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What is GET AHEAD ?


GET AHEAD, is the delivery of a broad range of training programs that increase job knowledge, develop skills, and influence behavior.

The focus is on employee task development, strategic and tactical implementations, and employee personal growth and development.

For the complete Get Ahead Handbook:


Workforce literacy, as a movement, has gained serious recognition in the past decade and has emerged as a major topic for discussion among business and literacy leaders. The fields of adult workplace literacy and workforce literacy have gained attention essentially because of a pervasive concern in American business regarding inadequate literacy skills in the workplace. The negative effects of low literacy in the workforce are financially significant to both employee and employer, and employers share concerns that their workforce will not be prepared for the technological advances of the future. Rapid labor market changes have created urgency among employers, requiring attention to skill deficiencies (Levenson, 2001, 2004).

While a national concern has surfaced about the number of marginally literate or under-skilled employees in America’s workplace, tremendous loss in productivity looms because of the lack of literacy in the workplace. Such loss in productivity is not the only cost associated with an undereducated workforce. Besides spending billions of dollars annually on remedial reading, writing, and computation skills, individuals bear considerable personal cost. The individual dignity of undereducated workers is diminished and their self-esteem is undermined (Alliance for Excellent Education [AEE], 2009).

In many workplaces in the United States, the need to train and educate today’s worker in literacy and job skills is clear, allowing workers to gain and maintain useful employment. Adult learners of language and literacy are quite diverse. They are high-school dropouts, underprepared college students, new immigrants who need to learn English as a second language (ESL), out-of-work Americans who need basic language and literacy skills, and mature adult employees who need to upgrade their language and literacy skills in the wake of changes in their work environments (Donohue, 2006; Hunter & Harman, 1979, 1985; Jurmo, 2004).

The United States also has an increasing need for workers, whether native, immigrant, or outsourced, to improve their English language skills, so they can keep current and knowledgeable in an ever-changing work environment. This need is not being met (Bates & Phelan, 2002).

My dissertation was a study of adult learning theory, marginal literacy in the workplace, and work-based training:

“The end product of workplace education programs is an empowered and better-skilled employee ready to not only bring excellence to the workplace but to dream realistic dreams regarding career and education goals as well as job advancement. This process then reflects a remarkable return on investment.”

Barbara Edwards, Coordinator

The Johns Hopkins Hospital Skills Enhancement Program


Program Design

Work-based training provides a strongly communicative approach that fosters language development and use through integrated skills practice, task- and project-based lessons, and extensive opportunity for collaborative learning experiences and authentic interactions.

Sagastizado (2010) noted that improved literacy can help workers become more productive and understand the value of being at work on time, the value of their production, and how to compute better. When non-English speaking immigrants have the opportunity to learn to speak English, they are likely to make fewer mistakes at work.

Work-based literacy and work-based ESL classes help employees to improve the quality of their work, reduce errors in the workplace, improve communication, and improve their capacity to use new technology. The classes help some obtain better jobs as they become more independent. Employees are more likely to be invested in a job where they feel they are part of the company and are appreciated (Sagastizado, 2010)

The process for implementing the GET AHEAD program is as follows:

An employer's advisory committee identifies the critical tasks where improvement is needed.

Step One: An employer's advisory committee identifies the critical tasks where improvement is needed.

Step Two: A Learning & Development Specialist recommends, designs, and facilitates development interventions based on business need.

Step Three: The specialist meets with administrators, managers, trainers, and so forth to determine the needs of the stakeholders. A needs assessment is conducted.

Step Four: The GET AHEAD Learning and Development Specialist meets with all involved to determine exactly how to meet the needs of all stakeholders.


One such company, Bartlesville’s Hampton Inn, is employing a growing number of limited English speaking housekeepers.

Trudy Green, directorof the Bartlesville Adult Learning Center, has found the Hampton Inn to be an excellent opportunity to develop a work-based education program which focuses on English as a Second Language (ESL).

Since the implementation of the ESL work-based class, Emily Oswald, general manager of the Bartlesville Hampton Inn, says she has noticed that the housekeepers understand her instructions more easily and can answer more questions from guests. Both Green and Oswald agree that the biggest challenge is the housekeepers’ shyness to practice their English-speaking in public.

The class, in its second year, meets in the Hampton Inn conference room during lunch time. Green states that, "these classes are not regular ESL classes but focus on the vocabulary and phrases that pertain to the job of a housekeeper.” Teachers shadowed housekeepers during several shifts, learning the keywords and phrases important for a person performing that job. The teachers noted the vocabulary for furniture, linens, and the cleaning process as well as the location of the pool, vending machines, and newspapers. Teachers developed a curriculum to meet the needs of Hampton Inn, focusing on workplace and literacy skills. According to Green, one of the first challenges was finding the best time for the class to meet. “Lunch time has been best—most weeks!” said Green. “We have had to be flexible and change days of the week sometimes to accommodate large groups staying at the hotel when the housekeepers simply could not get away all at once. We have also had to meet in the breakroom while the conference room was filled with items to redecorate the hotel. However, the hotel has been wonderful to find meeting space and allow the housekeepers to bring their lunches and attend class.” According to Green, both flexibility and excellent communication with management are indispensable when partnering with a company to offer work-based classes.

Teaching Adult Learners

The following outlines key instructional practices embodied in work-based literacy and work-based ESL. They reflect current “best practices” and understanding of what is most effective with adult learners, research in second language acquisition, and the instructional standards currently most prominent in the field.

Adult learners accumulate experiences that help adult learners learn and retain new information. Work-based education, and more importantly, work-based ESL, brings about error reduction in the workplace and improved capacity to use new technology. The well-planned program provides experiences that prepare adult literacy learners for work. Learning specialists consider and make the most of learners’ current work situations, the business’ needs, and the respective roles of each (Sagastizado, 2010).

Sagastizado (2010) noted that adults are:

(a) moving from dependency toward self-direction, (b) life experiences help one understand new information, (c) looking for new knowledge to fulfill societal roles, (d) that adults seek immediate relevance for their learning, (e) they want incentives for taking classes, and (f) scheduling difficulties must be addressed.

Scheduling was the biggest issue that faced the employees in the research that Dr. S conducted. When employees have to forfeit class in order to meet work needs, there was a high level of frustration.

Consequently, much care has to be given to the scheduling of classes and participation of employees. 


  • Improve Employee Productivity.

  • Better employee/manager communication.

  • Fewer employee errors.

  • To improve the quality of work.

  • To promote English language learning.

  • Improve the employee’s capacity to use new technology.

  • Higher employee loyalty to the company. 

E and F especially, needs to be addressed at the beginning of the program. Dr. Sagastizado’s research showed that if the employee goes to the class during work time; that is incentive enough.

Nonetheless, if the employee is required to go to class on their own time, incentives must be given. 

Class Structure

Interactive. Active learning provides opportunities for students to talk and listen, read, write, and reflect, as they approach course content through problem-solving exercises, informal small-group simulations, case studies, role-playing, and other activities, all of which require them to apply what they are learning (Meyers & Jones, 1993, p. xi). It is this interactivity that creates the learning environments of most ESL classrooms around the country.

Communicative. Larsen-Freeman (1983, p. 128–130) defined communicative approach as one in which “the target language is a vehicle for classroom communication, not just the object of study. . . . Communicative interaction encourages cooperative relationships among students. It give students an opportunity to work on negotiating meaning.”

“Cooperative learning works by generating varied paths of access of language and academic knowledge based on students’ interactions with each other and with the teacher. It is a way to empower them to deal with new information and forms of communication. In classrooms whose linguistic and cultural diversity are common, cooperative learning promises some of the flexibility to help students and teachers make the process of instruction more varied and personally engaging, and thus, more effective.” (McGroarty, 1993, p. 45.)

Problem-posing and Problem-solving. The purpose is to promote critical thinking and action. To learn how to manage time and make good decisions.

Encouraging cultural literacy. Helping learners develop tools -- not just language but cultural understanding and familiarity with community resources -- to function more effectively outside the classroom.


Accommodating and flexible. Different learner backgrounds and different learning styles are served through clear explanations; carefully designed practice and open-ended activities; individual, pair, and group activities; work that involves all language modalities (listening, speaking, reading, writing), and tasks that actively occupy learning.

Provide accountability.

Dr. S incorporates all the above in media-filled, hands on, not boring training sessions. Dr. S’s training sessions combine media, group activities, individual critical thinking, media, humor, etc. Dr. S will always search for the best of the best, whether it is a video, a life changing principle, or simply a fun way to engage the learner.

Eventually, Dr. Sagastizado would incorporate elearning tools to have some training, assessments, games, and learning available online.

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Assessment and Evaluation in Adult Work-based ESL Programs

Assessment of a program refers to the use of procedures and instruments to gather information on the strengths and weakness of any given program on a regular basis (Van Duzer & Holt, 2000).

Evaluation refers to interpreting and analyzing data at any given point in time, usually for the purpose of improving and documenting outcomes of the program (Van Duzer & Holt, 2000).

For current purposes, there are many assessment instruments that can be used for evaluation purposes: the TABE for ABE learners and the BEST Plus or BEST Literacy for ESL learners.

However, for business programs, stakeholders want to know about the implementation and success of the program. Funders of the program are concerned with how the money is spent and if the outcomes justify the funds allotted.

In evaluating adult basic education and ESL programs, Alamprese and Kay (1993) suggested that quantifiable indicators of a program’s success could include learner retention, learner promotion to higher levels of learning, or learners’ transition to jobs or better jobs. Other factors that are not easily quantifiable are increased self-esteem, along with an increase in participation in the community and school.

Likewise, if an evaluation of workplace program outcomes showed that learners had increased participation in work teams, better job attendance, and a willingness to learn new skills, the program would have successful outcomes.

Burt and Saccomano (1995) called evaluation a complex process that should involve all stakeholder groups and that evaluation must be “an integral part of workplace ESL instructional programs before, during, and after the programs have been completed. It can increase program effectiveness by providing valuable information about the impact of programs and highlighting areas where improvement is needed” (¶ 3).

The stakeholders, who can include the employers, labor unions, participants, teachers, and funders, determine how to conduct an evaluation. Stakeholders’ stated goals, expected outcomes for the program, and resources available are all criteria for evaluating an ESL program.

As Burt and Saccomano stated, ” As stakeholders may have different, possibly conflicting goals, it is important to clarify these goals and achieve a consensus beforehand as to which goals are most important to examine with the available resources” (Fitz-Gibbon & Morris, 1987).

Therefore, Dr. Sagastizado would need to meet with company stakeholders to map out a plan of action, to determine indicators, outcomes, goals, and so forth.


The following stakeholder groups: ESL adult learners, instructors, administrators, and managers will come together to create, implement, and plan a work-based ESL training program. Class structure, adult learning theory, assessment, and evaluation strategies will all be utilized.

The results will be determined that the participants will indeed; develop basic English skills to meet the literacy needs of workers. Additionally, the program will be designed to interact with a company’s other programs for safety and training, which is especially useful.

The program understands the significance of connecting workplace vocabulary and literacy classes to provide a ready-made source of relevant, meaningful material for the adult students, serve employees more effectively, and yield greater benefits to the employer through: fewer employee errors, better communication, and higher employee loyalty to the company.

Such workplace ESL programs that are conducted on the work premises, in order to function well; must work in partnership within companies that recognize their value and assist employees in scheduling their participation.


Alamprese, J. A., & Kay, A. (1993). Literacy on the cafeteria line: Evaluation of skills enhancement training program. Washington, DC: COSMOS Corporation.

Alliance for Excellent Education. (2009, August) The high cost of high school dropouts: What the nation pays for inadequate high schools. Retrieved February 20, 2010, from

Bates, R., & Phelan, K. (2002). Characteristics of a globally competitive workforce. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 4(2), 121–132.

Burt, M., & Saccomano, M. (1995). Evaluating workplace ESL instructional programs. ERIC Digest. Retrieved April 2, 2008, from .htm

Donohue, T. J. (2006). The state of American business. Washington, DC: Chamber of Commerce.

Hunter, C., & Harman, D. (1979, 1985). Adult illiteracy in the United States: A report to the Ford Foundation. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Jurmo, P. (2004). Workplace literacy education: Definitions, purposes, and approaches. Focus on Basics, 7(B). Retrieved April 13, 2006, from /?id=629

Larsen-Freeman, D. (1983). Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching, Oxford University Press.

Levenson, A. (2001). Investing in workers’ basic skills: Lessons from company-funded workplace-based programs. Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy.

Levenson, A. (2004). Why do companies provide workplace education programs? Review of Adult Learning and Literacy, 4(3). Retrieved January 1, 2008, from

McGroarty, M. (1993). Cooperative Learning and Second Language Acquisition, in Cooperative Learning, A Response to Linguistic and Cultural Diversity, ed. Daniel Holt, Center for Applied Linguistics.

Meyers and Jones, (1993). Promoting Active Learning.

Putnam, R. T., & Borko, H. (2000). What do new views on knowledge and thinking have to say about research on teacher training? Educational Researcher, 29(1),4–15.

Sagastizado, T. (2010). A phenomenological study of Oklahoma’s widening opportunities in the workplace (WOW) program.

Van Duzer, C., & Holt, D. (2000). Assessing success in family literacy and adult ESL. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.

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