Workplace literacy as it exists at High Liner Foods in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia is a result of a joint effort by the company and the union, CAW Local 1944. Our goals are:
We decided to use the Laubach Literacy of Canada (LLC) Workplace Skills Training Program. Since we had thirty different start and stop times and a fleet schedule to work around, one on one tutoring was the easiest solution. In the fall of 1994, we started training tutors and matching them with students. We have had as many as 130 students in the program at once. Due to layoffs and restructuring, those days have gone. Today, we are maintaining a program with 15 - 20 students in various stages of the Laubach program. This includes Laubach Way to Reading, Challenger, spelling programs, grammar programs and math programs. The programs are individualized for each student, with some students working in more than one program; ie. math and Challenger.
We have designed some components of the program to accommodate our needs at High Liner Foods and our fleet. First, we invented a system of mentors for our math students. These are students who read fairly well and wish to upgrade their math skills. Each student is given a mentor, someone they can phone or meet with on an ad hoc basis when they encounter problems. Most meetings or conversations are less than thirty minutes long. These are very independent students.
We also have tutor meetings. Our tutors had expressed feelings of frustration and isolation. Since our program is confidential, tutors did not know each other. We now have meetings two or three times per year. Tutors can discuss problems, share strategies and receive support. These meetings are popular, and in the future, will include an occasional guest speaker. We have an in-house newsletter, produced bimonthly. All employees receive it, as well as the fleet. It keeps everyone up to date on happenings in the program and in the community.
Clear Language is at the core of LLC training. We have conducted seven workshops and now have a clear writing committee. The Employee Safety Handbook has been rewritten and other projects are ongoing. Our Workplace Literacy program has expanded, just this year, to include GED classes. We have three classes with a total of 27 students. We offer 80 hours of instruction in small classes of between 7 - 12 students. The instructor also uses computers during the class, giving students another new skill. The classes usually meet in our new Learning Centre. Empty spaces in the classes were offered to spouses and laid-off workers taking GED.
Family literacy is an offshoot of the basic program that no one on the Joint Plant Educational Committee foresaw. As parents became aware of the Workplace Skills Training Program and saw what it could do for them, they realized it could benefit their children too. This is an area of projected growth for our program. To date, there has been one LLC workshop for parents, called Creating a Learning Culture in the Home. The workshop will be offered again in the future. Future plans include: computer training, new courses that workers suggest, and finding better ways to address the needs of the fishing fleet.
There are many reasons why the Workplace Skills Training Program at High Liner Foods has been successful. It has the support and encouragement of the union leadership and the company management team. It occurred at a time of great need, in the midst of the fisheries crisis. But there is also an often undervalued factor, the tutors. They are all volunteers. Most tutors agree to a one year commitment. We are fortunate in our workplace to have many who have been active since 1994. We also have a coordinator who works 16 hours per week for the program, which is my job. I am a unionized worker. I work on the production floor three days a week. I am very accessible, anyone can talk to me at work, during breaks and after work in the community, and they do! It is common for me to receive a phone call at 10pm to ask about our program. All these things can happen because we exist and operate a program in an environment that encourages lifelong learning.
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