The Importance of Culture :
Four Models for Workplace Basic Skills

by Bonnie Barnard and Susan Bannan

In our twenty years' collective experience providing workplace education services, we have noticed the success and failure of workplace relationships with training providers based upon the interaction within the workplace environment and individuals. We have come to believe that each workplace has a different culture which must be respected and reflected when providing workplace training and services. We have noticed four approaches which are broad and differ from workplace to workplace, but which provide a starting point for discussion in planning workplace basic skills programs. We have further conceptualized these approaches as visual models. First, however, we'll discuss some general information about the workplace.

Preparing for Workplace Success

1. Understanding Who They Are and What Drives Them
We believe that models are helpful for determining options within work environments but can never be literally transposed between one environment and another&emdash;nor should they be. Each company reflects, as an individual does, unique characteristics which require unique responses from company ownership. When a college hires a new faculty member, it is important to the college that the faculty understands the student needs, services available on campus, the funding system, and more. Likewise, when working with clients it is important to understand their motivation and how their systems work. For example, is the company in a growth mode? If so, they may value speed, efficiency, and recruiting. Training may be a strong value. Or, is the company undergoing an internal transition, like ISO certification? If so, maybe the documentation process is important, with details and accuracy magnified.

2. Flexibility
Business is constantly changing. Part of serving industry is the ability to meet its ongoing demands. A company may have new management, be undergoing a merger, or it may have adapted a new training program, etc. This means that a company may call on Monday for training they would like to offer on Friday.They may delay or adjust class schedules four to six times based upon production needs or customer demands. Also, personnel changes happen regularly within industry, so building and rebuilding relationships is critical.

3. All Workplace Education is Outcome Based
Most training is provided because of a clear and evident need. The workplace often requests the instructor/consultant's expertise in designing training outcomes. Employers are paying for results, and if they aren't being delivered they will look elsewhere

4. Commitment to Individual and Collective Success
Industry is often portrayed as an evil entity which uses and victimizes people. From our experience this assumption is not true. Education within the workplace is often paid by the employer, so they have a high commitment to the individual and the team's success within the learning process. In Washington we're experiencing a low unemployment cycle. Within this environment, many employers are investing heavily in the education of their workforce.

The Four I's - Our Models

The Intensive Model
This model is traditional in that the delivery is classroom-based with an instructor. It combines both customized strategies and transferable skill strategies, but uses the traditional mode of delivery : the classroom. The benefits to the company include stable and predictable delivery which assists with planning work schedules. It allows for easy measurability with pre- and post-testing as part of a classroom environment.

We named this model intensive, as it has a clear purpose, clear outcome and path. This model is attractive to companies who want to convey a strong message to employees that their learning is important. It is also a powerful tool for tracking education movement from one class to the next in skill development. In addition, this model has a clear time frame of delivery from beginning, to middle, to end. This model is attractive to workplaces which put value on accessing tuition reimbursement for training.

An example of the model is a manufacturing client with a workforce of two thirds non-native speakers. The Work Keys and CASAS assessments were administered, and classes were set up in accordance with reading "levels." Individuals tested out of training and moved from one level to another based upon progress. A celebration party is given every six months honoring employees' movement from level to level.

The Immediate Model (see Figure 2, below)
This is the just-in-time model. It features a traditional class format, but focuses on an immediate need, such as a change of computer software or technical instruments. The immediate model is not necessarily sequential in nature, and typically has a short life and planning cycle. An example of this is a division within a large manufacturing company which requested training in reading, writing, and speaking for non-native English speakers. We designed a customized assessment and focused on auditing procedures. The classes were short term, focused, and with a specific outcome.

Figure 2 :

The Immediate Model (focused with a specific outcome)



The Integrated Model (see figure 3, below)
We visualize this model as a tapestry, where work and learning are interwoven. The basic skills program looks at what is happening in the workplace and how the program can support reaching the desired outcomes. Company efforts are viewed as opportunities to build basic skills. This model uses a range of strategies including peer tutors, learning centers, co-training, advising and short trainings.

The employees at an electronics company using this model are involved in team problem solving, certification tests, and written documentation of processes and problems. The educational consultant works with trainers to make their training sessions more effective. Peer tutors focus on individual and company needs. Books, company materials on tape, learning exercises, and computer programs are available for learners and tutors in the learning center. The consultant is available for basic skills assessment and educational counseling.


The Intervention Model (see Figure 4, right)
This model is " horizontal" in nature. The instructor can be at the workplace for one full day, which is extremely attractive to instructors. In lieu of classes, short skill modules are held, focusing on a concept, skill, or task. It is the responsibility of the individual learners to carry themselves throughout the week with complementary learning based upon a learning plan. Companies we work with who use the model typically have learning support in place such as computer based learning labs, resource libraries and learning partners.

A typical on-site day for one instructor began with a brief meeting with the in-house coordinator for a quick update and coordination. Three classes (CASAS level B, CASAS level C, and Work Keys level 3) were held, each targeting team skills needed at that workplace. More updating and planning was done during lunch with the in-house coordinator. Meetings with tutors or assessments of new employees were scheduled as needed.

Choosing a Model

These models have been helpful to us in describing options to clients. Before selecting a model, of course, one must do a needs assessment of the organization, and get a good understanding of the company. What is their product or service? What is their mission? What motivated them to contact you? What outcomes do they want? What are their expectations? Identify other company efforts and training. Get people involved from all levels. Ask them what would help a basic skills program succeed and what would get in the way. Locate key players at the company and encourage them to get involved in the design and support of the program. This will lay critical ground work for the program. Work together to select or adapt a model. Listening to your customer will be the key to your success.

For Further Reading:

LC 149.7 R68 1990
The Workplace Literacy Primer: an action manual for training and development professionals.
William J. Rothwell and Dale C. Brandenburg. Amherst, MA : Human Resource Development Press, 1990.
LC 149.7 C376 1990
Workplace Basics Training Manual.
Anthony Carnevale, et. al. San Francisco : Jossey-Bass, 1990.

Both titles are available for loan from the NWRLRC Resource Center Library.

Bonnie Barnard is the director of the Center for Business Education and Technology at Edmonds Community College. She has spent her career serving business and industry through various forms of education and workplace services. Her focus has been on workplace basic skills and ESL the past three years. She is the first Work Keys Service Center Administrator in the State of Washington.

Susan Bannan, M.S. Ed., has been involved with the development and delivery of workplace basic skills programs for eight different companies (one of her programs is beginning its eleventh year). Currently she works with both Edmonds Community College and South Seattle Community College.