Monday, July 14, 2008

THERE IS A RIGHT WAY AND A WRONG WAY TO TEACH WORK READINESS

When I was hired to develop a work readiness curriculum in 2002 there were already a number of established work readiness training programs. With employers complaining very loudly about the lack of job skills and poor workplace behaviors by their employees in focus groups throughout the country, I knew I had to develop more than a curriculum; I needed to create a new way to deliver work readiness training.


First, let’s look at traditional programs.


TRADITIONAL PROGRAMS


Practically all work readiness training programs follow program models used in education. That means that they are assessment based. FCAT, SAT, certification exams, etc. determine success.


In fact, assessment tests have become so important that schools not only teach students knowledge, but teach students how to take tests. They must. After all, funding is often tied to their students’ performances on tests such as the FCAT. Certainly many high school juniors and seniors enroll in courses to help them learn how to improve their SAT scores. And this is not just the case with kids. How many construction management schools, real estate schools, and even schools to help with the BAR exam for attorneys are out there? Theses schools teach their students how to take and pass tests.


What does this mean? It means that if a student truly knows only 55% of the required knowledge but can reduce the other questions to a possible 1 in 3 choice, the laws of probability conclude that the student’s expected result on the test is 70%.


Even worse, if a student truly knows only 60% of the required knowledge but can reduce the other questions to a possible 1 in 2 choice, the laws of probability conclude that the student’s expected result on the test is 80%. That means a student whose knowledge base is an “F” (60% was failing grade when I went to school), appears to be a “B” student.


While educators cling to the argument that assessment tests are good indicators of knowledge, no one can make that case when dealing with job skills and behaviors.


As an example let’s use the following question:


If you wake up in the morning and your car will not start, you should:


A. Have made prior arrangements with a coworker who lives in your neighborhood to serve as an emergency ride to work.


Whether because of actual knowledge or eliminating answers like, “take as many days off of work as you need to get your car fixed”, someone answering this question correctly does not mean that that is the behavior he/she will follow if this situation actually happened to him/her. Work readiness training is NOT about answering questions correctly. It’s about doing the right thing in the workplace. That is accomplished through a curriculum that not only teaches what is expected in the workplace, but why that skill/behavior is important in the workplace, and uses real life examples that everyone can relate to outside of the workplace to illustrate key points. In work readiness training, it is the journey (curriculum) that is the key, not the final destination (assessment test). This is because success is measured in the attitudes changed and instilled in participants, not on how much work readiness knowledge they possess.


While this may be obvious to you and me, it isn’t obvious to the powers that be. For example, instead of investing in a structured program that would produce high-quality employees that employers could rely on, states either independently or in groups have decided to spend funds on generating work readiness credentials through assessment testing. They appear to care more about formulating the perfect question, than the perfect learning tool. Just check out multi-state programs like the one at workreadiness.com or single state programs like the one at floridareadytowork.com to see how way off track states are regarding developing people who are truly ready to work. Their work readiness certification tests are at best an indicator for possible success and at worst a false hope for the business community that hires the “credentialed graduates.”


MY PHILOSOPHY


I have been developing and fine-tuning my work readiness training program and philosophy since 2002. Below is a list of the key components of what I know is the correct way to implement a work readiness training program.


(1) A set curriculum that not only teaches what is expected, but why that skill/behavior is important in the workplace, and uses real life examples that everyone can relate to outside of the workplace to illustrate key points. By clearly defining important workplace skills and behaviors, and informing participants why those skills and behaviors are important to employers, the program sets a baseline of understanding and changes attitudes and behaviors. A set curriculum is also important so that employers that are hiring the graduates can see exactly what is covered in the program, and can rely on graduates no matter what venue they attend.


(2) The key assessments are not tests, but demonstrated competencies. For example, a participant demonstrates the ability to not be tardy by never being late to class, never extending breaks, and always returning on time from lunch, not by answering a question like, “When is it okay to be late to work?” In addition, case studies, role plays and in-class exercises are used to verify participants’ competency in various job skills and workplace behaviors.


(3) Once demonstrated competencies are established, participants must pass all of them to obtain certification. While 90% sounds like a high score, it gives the wrong impression to the participants. It “says” it is okay to do most of these required behaviors and skills. It also gives the impression that in performing these skills and behaviors they are going “above and beyond.” For example, the person that passed 90% will feel he/she is “better” than the person who scored “80%”, instead of feeling that he/she is coming up short and needs to improve. All of these competencies are expected to be part of an employee’s basic skill set by employers.


(4) The competency statements must be very well defined. There should be no leeway given to individual instructors in scoring pass/fail on competencies.


(5) The classroom should be run like a place of business. An “employee handbook” should be given out on day one outlining company policies and workplace comportment and the participants should be held accountable immediately. The instructor is the boss, and the participants are co-workers, not classmates or friends. Since different bosses have different management styles, and the workplace is constantly changing, having different instructors for different topics can add value to the program by forcing the participants to deal with change.


(6) The main clients for the program are NOT the participants. It is the business community. Therefore, the instructors’ main goal is to develop and ultimately screen prospective employees for employers. This is very different from typical classroom and Job Center roles where the goal is to develop the person in class to the best of their ability, and then present that customer/client in the best light possible to help him/her get a job. If programs are centered on the participants, the business community will not be able to rely on the meaning of “graduation”, which will ultimately render the program useless to employers. By centering on the business community as the main client, the expectations of employers will match the performance of its new employees which will result in a demand for program graduates.


While some programs may claim that the business community is the main client, it is not the program administrators who are making the claim that is the key to that philosophy; it is the instructors who embrace that role in class who are the keys. If an instructor allows participants to slide through who have not truly demonstrated all competencies as depicted exactly in the competency statements, then the program no longer has the business community as its main client.


(7) This is why instructor training, on the curriculum and the program philosophy is critical to the success of a work readiness program.


(8) As you can see my program philosophy is very intricate and everything must work in concert to ensure optimal success. Therefore, in addition to instructor training, there must be instructor audits. One such audit is a final “certification test”. However, unlike education programs, the certification test for this program is primarily an audit on instructors, not the key item in awarding a work readiness certificate to program participants. In fact, only participants that pass all demonstrated competencies should be allowed to take the test. As such, a very high percentage of participants that take the simple “certification test” should pass it. If an instructor has a significant number that fail; that is an indication that that instructor needs re-training or is passing participants that are truly not demonstrating competency.


MY BOOK


In April of this year I had a book published by Outskirts Press. The book is called, How to Get, Keep, and Be Well Paid in a Job (click here for the book’s web site).


My intent in writing this book was to provide readers with information vital to helping them get, keep and make good money in their jobs. However, knowing what to do is not enough. This book covers why workplaces operate as they do, and uses real-life comparisons outside of the workplace that everyone can relate to, in order to help illustrate key points (e.g. my chapter on interviewing is called, “The First Date” and compares the job interview process with dating).

Simply put, this book is a work readiness/job skills guide which is an enlightening and attitude-changing read. After reading this book, the reader will understand how workplaces operate, why specific behaviors and skills are important to employers, and have a road map to forge a career rather than just hold a job. Best of all, this book accomplishes all this using a writing style that is light-hearted, fun, and easy-to-read, rather than a typical straight-forward, hard-to-get through textbook.


If you have a work readiness program, or want to develop one, I highly recommend you click on the link above and check out my book. It is the perfect book for both teachers of work readiness and students learning work readiness.


MY HISTORY IN WORK READINESS


As I mentioned previously, in 2002 I was hired to develop a work readiness curriculum that I grew into a work readiness program.


The program I developed was called the best work readiness program in the Country by the National Skills Standard Board at a presentation of the Program in Jacksonville, Florida on 01/13/03.


The results from my initial client far exceeded those of other work readiness programs. Employers lined up to hire the graduates and found that over 85% of the graduates remained employed six months later, and over 30% received promotions.


Initially I trained all instructors and I audited the program. Over time, my instructor training program has been modified greatly to emphasis my new, formal program philosophy. Existing venues do not have this new instructor training process, and to my knowledge, never fully implemented my instructor audits. The primary reason for me not being on hand to implement program and curriculum changes was because of deep budget cuts in the Workforce Development Board System. Therefore, I was not able to be retained as the program spread to Job Centers throughout the Country including Pennsylvania, Florida, Illinois, Texas and Massachusetts.


While venues using my curriculum and portions of my program are better than most other programs (if not all), they are still not optimal since I have gained more insight and have modified the program structure, curriculum and philosophy significantly over time.


NEXT STEPS


Please contact me at JayGoldberg@DTRConsulting.BIZ (write work readiness program in the subject line to ensure your email is not discarded as junk mail) or leave a message for me at 561-842-9942 and I will return your call if you want me to review your work readiness program, transform your work readiness program into a program using my philosophy, want me to create a custom work readiness (or any other) training program, or if you want to use my standard work readiness program.

2 comments:

A A Rasheed said...

I like the articles on this blog. Well as a training developer i have to face these challenges day by day, for specially on the job training activities. Actually some of your articles really helped me.

Jay Goldberg said...

Thank you, I'm glad they are helping you.