THE MIDLANDS LITERACY INITIATIVE AND ITS PARTNERS
As one of its first activities, the MLI board surveyed the needs of local industries. Industries in the Midlands were accustomed to using high school or GED diplomas as screening tools for hiring, but, as one employer observes, "I wish that everyone had a high school diploma or GED. However, that doesn't always translate into skilled employees." Some employers did not realize how many of their own employees had low literacy levels.
The MLI committee for curriculum development performed a job-skills needs assessment for local industries, and those responding generally identified a need for improved basic skills among their entry-level employees. Based on these responses, the committee created a "Manufacturing Needs Matrix" to categorize and compare skills across seven different industries. The matrix showed a need for practical skills, such as measurement, graphing, and computer skills, which would be directly applicable in the workplace. Skills identified in the matrix became the basis for units in the MLI curriculum.
Besides asking employers to review the matrix, the MLI talked directly with them, discussing the types of skills their employees needed. MLI members also reviewed workplace literacy programs and curricula, but found many of them too generic. They developed their own curriculum based on job profiles, task analyses, and advice from supervisors and workers. The MLI's approach encourages employers to judge employees on the basis of their actual skills, instead of just their education credentials or lack thereof.
The MLI Workplace Skills Curriculum is a twelve-week, modular curriculum that can be tailored to specific industries. Instructors use materials taken directly from the business itself to adapt each MLI unit. The units address, for example, teamwork, specific workplace skills, and safety and technology in the workplace, with an emphasis on mathematics, functional reading, basic problem solving, and communication. Pre- and post-tests and unit quizzes are aligned with the curriculum. Employees completing the course earn certificates detailing the skills they have mastered—skills that they hope will lead to a promotion or better job. To view the instructor's guide for "Industry Skills Needed for the Workplace," go to the South Carolina Partnership Profile Summary.
EMPLOYERS SUPPORT THE MLI
In addition to serving on the advisory board, Columbia's employers support and participate in the MLI. Sixteen companies promised to interview MLI graduates. Nine companies sponsored workplace literacy programs and allowed employees to participate during paid work time. Six companies provided referrals to encourage workers to participate in adult education programs; six provided plant tours to both instructors and participants; and four companies helped train instructors.
To ensure the quality of the program, the MLI worked with the state adult education agency to develop a training program for workplace instructors, recognizing that teaching adults in the workplace demands different skills from those used in more traditional settings. Now instructors statewide are trained and certified to teach in the workplace. Although the MLI curriculum is not used statewide, the state adult education staff were involved in its development and have modeled other workplace education curricula after the MLI's structure, approach, and content. In addition, the MLI curriculum has influenced the South Carolina's State Adult Education and Family Literacy Plan, mandated by the federal Workforce Investment Act. MLI board members worked with former director of adult education, Dr. Samuel Drew, and other adult education experts to shape the state plan, including such ideas as certification for workplace instructors and using contextual materials in curriculum.
Over thirty local businesses, such as Honeywell International, Palmetto Health Alliance, and Louis Rich/ Kraft Foods, helped design the MLI's workplace curriculum. They also host job-training programs, provide in-kind donations, and serve on the MLI board. Those using the MLI curriculum include Louis Rich/ Kraft Foods and the Palmetto Health Alliance. Louis Rich/Kraft Foods revamped its training program in Newberry based on the MLI model.
At Palmetto Health, Richland One instructors conduct a customized version of the MLI program on-site, bringing together all types of employees, such as managers, nursing assistants, receptionists, janitors, and x-ray technicians. Employees are granted up to 80 hours of paid training time each year, which can be used for the MLI job skills course. The program lasts for eleven weeks, with ten to twenty participants in each course. Palmetto hosts a graduation ceremony for workers who complete the program. Palmetto administrator Cynthia Walters says that she sees the benefits of the program to workers in the "gleam in their eyes." Kathy Olson estimates that more than 1,500 workers have participated in the workplace literacy programs.
GETTING THE RIGHT FIT
When employees enroll in the Palmetto Health Alliance workplace education program, program staff meet with the supervisors from their departments. They ask about the knowledge and skills the employees need and the type of tasks they complete, and then they adapt the curriculum based on this information. This ensures that the curriculum is relevant to each employee and meets the needs of the hospital. Seeking this guidance from supervisors has had the additional benefit of increasing their support for the program.
MLI's partnership with the Family Dollar retail store allowed both partners to expand their capacity; Family Dollar increased its employee training offerings and MLI added retail to the industries it serves. Karl Haigler, a representative for Family Dollar, approached the MLI and the Midlands One-Stop with an idea for an innovative program to help train and promote employees. Hoping to curb high turnover among its management ranks, Family Dollar wanted internal training for current employees to become assistant store managers. MLI, the Midlands One-Stop, and the State Workforce Resource Center, a division of the South Carolina Department of Education, led a national demonstration project for Family Dollar called the Major Urban Strategic Training initiative (MUST).
Columbia was a pilot site for MUST. The One-Stop recruited and screened potential participants, performing interviews and assessments at an on-site mobile testing unit. Those who did not pass the initial screening were referred to adult education classes appropriate to their skill levels. Although retail was a new area for the MLI, which had previously focused on manufacturing, the MLI board saw this as an opportunity to expand its services. The program enrolled its first participants in late 2001 and, a year later, 50 had graduated.
The MLI worked with Family Dollar to design the program and customize the curriculum to include retail topics, such as creating store displays and providing customer satisfaction, in addition to basic literacy instruction. Company executives were so impressed with the quality of the program that Family Dollar is in the process of expanding this workplace training initiative to their other stores in major urban areas.