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Workforce Focus

My boss showed me the tag line on an email from a major name in ESL education in Washington state:   Better skills.   Better jobs.  Building a better Washington.

The focus on ESL for job skills has been around for awhile, but it’s definitely gathering momentum in the funding world for non-profit literacy development agencies under the title Adult Education for Work, a subset of Adult Education.

Since Talk Time is my thing, I’ve been pondering the question, “How does a workplace focus fit in with something as free-floating and student-centered as Talk Time?”

One of my colleagues suggested that almost any conversation is useful in the workplace.  Work relationships are bolstered through break-time banter – hashing over current events, sports or “whatcha doin’ this weekend?”  Immigrants with growing English skills need to get in on the conversations.

A more targeted approach is to inquire about work and workplace issues as a conversation topic.  “What does the boss need to know about your work?  What do you wish the boss would tell you?  What are the strengths and weaknesses of your colleagues in meeting business objectives?  What are successes and challenges in your job?  What would you like to communicate to coworkers or management but can’t because of language limitations?”

Such discussions will help develop critical thinking skills as applied to the workplace – definitely a necessary skill for success both personally and corporately.

Also, personal stories from the workplace provide possibilities for role plays of critical communications to the boss or coworkers where Talk Time participants must summon the words, phrases and sentences to successfully communicate and take a step toward solving work problems.

You can play the “what if . .?” game with a workplace setting – for example, “What if your boss left the company?   Would you apply for his or her job?  Why or why not?”  This kind of activity may focus attention on basic or technical skills that can be acquired to provide readiness for a job promotion opportunity that may arise unexpectedly.

Everyone can apply the “what if” scenario to their own existing or hoped-for employment.   And apply the “what if” to very basic elements of work life:  “What if your car breaks down on the way to work?  What do you say on the phone to your boss?”   “What if you can’t get your task done by the deadline?  How do you communicate that to coworkers or your boss?” 

In a hotel setting, my students talked about the issues in answering a phone call from the boss asking, “Can you work today?  When can you come in?”  The students talked about their various situations – 5 minutes or 50 minutes from work, and the uncertainty of bus schedules.  We role played the phone call for lots of different situations generated by the students.  It was still a student-centered experience focused on fluency but very work-focused with specific applicable results that could applied in the next work week.

Even those not in the labor force can contribute by playing “what if the breadwinner in your family lost his or her job?  What would or could happen next?  How would you advise him or her?” 

It can only be gain when non-working family members recognize the importance of encouraging the working family members and applying their own critical thinking skills for the good of the whole family.

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