Focus on Basics Volume 7, Issue B: Workplace Education

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Workplace education programs are partnerships between literacy providers and employers. In theory, these partnerships bring more resources into the system and make education more accessible to employed learners. They are maturing partnerships. Questions of “How do we get employees to enroll without feeling a stigma?” have given way over time to questions about program longevity, sharing costs across employers, and uncovering the management issues that often underlie what are mistakenly thought to be literacy-related problems. This issue of Focus on Basics explores how workplace education partnerships and state policymakers across the country are addressing these challenges and others.

Many workplace education programs are initially supported by government grants designed to stimulate development of the business/adult basic education partnership. Do the programs continue after the grant is over? Read our cover story, by Connie Nelson, to find out. In the article on page 6, Shirley Penn and Mary Zorn write about one program that continued: a decade-old partnership between a meatpacking business and Morgan Community College in Colorado, which had started with a government grant.

Workplace education benefits to both participants and employers are obvious. The positive impact on the provider is not always as transparent. Greg Mittelstadt, of Wisconsin’s Lakeshore Technical College, gives evidence on page 10 that workplace education can be a stellar marketing tool and provide a significant professional development opportunity for education providers.

Canadian workplace educators Sue Folinsbee and Tracy Defoe’s ethnographic research in workplaces revealed that a literacy activity cannot be disengaged from the broader work task, nor can it be considered independent from the written and unwritten rules of the culture of a particular workplace. They report on these findings and their implications in the article that begins on page 13. Don Block and Lori Keefer’s work with a Pennsylvania hotel’s housekeeping staff demonstrates those concepts revealed in Folinsbee and Defoe’s study. The course they offered, described in the article on page 16, focused on communications and problem solving skills rather than reading and writing. Teacher Anthony Moss writes on page 19 about how he grapples with similar problems facing janitors in a workplace education English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) program in California.

Paul Jurmo provides a historical account of how approaches to workplace education content have evolved over time, from decontextualized to contextualized approaches. Anyone contemplating starting a new program should read his article, which starts on page 22, for ideas on curriculum. And for innovation in math, Cheryl Jackson takes us to Washington, DC, where, as she points out, the paycheck received by participants in workplace education programs motivates them to learn about financial planning, investing, and home ownership. See page 27 for details.

At least six states have been proactive in strengthening workplace education as part of their overall adult education efforts. These states build identity, enhance expertise, provide financial support, increase accessibility, and promote collaborations. For strategies for your state, read Diane Foucar-Szocki’s article on 30. For an example of how Connecticut is trying to enable employers of small numbers of workers to offer workplace education, read the report by Andy Tyskiewicz, Aileen Halloran, and Alpha Nicholson, page 37, about an ESOL class for employees who have in common not their employer but their native language.

These days, newcomers to workplace education, as well as those with experience in the field, have rich resources to draw on, as exemplified in the diversity of approaches detailed in this issue.

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