As the 21st-century workplace becomes increasingly diverse, it must also be inclusive. All employees should feel valued and empowered. Inclusiveness means all employees have what they need to succeed, which includes opportunities for further education and training that create pathways for career advancement. This is how organizations create workplace equity.
Why is this important?
Organizations that actively promote and attain diversity and inclusion in the workplace are simultaneously creating brand value that reflects the values of the community, employees, potential hires and customers. And let’s not forget about shareholders, who are quite aware of the copious research that shows the financial value that diversity and inclusion creates.
Deloitte’s 2018 article titled “Repairing the pipeline: Perspectives on diversity and inclusion in IT” states, “Organizations with inclusive cultures are twice as likely to meet or exceed financial targets as those without, three times as likely to be high-performing, six times more likely to be innovative and agile, and eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes.”
An important way for businesses to monitor how they are progressing with diversity and inclusion is to track how employees with diverse backgrounds are being offered promotions, training opportunities and pathways for career advancement. In an equitable workplace environment, training opportunities are tailored to address the specific needs of different employees. For manufacturers that are committed to creating and sustaining a more inclusive and equitable workplace, a practical and easy-to-implement step is to offer Vocational English as a Second Language (VESL) training, which is designed to help employees who do not have strong English communication skills learn the terminology and language that is specific to their job function and workplace environment.
To learn more about VESL training and how it creates equitable opportunities for manufacturing employees, we present the following interview with Business Training Center instructor Suzanne Beck Hammoud, who has 25 years of teaching experience, speaks four languages, has a BA in psychology and counseling from University of Arizona, and has a master’s in business administration from University of Illinois. She also has a California adult education teaching credential from Cal State Long Beach. For the Business Training Center at El Camino College, she teaches and has developed curricula for three levels of VESL for manufacturing.
Q: How does VESL training help a company meet its business goals?
Suzanne Beck Hammoud: VESL training improves employee communications at all levels within the organization. It enables production employees to communicate more effectively with their supervisors, managers, and even suppliers and customers. When these employees’ communication skills improve, they feel more confident and are better able to contribute in ways that affect business measurements. This can translate into things like faster production rates, which means deadlines are met and customers are satisfied.
Q: Sounds like the training enhances employee engagement.
Beck Hammoud: Yes, exactly. Happy employees are more productive employees. When employee engagement is low, businesses tend to have higher turnover, more production errors and more accidents. In a manufacturing environment, language barriers are going to create more errors in production processes, especially when workers do not understand job-related terminology or the notices and instructions on the placards on machines. When I worked with production employees at Herbalife, we reviewed the language on shop-floor placards to see if they understood all the terminology. What I discovered during these classes is that if an employee is uncertain about a production process and feels unsafe, that employee will work more slowly. Once the worker better understands the process and gains confidence, that person will work not only with greater speed but also with greater accuracy.
Sometimes employers mistakenly think that simply paying employees more creates engagement. That is not necessarily the case. Employees who feel valued and respected are the most engaged in the mission and success of the company. Employees who understand their role and know how they can contribute to the company’s goals will go the extra mile. So it’s really about creating a positive work environment where people feel included and empowered that can provide a resounding competitive advantage. And the word will get out when employees feel they work for a great company.
Q: Does VESL training enhance critical thinking skills and the ability to work in teams?
Beck Hammoud: When employees improve their communication skills, they are better at problem-solving. And they learn to take more initiative. In my classes, we look at real workplace problems at the company, and I will ask the class how they would go about solving the problem. The students get practice working on problems as a group and individually. By the end of the class, workers from all over the plant know the value of working as a team and how to make positive contributions. Typically, by the halfway mark of the class sessions, I see the change in people. As their language improves, so does their confidence.
Q: And how does VESL training help individuals to advance in their careers?
Beck Hammoud: VESL training is essential for job and career advancement in manufacturing. A forklift driver who wants to become a manager, for example, or work in sales must have English skills. Certain levels of classes I teach provide employees with the opportunity to improve their grammar and writing skills so they can compose formal emails, business letters or memos. As they gain confidence, they are more likely to ask their supervisors how they can advance within the company. Research shows that employees who have been given the opportunity for training and can see a pathway for advancement tend to stay with that company. And in some cases, an employee will be interested in a position that requires a degree or skills certificate, and the company supports that person to go to a community college and get that additional education. Those kinds of conversations start to happen once employees realize they now have the confidence and the language skills to do that.
For more information about the customized training programs provided by the El Camino College Business Training Center, please contact:
Eldon R. Davidson
Director, Center for Customized Training
El Camino College – Business Training Center
13430 Hawthorne Blvd.
Hawthorne, CA 90250
About the Business Training Center
As one of the largest community college–based economic development programs in the state, it is the mission of the El Camino College Business Training Center (BTC) to help businesses remain successful, viable, prosperous and able to develop a competitive edge in today’s global economy. With a proven track record of improving the bottom line for every kind of business and industry, large or small, the BTC specializes in the areas of manufacturing, international trade and small business. Areas of specialized training include basic workplace skills, business skills, computer skills, continuous improvement and safety training.