented to have their info listed), books and audio programs, and stores...as well as blank pieces of note paper. I organize them all in the binder and take it with me to the last day of any workplace course, whether I'm teaching it or supervising it...after students fill out their evaluations, I have a short exit interview with any student who wants it, and the information they request is almost always in my binder, ready to copy out onto the notepaper and point students in the directions they want to go.

The first thing that comes to mind is distance learning.

I wonder if any workplace ESOL programs are partnered with distance learning programs in their states so that students can flow seamlessly from classroom-based English learning (perhaps with an online supplement) to online distance English learning, and perhaps other basic skills learning, once the class has ended. This may be an area in some states that needs to be better organized.

The program was able to purchase a set of the Sed de Saber kits. Sed de Saber uses the technology of the LeapFrog Quantum Pad for a self-paced, take home system. It is appropriate for use with low level English language learners whose first language is Spanish. This seems to be effective in extending learning beyond the traditional classroom and providing continuity and connection for those whose work prevents them from attending classes regularly.

I wonder if one solution to the problem can be framed in planning the workplace ESOL class(es) at the outset. For example, especially if a community college is the workplace English provider, designing and scheduling the workplace course so that it can lead to other ESOL classes a community college offers, and providing -- in the workplace ESOL course -- some help with reading the college credit or noncredit (continuing education) catalogs might be useful for some students. Perhaps some subscribers to this list do this already. If so, it would be great to hear what they do.

Another solution might be a new, free, online federally-funded Web portal that will be unveiled in September called USA Learns. I haven't seen it yet, but I know that it is based on two existing online products which may be familiar to some readers of this discussion: English For All, and Putting English to Work. These products are best used with an online or classroom teacher, but it may be possible for some students to use the newly-designed USA Learns on their own.

There is another product in development (in its first year of a three-year federally-funded demonstration in several regions of the country) called the Learner Web. One of its Learning Plans that is being developed now is for ESOL. The Learning Plan will be designed so that students can use online ESOL learning resources on their own with a structured self-study guide/curriculum and, at least in some regions, with online and telephone help available.

Perhaps a Workplace English program could help the company to set up a company-sponsored employee DVD video lending library of English learning videos. Does anyone already have a good list of such videos in case a company is interested? Do any companies already do this? Many public libraries, of course, lend ESOL videos and software.

In addition to some of the ideas presented here about workplace learners continuing their education, we have sometimes had education fairs where learners can find out about resources in their communities. Sometimes waiting lists in community programs mean a while before learners can continue. In a few cases, the team has chosen a provider with the ongoing educational opportunities in mind and our workplace learners are considered already enrolled. We have also suggested distance learning programs, and welcome information about any more of those resources.

Comparison of the terms workforce, workplace and work-based ESL
Workplace learning, including workplace English, is usually classes focused on basic skills learning contextualized to a particular workplace, company or industry. Although the classes are usually held at the workplace they could be held at a union hall, community college or elsewhere. Some workplace learning takes place online.

Workplace literacy classes are given right within the workplace. Usually the instruction is based primarily on the actual needs of the company, and the company supplies the place for any off line instruction and assigns some computers for use when the instruction is math based, such as the classes done in preparation for quality assurance training. In my experience from the past 15 years, these companies persevere the longest. In one case, the training extended from 1993-2003 with each new development of product lines and processes.

Workforce learning, in adult literacy education, could include workplace learning but often focuses on preparing students for work or, for workers who have lost their jobs, for new kinds of work.

Workforce literacy training refers to the people who are being trained and the training can be provided in many different venues. For example, many hospitals do not have facilities available in the hospital to dedicate to regular classes for literacy training. So the workforce is trained in adjacent educational institutions, such as a nearby high school in one case. Classes for third shift take place as the shift finishes and the high school students have not arrived yet. Classes for first shift take place immediately a the end of the shift and the high school has completed their regular classes.

Work-based learning, usually for students who are preparing for work, has a high school, college or adult education class component and also a learning component at work. Ideally the two are well integrated.

Work based: I have not used this term, but what it conveys to me is the curriculum development is based on the work that the employees do. It has the advantage of being very expansive in that it can apply to communications in all forms-reading, writing, interpersonal conversation, supervisors training on how to deal with a diverse workforce (with respect to language and culture); math as it applies to the needs of different companies, etc.

Location: Workplace Literacy is usually at the company site; workforce is usually at the service provider's site.
Development: workplace classes are developed WITH the company and is company-focused; workforce is offered to general public and/or company employees but does not focus on any one employer
Client: Workplace is the company; workforce is the adult learner
Leadership: workplace is shared leadership by company and service provider; workforce is service provider
Curricula: workplace is customized or semi-cutomized, based on employer/employee needs assessments; workforce is off-the-shelf or semi-customized materials based on SCANS and can be industry-specific

Background and current use of the term "VESL"

VESL is an old, old term that many of us used in the late 80's/90's, to talk about Vocational ESL - up to and including language/culture connected to employment for those not yet in the workplace. A cottage industry, of sorts, had sprung up to develop and publish materials - partially in response to the influx of refugees from Southeast Asia.

I think VESL is still the term used in California to denote Workplace ESL.

Most of my clients are building trades labor unions and labor/management training partnerships, and I have used "Vocational ESL" or VESL to refer to my work with them. In fact, it was one of those unions who first suggested to me that we use that term.

For us, "Workplace" ESL doesn't work well because it suggests to some too much focus (again, perhaps just in our context) on the employer and the job, while our curriculum design & training focus on both the job-related needs and active, knowledgeable participation in the union.

The major theoretical basis for vocational or workplace ESOL is content-based instruction which focuses upon the knowledge content in a language, literacy, or numeracy (LLN) program, rather upon the general processes of LLN.

I remember back in 1992, ...Vocational English as a Second Language was ESL with handouts of activities strictly related to work vocabulary, setting, and support.

Now that I am involved in leading workforce ESL, I can say that VESL was much more complex, the teaching was harder and the regulations for the program quite stacked.

Back in the 80's, ...implementation of VESL was chiefly in the vocational tech High Schools in their Bilingual Voc programs. These were very good programs and what goes around comes around.

Through the years, I've seen VESL (Vocational English as a Second Language) defined in various ways, including the following:

  1. An ESL support class that is attached to a vocational or occupational skills class and where the ESL instructor and the vocational skills instructor coordinate to some extent. Quite often, the major burden is on the ESL instructor, and the vocational skills instructor may pass on vocabulary lists or lesson plans, but as a rule the occupational skills instructor does not change his/her curriculum or teaching approach very much.
  2. An integrated class where ESL and job skills are well coordinated and both the ESL teacher and the occupational skills instructor are expected to work closely together either in an I-BEST model where the classes are team taught or in a coordinated model where the classes are taught separately but the curriculum is jointly developed. This model is often called "embedded training" in the UK or in Australia or New Zealand,
  3. An occupation or industry specific ESL class that serves as a bridge class to training - sometimes called "cluster VESL"
  4. An employment general (or employment-oriented) class that teaches English for Work focusing on the kind of English communication and literacy skills that students are likely to need in any job (e.g., explaining a problem; understanding or giving instructions; dealing with difficult people, working in teams; dealing with forms; understanding how workplaces tend to work; advocating for self and others; etc. Such a class may or may not have an employability and career exploration component (as might the other models)

Resources shared in the discussion

Several resources were shared by list members in their posts. These included:

Bios of Barbara Tondre-El Zorkani and Pat Sawyer

Barbara Tondre-El Zorkani holds a Master's degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from the University of Texas in San Antonio. She is also a developmental education specialist (Kellogg Institute, Appalachian State University). She got her start in workforce-related ESL while teaching for the U.S. Department of Defense English Language Institute in San Antonio, Texas and Amman, Jordan. Later, her teaching assignments at American University in Cairo involved preparing Egyptian professionals for work with Americans and study abroad. Barbara has lived and worked on four continents.

Barbara ventured into adult basic education and job training upon her family's return to the states. Her role in welfare reform initiatives included preparing adult educators to serve individuals whose basic skill and language deficiencies presented barriers to employment and self-sufficiency. At the community college level, Barbara became involved in developing customized solutions for businesses looking for services for their employees with basic skills and English language needs. She was instrumental in establishing McDonald's first workplace ESL pilot initiatives in New York, New Jersey, Kansas, Illinois, and Tennessee. Her work has included preparing educators to teach in the workplace. It was this work that brought Barbara to partner with the Center for Literacy Studies at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Her experience and writing skills complemented the work already begun by Patricia Sawyer, then director of ESL programs for Tennessee's Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Adult Education Division.

Since co-authoring Tennessee's ESOL in the Workplace, Barbara has gone on to author similar publications for Texas. Charting a Course: Responding to the Industry-Related Adult Basic Education Needs of the Texas Workforce, includes research on adult education's response to state legislation requiring the development of industry-related curricula for the limited English proficient*, plus two handbooks for program planners and instructors venturing into the delivery of workforce related instructional services and solutions.

As a contractor and consultant, Barbara continues to pursue her research and interests in workforce literacy, ESL, and student transition for Texas LEARNS, the state office of adult education. Barbara also authors SHOP TALK, a series that highlights promising practices as well as issues, concerns, and questions related to meeting the adult education needs of Texas' emerging, incumbent, and displaced workers. In April 2008, she was instrumental in planning the first annual Workforce Literacy Summit: Workforce Literacy Models for a 21st Century Economy hosted by the Alamo Community College District in San Antonio. Barbara lives in Austin, Texas.

*Texas is distributing three copyrighted curricula to adult education programs this summer. The curricula address the industry-related language and employability needs of those seeking employment in healthcare, sales and service, and manufacturing.


Pat Sawyer holds a Master's Degree in Education from the University of Illinois. She has worked in the field of adult education since 1978 in the states of Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee and Illinois.

Her role as an educator has included Professional Development Trainer for Tennessee ESOL teachers and supervisors, publication coordinator for ESOL curriculum, and the writing of training manuals for Tennessee state programs. Pat has also presented at several TESOL and COABE conferences and has worked with teachers who are preparing to teach in the workplace.

Since retiring from The Center for Literacy Studies at the University of Tennessee, Pat has worked for the University of Illinois, Springfield campus as a teacher and trainer for Japanese students who are preparing for work as electrical engineers in the U.S., assisted in the development of Illinois ABE/ASE Standards, and is presently teaching ESL at Parkland Community College, Champaign, Illinois.




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