Employees Launch ESL Tutoring at the Workplace

By Stuart, Peggy | Personnel Journal, November 1994 | Go to article overview

Employees Launch ESL Tutoring at the Workplace


Stuart, Peggy, Personnel Journal


Most U.S. citizens take English for granted. But in states like California, where the immigrant population continues to increase, English is a second language for many. Recognizing that phenomenon and wanting to help, employees at Irvine, California-based Avco Financial Services came up with an idea that didn't start in HR. The resulting program, called Each One, Teach One. provides English as a second language (ESL) tutoring for employees who want to participate. The program is run by Capistrano Beach, California-based South Coast Literacy Council (SCLC), a not-for-profit organization that provides training for tutors and facilitates literacy and ES training in Southern California.

Since the program's inception in April 1993, 20 Avco employees have been trained to provide ESL tutoring, and 28 employees have received language instruction. Tutors can work with students individually or in small groups according to a mutually determined schedule. Avco's voluntary program offers help with:

* Pronunciation and conversation

* Reading and comprehension

* Writing skills and grammar

* Proficiency with tenses

* Intonation.

HR plays a vital role in literacy efforts. Although the program didn't originate with HR, human resources staff found out about the effort and recognized its potential value to the organization. Avco management already had some concerns about employees' literacy problems because many of the employees were immigrants from Mexico, Vietnam, Cambodia, Russia and Romania. Therefore, the need had been apparent during recruitment efforts. Also, some current employees--although well-educated individuals--still had difficulty filling out applications or communicating adequately during interviews for promotions. Sometimes, they didn't know the proper tenses and were unable to convey the right messages. In fact, HR's concern peaked after one woman was passed over for a promotion because of her poor writing and communication skills.

So, if there were such problems, why didn't Avco only hire applicants who already had adequate English-language skills? The reason for the company's openness is that today's population in Orange County--where the headquarters is based--is diverse. It's necessary for the company to have employees who have come from many different cultures because that diversity will be the makeup of Avco's growing customer population. Also, the company is expanding internationally, so having employees who can speak other languages can be a real benefit--if they communicate well in English.

An HR staffperson discussed the organization's literacy problems with an employee who had gone through a literacy program and who's now an English tutor in her spare time. Through this employee, HR learned about Avco employees' efforts to develop a literacy program. Interested individuals already had formed a literacy committee in 1991. A company literacy program seemed the best solution.

Today, the literacy committee is one of Avco's community-involvement committees, and HR is fully behind the effort, according to Teri Howes, senior programmer analyst for Avco. Howes, who had been an ESL tutor for three years, spearheaded the committee and was instrumental in getting the Each One, Teach One program off the ground in April 1993. "The response was overwhelming," she recalls.

Whether a program such as this originates with HR or is a grassroots movement, HR should play an active role. Its role as organizer of training programs and facilitator of communication can be useful to the employees' literacy efforts. HR professionals can act as liaisons between the people, the community and all the other departments.

Tutors can be more effective than classes because they can provide a type of instruction tat isn't possible to attain in large classes. Speakers of many other languages may have difficulty with English pronunciation because they don't use their tongues in the same way that English speakers do. …

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