The company employs nearly 160 employees and 60 contractors. Approximately 40 percent of all employees come from other countries and speak languages other than English as their first language. Because of the emphasis on safety and communication, the human resources (HR) manager at Palm Beach Resource Recovery Corp. recognized that basic English skills were essential to daily operations at the facility. She also realized that the company could play a role in improving employees’ skills. After providing in-house training for three years, the company contracted with the Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County (the Coalition) in 2003 to provide onsite English language instruction for employees.
The Coalition coordinates all literacy services for adults and children in the region and provides onsite basic and English literacy instruction for employers. In 2006–07, 312 employees and community adults, including employees of Palm Beach Resource Recovery Corp., participated in English and literacy programs sponsored by the Coalition.
"The great thing about working with the [Palm Beach County Literacy] Coalition is that now I can take my hands off and I don’t have to be as personally involved, but I know that they will do a good job."
When HR manager Carol Weyhe approached the company’s senior management about offering on-site English classes for employees, her proposal met very little resistance. She says, “I didn’t have to convince anyone. I just threw the idea out to management at a staff meeting, and they were supportive.” Frontline supervisors also supported Weyhe's proposal and expressed concern about their employees’ low literacy and English skills.
A workplace literacy manager at the Coalition recruits employers, interviews site managers, conducts workplace needs assessments, and hires instructors, making it easy for the Palm Beach Resource Recovery Corp. and other businesses interested in on-site instruction. One night a week for two hours, an instructor from the Coalition teaches basic English and general educational development (GED) classes for employees at the Palm Beach Resource Recovery Corp. The Coalition provides the instructor, materials, and assessment services for a minimal fee. The company recruits employees for the class and provides classroom space at its facility. The HR manager also provides support to the instructor and students as necessary. Presently, about eight employees attend classes regularly, a number that has fluctuated over the years depending on employees’ schedules and interest.
In addition to this partnership for workplace training, the company supports the Coalition’s overall mission by attending literacy events and providing some financial support. Every year, the company sponsors a table at the Coalition’s fund-raising event, the Love of Literacy Luncheon, which raises support for the Coalition's literacy activities and features prominent speakers and community members that have been positively affected by the Coalition's work.
Form a partnership with a literacy provider to improve employee skills and ensure that instruction is relevant to the workplace.
The company’s concern for clear communication, as pertained to employee safety, operations, and production efficiency was the motivation for bringing English instruction to the workplace at the Resource Recovery Corp. HR staff, therefore, work hard to ensure that what students learn in the classroom relates to their on-the-job safety and communication. To design the course, Weyhe worked closely with the Coalition’s instructor to contextualize the curriculum and make it relevant to daily operations at the waste facility. Students practice communicating on two-way radios supplied by the company and bring in their actual “check sheets” for operating equipment and other materials that they use regularly. The instructor incorporates these materials into basic literacy instruction.
Many students who enroll in English classes say that getting a promotion is their primary reason for improving their skills. The HR manager, therefore, has adopted a recruitment strategy that educates employees about the job-related benefits of improving their skills. She finds that these benefits, more than any others, motivate employees to enroll in the course, especially since literacy can be a difficult topic with which to approach adults. Weyhe includes bilingual notices about the classes in the company’s quarterly internal newsletter and hangs posters throughout the facility. At least five employees have been promoted since participating in the class.
Involve frontline supervisors.
When recruiting employees for classes, Weyhe also turns to the frontline supervisors, many of whom are bilingual and can emphasize the importance of enrolling in English courses to their employees. Because they work closely with entry-level employees, frontline supervisors can be helpful in setting a company’s business objectives regarding employee skills improvement. “It doesn’t work if it’s just management sitting around a table,” Weyhe notes. Supervisors know firsthand—or can find out—what types of support entry-level employees need and what communication difficulties they may encounter on the job.
Communicate regularly with adult education partners.
Constant communication between the employer and adult education partners is the key to an effective workplace literacy program. Palm Beach Resource Recovery Corp.’s HR manager speaks regularly with the Coalition’s instructor about all aspects of the program, including attendance, assessments, and curriculum development. Together they make any changes necessary to ensuring that classes meet the needs of both employer and employees. For example, enrollment has declined in recent years due to scheduling difficulties, so the partners decided to scale back the course from two nights to one night per week. Now more students can attend the class regularly. Through good communication and flexibility, business and adult education partners can provide effective workplace instruction for employees.
Benefits to Business
Some of the benefits to Palm Beach Resource Recovery Corp. of its partnership with the Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County include:
Benefits to Adult Education
Some of the benefits to the Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County of its partnership with Palm Beach Resource Recovery Corp. include:
The following resource has been compiled for further reading on topics related to business-adult education partnerships. A pop-up window with a link to and description of the resource will appear as you click on the title. Resources may be categorized below as: Business Partnerships (descriptions of the business-adult education partnerships referenced above); Partnership Profiles (related examples of other community partnerships); How-Tos (guides and tools for establishing partnerships); Research; the Case for Business Involvement; and Web Sites. A complete list of resources related to business-adult education partnerships is found in the Workforce Issues section on the C-PAL Web site.
Partnership ProfilesLiteracy Coalition of Palm Beach County
Community Partnerships for Adult Learning (C-PAL) Partnership Profiles