UW-River Falls

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Last updated:
October 4, 2002

UW-RF Developing Distance Workplace ESL Programs

UW-River Falls has received a grant from the UW-Extension Cross Divisional Program Innovation Fund to develop a program for businesses that employ workers with little or no proficiency in spoken English, aimed at improving communication and cultural understanding in the workplace and the community.

The program will reach out to communities across the state through interactive television with classes to provide training for tutors.

Said Program Co-leader Katrina Larsen, "The English as a Second Language in the Workplace program is a unique collaboration that brings businesses together with university and extension personnel to address the issues that arise as our population and workforce become more diverse."

There are three components to the program: 10-week s of tutor training classes, 5 hours of field experience teaching ESL in area businesses, and a two-day conference for employers and communities that have limited English proficiency and non-English speaking workers.

The classes meet for three hours, one night per week. They will originate at the UW-RF campus and be delivered via interactive television to three other sites in Wisconsin; Barron High School, Gilman High School and Waukesha County Technical College in Pewaukee. The classes will begin Wednesday, Oct. 9, and run through Wednesday, Dec. 18. There will be no class Nov. 27.

The second series of classes is scheduled for spring 2003. The tutor training classes are open to anyone with a high school diploma and may be taken for university credit or as a non-credit course.

People who complete the ESL tutor training classes will obtain field experience working as tutors in businesses that employ limited English proficiency or non-English speaking workers.

The workers will benefit from on-site English and cultural training that will help them communicate with their employers and other workers. The businesses will benefit from improved communication with their workers, resulting in improved worker retention, safety, productivity and firm profitability. The tutors will benefit from applying what they learned in the tutor training classes, thus enhancing their career prospects and their ability to contribute to the community.

"We learned a great deal from our 2001 pilot project with dairy workers," said Larsen. "The combination of tutor training and field experience is a successful model, so we will be recruiting businesses for field experience sites over the next few months."

The conference is scheduled for June 2003. Said Gregg Hadley, another of the program co-leaders, "The conference will get at the broader issue surrounding a more culturally diverse workforce, including human resource management and cultural, legal, eduction, healthcare and community integration issues."

Addressing these broader issues helps strengthen businesses and promotes community and economic development, strategies identified in Gov. Scott McCallum's Build Wisconsin initiative as important to building the state's agriculture, manufacturing and tourism industries.

"We're hoping that this program will help keep UW-River Falls in the forefront in promoting economic development and leadership in the state," said Hadley.

Individuals interested in the tutor training classes and businesses interested in hosting an ESL tutor or attending the conference can obtain more information by calling Program Coordinator Kristen Allen at 715/425-3256 or 800/228-5607. Information and downloadable registration forms from the ESL website are available at www.uwrf.edu/ogs/esl.

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