Linking language to work: new routes for learners
Rob Gray explains how integrating ESOL with training in vocational skills improves migrants' job prospects
Many refugees and migrants to the UK are limited in their job prospects not so much by their lack of vocational skills as by their low standard of English. For the last three years, the Progress GB project and the Steps to Success project (1) have been supporting people in these groups to develop and adapt their skills so they can move from unskilled into more appropriate employment.
An important part of these projects was to encourage participants to resume their ESOL studies. Many had undertaken ESOL studies before but had stopped when their ESOL skills had reached Entry level 2. Although ESOL at this level is just about enough for everyday communication, it is significantly below the level needed for many of the job roles which would enable the participants to use their existing vocational skills.
Many of the potential learners were working long hours in temporary unskilled
employment and were also attending part-time vocational courses. As a result,
they were hesitant about returning to ESOL
studies which would take up even more of their limited free time. Therefore, to make ESOL provision as attractive as possible, the project developed occupationally-specific ESOL courses. These courses appealed to the learners because they identified with an occupation and appreciated the importance of being able to understand and use occupational terminology. To make the courses even more attractive, they were combined with units from vocational courses or with occupationally-relevant IT studies. For example, Sage (2) level 1 and 2 was incorporated within the ESOL for Accountancy course. This vocational content enabled the learners to extend their vocational skills beyond the level that was possible through their vocational courses. Each occupationally-specific ESOL course was made even more appealing to the learners by helping them develop the literacy and speaking skills involved in applying for jobs.
Applying for work
The more the learners used their ESOL skills in an occupational context, the more they appreciated the need to further develop these skills. However, the importance of developing them to the level expected by employers became fully apparent to the learners only when they began to apply for skilled work. Several learners remarked that their ESOL skills were in fact the only skills being tested at interview; interviewers gave them the opportunity to describe their vocational skills but were in fact testing their ability to communicate.
During the projects, courses in ESOL for Accountancy, ESOL for Retail, ESOL for
Administration and SOL for Health and Social Care were developed and delivered
by tutors at Leicester and Derby College with support from NIACE (3). Embedding ESOL in vocational courses would have been an alternative and possibly
more effective approach. However, the development time needed to create fully
embedded courses was beyond the scope of the projects. The lesser development
requirements of the occupational ESOL courses offered many of the benefits of
fully embedded provision and were
feasible within a short-term project.
Rob Gray is Senior Project Officer at NIACE
(1) NIACE is the lead partner in Progress GB, an EQUAL Round 2 Development Partnership. See www.niace.org.uk/Research/ASR/Projects/Progress-GB.htm. The Steps to Success project is co-funded by the European Social Fund and the Learning and Skills Council. See www.niace.org.uk/projects/stepstosuccess/Default.htm
(2) Accountacy software package
(3) As a result of this initial developmental work, NIACE and the Association of Accounting Technicians are exploring the possibilities of developing Accountancy ESOL provision to support AAT students with ESOL needs.