Moraine Park Technical College, in partnership with the Specialty Cheese Co., worked to develop a training to benefit employees. Harley Lemkuil, Training Specialist at Specialty Cheese identified a need for English Language Learning (ELL) classes and began seeking out options in 2019.
“At Specialty Cheese, we treat language skills like any other skill that an employee may possess,” Lemkuil said. “We know that language can be a barrier to personal growth- and lack of personal growth affects company growth. We want our employees to succeed and helping them to build English speaking skills is one way to do that.”
Lemkuil worked directly with supervisors to identify employees whose English skills were at a point where they could communicate at work but in a limited fashion. Employees could participate if they wished, but the training was not mandated. Once participants were identified, they assessed everyone by asking a series of questions and ensuring that participants were comfortable through the process. Lemkuil then took the data he gathered from employees and worked with Moraine Park’s Economic and Workforce Development (EWD) department to develop an ELL training plan.
“Moraine Park helped provide good insight into the different learning styles and were very flexible with the training during the Pandemic,” Lemkuil said. “We initially planned for the training to be in-person, but the COVID-19 pandemic halted that possibility. Moraine Park was able to seamlessly transition the learning material to be done over zoom meetings.”
As with many industries, the transition to an online platform offered some valuable learning opportunities for the organization as well.
“The online format made it more difficult than usual to keep the employees engaged with grammar material,” he said. “Jennifer Elliot, the Moraine Park ELL instructor, made some innovative changes such as finding a printed publication that included the employees, to heighten engagement. Through that, we learned that the more personal the material, the more likely the students are to engage and practice their grammar skills.”
The goal of providing this round of training was to help employees who wanted to grow their language skills. For this reason, Lemkuil relied on anecdotal feedback from the employee participants to access effectiveness, rather than testing each participant. However, he is hoping that future ELL programming will include a more subjective analysis of the program.
Lemkuil is looking at program growth the same way he approached the start of this training- slow, thoughtful, and taking into consideration the needs of employees.
“It’s very important to not only have the commitment of your employees but to also create an environment where the employees are free to practice their skills,” Lemkuil said. “This is a crucial step in getting the learning process. If an employee uses new grammar topics and is made to feel embarrassed by native English speakers, that employee isn’t going to want to practice their skills ever again.”
By creating an atmosphere that fosters growth and inclusivity, Lemkuil is opening the doors of possibility for his employees.
“In the coming years, Specialty Cheese would like to provide this opportunity to all employees who are interested in learning English,” he said. “The goal is to provide a more convenient class location which helps improve attendance to the program. It’s an ambitious goal, but we are confident that this continued training will be a benefit all around.”
For more information, visit morainepark.edu/training.