Our workplace education students at the Seaport Hotel and World Trade Center (Seaport) are some of the lucky ones who have an employer who recognizes their potential for growth. Twice a week for a total of four hours a week, employees come to one of two workplace ESOL classes on 100% paid release time. The Seaport’s conference room becomes a learning community where students generate ideas, support each other, and try out new skills. The students come from all walks of life with a range of educational backgrounds, job titles, English literacy, and communication abilities, but they all share one workplace. The shared workplace context is the primary source for the classroom content.
As workplace teachers, we have the responsibility to create curricula and learning opportunities that meet the needs, goals, and aspirations of our students, as well as those of the employer. Prior to starting these classes, we conducted a workplace needs analysis which uncovered specific strengths and challenges at the business that we might address through an educational program. A full range of stakeholders, from potential students to supervisors to managers, contributed rich information. Two-and-a-half years in, what we learned through that process still informs our planning. In addition, what we continue to learn now in the classroom, from our students and in meetings with other Seaport stakeholders, helps us to more specifically respond to emerging student and workplace needs.
When we create customized curricula, there has to be a feedback loop that involves the learners in the process. Site-specific workplace topics at the Seaport such as accessing job shadowing opportunities, reading a banquet event order, or engaging with guests form the basis for the curriculum, around which we create units of instruction. But how our students use and relate to these topics in actual practice informs the path of instruction we ultimately follow. For example, I planned a unit using the students’ mobile payroll application to find and understand their accrual balances. Students walked me through the app, tallying their data, and explaining what it meant. It was a challenging lesson and students pushed themselves beyond their comfort zones. The lesson was a success because as a result, students more fully understood their accruals. In the process, I discovered that students really wanted to practice asking a supervisor to reconsider granting them a particular day or week off. In response, we created a fun and lively lesson practicing meaningful dialogues, which is an example of why adults benefit from participating in their own learning.
To hear from the employer, we meet regularly with a Seaport planning team of supervisors, managers, student representatives, and human resources staff. Their involvement ensures that the curriculum stays relevant and contributes to the success of the program. Team members weigh in with new Seaport initiatives or activities that our students may need to understand, such as an updated health insurance enrollment packet. We call on them to visit the classroom to field students’ questions or to give us the latest iteration of a workplace document. They can explain work processes to us. Through this relationship, they understand what we are trying to accomplish in the classroom and notice the students’ progress whether it is speaking up more confidently or helping a co-worker. Just recently, the Executive Pastry Chef told me that one of my students goes out of his way to say hello to her now when a year ago he tried to avoid her at all costs! Small changes like this contribute to a well-run workplace.
With more than 37 million adults without a high school diploma and more than 12 million adults without English proficiency(1) in the US, workplace education can play a role in reaching this population while at the same time helping employers retain and build the skills of their employees. With customized curricula, employers can be assured that the time in the classroom is well spent. Among Seaport employees who responded to a survey to evaluate the program, 100% indicated that the classes had helped them both on the job and in their personal lives. See our photo story Double the Value: Workplace Education in Boston’s Seaport District for a look inside our program at the Seaport.