Occupational English Language Requirements - Hammond ...

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1. Occupational English Language. Requirements for. Labourers in Food Processing Plants. A Research Project and Pilot Study for. Alberta Employment ...
Occupational English Language Requirements for Labourers in Food Processing Plants A Research Project and Pilot Study for Alberta Employment, Immigration and Industry

Karen Hammond & Tara Holmes Hammond & Associates Inc. September 2007


Executive Summary Introduction An increasing number of employers and industries in Alberta are seeking to address the challenges of a very tight labour market in the province by bringing in workers under the federal Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program. These workers, after a period of time, may apply for permanent residency in Canada through the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) administered by Alberta Employment, Immigration and Industry (EII) if their employer is willing to offer them continued employment. One of the factors that the province wants to consider in the employee’s candidacy for the PNP is their English language proficiency. In response, EII funded the Occupational English Language Requirements for Labourers in Food Processing Plants project to develop, pilot and document a process for developing Occupational English Language Requirements for Temporary Foreign Workers wishing to apply for the Provincial Nominee Program. Project Overview The objectives of this project were to: 1. Develop, pilot and document a methodology for developing Occupational English Language Requirements for one occupation or occupational cluster. 2. Pilot the process with labourers employed in the food and beverage processing industry in Alberta. 3. Define the English language proficiency requirements of the occupation as a range of Canadian Language Benchmarks for four skills: speaking, listening, reading and writing. 4. Write a report documenting the outcomes and recommendations of the pilot project. 5. Create a Guidebook for Developing Occupational English Language Requirements that includes lessons learned, best practices and templates for developing English standards for other occupations and industries. The Alberta Food Processors Association (AFPA) agreed to manage the project with funding and support provided by EII and the four largest meat processors in Alberta: • • • •

Cargill Foods Ltd., High River Lakeside (Tyson Foods) Ltd., Brooks Maple Leaf Poultry (Maple Leaf Foods Inc.), Edmonton Olymel S.E.C./L.P., Red Deer

The project was conducted by Karen Hammond of Hammond & Associates Inc. and Tara Holmes of Tara Holmes & Associates, based in Calgary. With the assistance of an Edmonton-based researcher, the team conducted research in six plants in Edmonton, Calgary and rural Alberta involved in meat (beef, pork and poultry) processing or the production of baked goods. The plants ranged in size from employers of 60 to employers of 1800. Three of the plants have had temporary foreign workers for anywhere from a few months to three years and the remaining are in the process of bringing in TFWs from a range of counties, including the Philippines, Mexico, China, the Ukraine, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic.


At each plant, consultants conducted interviews with labourers, supervisors, union representatives, English as a Second Language instructors and other key personnel involved with the Temporary Foreign Workers. They conducted speaking/listening assessments, collected and analyzed reading and writing samples and spent time observing the speaking/listening interactions of labourers. The purpose of the visits was to determine the language skills that are required to work competently as a labourer in food processing plants. Key Findings Initially, this project was focused on defining Occupational English Language Requirements purely in terms of the English language proficiency required of persons employed as labourers in the food processing industry. However, language competence is only one of several interrelated competencies that will together define how much English is required to work safely and competently. Furthermore, competence in each of these areas is significantly affected by the level of support provided in the workplace context. It became apparent, therefore, that defining the benchmarks for the occupation could only be done in concert with defining other equally important requirements. That is, defined benchmarks are a reasonable and safe level of proficiency only if the other requirements are met. To the degree that other requirements are not met, the benchmark required will need to be proportionately higher. Requirement #1: English Language Proficiency The recommended benchmarks for English language proficiency required to work safely and competently as a labourer in a food processing plant without regular need for translation/interpretation are as follows: Major Skill























Routine tasks are the typical, daily requirements of the job, where communication is limited to the familiar, concrete and repetitive vocabulary, topics and norms of interaction. Communication “spikes” are points/circumstances where higher levels of proficiency are required. These occur at irregular but important and often unpredictable points, including: • new hire orientation • training – especially formal, classroom instruction • medical/health concerns • introduction of technical material, specialized content • disciplinary/performance or interpersonal problems Setting a required benchmark for entry into the Provincial Nominee Program has numerous implications for assessment at all stages: in-country screening, upon arrival,


mid-term, and when applying for entry to the PNP. There is a need to develop more readily available assessment tools for these purposes.

Requirement #2: English Language Support Workers can work safely and competently at lower levels of English language proficiency if there are certain and readily available supports to bridge the language gap, including: •

People who can serve as translators and interpreters at critical points

Translations of critical documents – translation of key documents into the major language groups represented in the workforce

Simplified, plain language documentation and communication – from employee handbooks to pre-op checklists to general memos, principles of plain language would be well applied in auditing and revising writing to “meeting them halfway” - presenting information in a useable, engaging and easily navigable format.

Training design and delivery tailored to a multilingual audience – selecting teaching methodology and materials well-suited to learners with limited language skills; interactive, allowing practice of productive and receptive skills

Supportive involvements – transfer of learning from ESL instruction depends on early, frequent and meaningful application outside of the learning environment. Enlisting the support of other workers or members of the wider community can go a long ways to enhancing the effectiveness of ESL instruction.

Requirement #3: English Language Instruction Setting a language benchmark that the Temporary Foreign Worker must achieve in order to stay in Canada through the Provincial Nominee Program greatly escalates the importance of expert and effective ESL instruction for these workers. For workers whose English language skills are at CLB 3 or less, English language instruction is critical in order to acquire sufficient proficiency to be able to work competently and safely. For those who are working in the CLB 4 – 5 range, English language instruction is also extremely important in expanding the range of everyday workplace interactions that can be handled with confidence. For those working at CLB 67, an initial period of communication support that focuses on intercultural communication and participation in the workplace and community could provide significant support for the transition to the Canadian workplace. A recent study of rates of language acquisition indicates that for adult immigrants who have a high school education it takes an average of 300-350 hours of instruction to progress one benchmark level in listening and speaking ability1. If workers have six hours a week of instruction, then they would only be able to progress one full level after 50 weeks. It is essential, therefore, that every hour of instruction pays a solid return on this investment in terms of proficiency gains. What are the elements of good quality ESL instruction? 1 Watt, D., Benchmarking Adult Rates of Second Language Acquisition & Integration: How long? How fast? 2004.


Qualified instructors – ideally: certified with ATESL and a graduate of a recognized university TESL program with experience in teaching adult ESL and preferably contextualized ESL such as English in the Workplace or English for specific purposes. In communities where this expertise is not readily available, this role may be filled by individuals with proven skills in teaching and instructional design who receive specific training in how to teach English in and for a workplace context.

Tailored curriculum – topics that are relevant to the workers (their work context, their community, their living situation); focusing on communicative competence; focusing on Speaking and Listening skills

Engaging and interactive delivery – these individuals are under incredible pressures, working long hours at physically demanding jobs, separated from their families and adjusting to a new culture and climate. There is no room for boring lessons or frivolous games that demonstrate no relevance to concrete, worthwhile objectives.

Effective learning materials – handouts, lessons, workbooks that are tailored to the needs and level of the learners

Effective assessment – summative and formative, to regularly monitor progress and ensure the learners are moving toward their targets

Strategies for transfer of learning – involving supervisors, co-workers, even the wider community (as in the case of one plant in this study) in facilitating early and frequent application of learning outside of the classroom

Cross-cultural communication strategies – building awareness of cultural assumptions and approaches to cultural differences; teaching cultural norms and expectations as well as strategies for mediating differences.

Joint support of union and management who work as partners to ensure workers maximize the benefit of the opportunity for ESL instruction and/or understand the consequences of poor attendance or participation.

Requirement #4: Workplace Support Reconsidering the design of the workflow, the distribution of work and assignment of tasks is another key strategy in managing a multicultural workforce challenged by language barriers. Is there a way to reconfigure the process to minimize the reading and writing requirements? Can comprehension checks be verbal or demonstration-based rather than written? Can reading and writing tasks be handled by key individuals (e.g., lead hands) rather than all workers on the line? The responsibility for effective communication in a multicultural workforce rests with all parties, including those who speak the language of work. Supervisors, trainers, shop stewards, co-workers – anyone who regularly interacts with people from other cultures need to develop core skills in intercultural communication.