Key Workplace Essential Skills Training (KWEST) Program
Amidst a rapid decline in the oil and gas sector in 2020, and the subsequent ripple effect to adjacent sectors such as hospitality, construction, and transportation, Alberta was facing some of the highest unemployment rates in decades. Many of those who were greatly impacted by the economic downturn were newcomer populations who previously worked in restaurants, hotels, or construction and who now found themselves unemployed and needing new skills and new job opportunities. In an effort to counteract this, Alberta Labour and Immigration focused on supporting unemployed Albertans with access to training which would support these individuals to transition to new employment prospects as seamlessly as possible.
In March 2020, with funding support from Alberta Labour and Immigration, Solomon College developed a pilot project named Key Workplace Essential Skills Training (KWEST). The intent of this project was to provide permanent residents and Canadian citizens who are multi-barriered and face educational, English communication, and workplace skills deficits, with training to improve access to entry level job opportunities with Canadian employers in the warehousing industry. The KWEST program provided theoretical and experiential training on workplace essential skills with a strong focus on digital literacy, occupation-specific language, workplace safety certificates, and employment readiness to assist newcomers to access the Canadian labour market. The structure of the KWEST program consisted of 8 weeks of full time in-class training with an additional 4 weeks of job coaching and support to find employment. The project intended to deliver the program to 5 cohorts ultimately serving 60 students in total for the 24-month (March 2020- March 2022) duration of the project.
In working with multi-barriered newcomers who had educational, language, and workplace essential skills deficits there was a need to develop a curriculum that was specifically tailored to address these issues. Solomon College from the onset of the project worked with warehouse employers, language trainers, and community organizations working with newcomer populations to ensure that our curriculum was grounded in the theoretical and practical skills identified as vital to a successful transition to the warehouse sector.
The valuable knowledge gained through various advisory committees informed the development of the curriculum which focused on occupation-specific language for the warehouse sector, workplace essential skills with a strong focus on digital literacy, workplace safety certificates, and support with employment readiness including cover letters, resumes, interview practice, and eventually connections with warehouse employers in Edmonton in the hopes of securing employment.
Revisions to the curriculum were made throughout the project based on feedback from learners and warehouse employers garnered through surveys and focus groups. Evaluation of the curriculum was done with each cohort to ensure that industry standards were being met, and to guarantee that our curriculum was equipping learners for real world warehouse environments.
By August 2020, a final curriculum was developed, which consisted of a total of 17 modules: Modules 1-9 focused on Warehouse Technology, Modules 10-12 on Workplace Safety Certification, and Modules 13-17 on Employment Readiness.
Solomon College engaged in extensive marketing and outreach initiatives to engage newcomers to join the KWEST program. Marketing materials included content development for Solomon College’s website and social media platforms, a program brochure, and a PowerPoint presentation. Pertinent information about eligibility, program overview, start dates, and how to apply were shared widely with the public in print and digital forms. In terms of outreach, Solomon College reached out to newcomer-serving organizations such as community centers, LINC service providers, ethno-cultural organizations, and Alberta Supports offices working with unemployed populations to promote the KWEST program. A total of 48 presentations, both online and in person, were delivered throughout the program funding period.
Solomon College successfully recruited a total of 35 learners to the program over the two-year project. The criteria required to join the program included permanent residents or Canadian citizens with a minimum language level of CLB 3, minimal education, unemployed or casual employment, and with other barriers to employment such as childcare, transportation, literacy issues, or limited workplace skills.
Although COVID-19 impacted recruitment of learners to the KWEST program, the intended target audience for the program was reached. Of the 35 learners, 13 were female learners and 23 were male learners. Most of them had little education in their home country, were assessed at CLB 3-5, and had barriers accessing employment due to no Canadian work experience. All 35 learners underwent a thorough intake assessment via Mobius to ensure that they fit the requirements of the program and would successfully complete the training components.
Solomon College delivered the KWEST Program to 5 cohorts over the two-year project. The program was delivered to 35 learners who took part in training focused on warehouse technology, workplace safety, and employment readiness. Learners increased their knowledge of the warehousing sector, developed occupation-specific language, gained valuable hands-on skills, acquired industry recognized-certifications, and ultimately succeeded in finding employment upon completion of the program.
Due to COVID-19, the KWEST Program was delivered using a hybrid delivery model. The majority of the content was delivered virtually via WebEx and classroom assignments were managed on google classroom. Learners came to the college campus to complete hands-on training for the workplace safety certificates, and for some of the practical components of the program such as using the Fishbowl inventory management system, using scanners, printing labels, and utilizing a pallet jack. Digital literacy was a strong focus of the program, but with the transition to a hybrid delivery model, learners’ proficiency with computers far exceeded the outcomes of our program.
Workplace Safety Certificates were a crucial component of the KWEST program. These industry-recognized certificates enhanced the learner’s ability to pursue a job opportunity within the warehouse sector after completing the program. 27 of the 35 learners, or 77% obtained all the safety certificates required by the program.
Employment readiness proved to be critical for all the learners in reaching their employment outcomes. Learning about online job search, composing tailored cover letters and resumes, and repeated practice with virtual and in-person job interviews prepared them for the competitive job market. Of the 27 learners who completed all components of the program, we were able to support 23 with local warehouse employers such as Walmart, Loblaws Distribution Centre, Michaels, Alggin, Connect Logistics, and many others. The program achieved an 85% success rate, and even after a 3-month follow up they continue to be employed, or have found the confidence to pursue new employment opportunities.
Solomon College is committed to collaboration and as a part of the KWEST project, we wanted to share the knowledge we acquired to enable other organizations to consider similar programming, and possible benefits to newcomer learners.
Solomon College attended the ATESL conference on October 15th of 2021 to share our insights and lessons learned from the KWEST program with the ESL practitioners and the wider community. The presentation was named Expanding Possibilities: Key Workplace Essential Skills Training Program (KWEST) - Preparing Barriered Learners for the Workplaces of the Future.The presentation was well received and some community organizations and educational institutions found useful tips to develop their own employment program.
On March 30, 2022, content for the KWEST curriculum was uploaded to Tutela. This included the curriculum outcomes, the list of module activities and usable sample files of those classroom activities. The objective of this activity was to allow other community organizations to utilize this curriculum or adapt it to their own learner’s needs.
Program evaluation for the KWEST Program was conducted through Google surveys and focus groups. Program evaluations were conducted with learners immediately after the in-class training to inform revisions to the KWEST curriculum. Similarly, the program evaluation allowed us to monitor whether outcomes for learners were being achieved. Feedback from our evaluation measures indicated that all of the 35 students achieved increased confidence with essential skills for the warehouse industry. In particular, learners appreciated the opportunity to enhance their digital skills significantly because they were introduced to the Fishbowl warehouse management system, and had increased opportunities to improve digital skills due to the hybrid delivery model that was adopted by Solomon College during the COVID-19 health restrictions. Increased computer proficiency was seen by learners as valuable for future work-related tasks.
77% of learners obtained certificates in Forklift operation, WHMIS, and First Aid. 77% of learners were able to search for jobs online, write resumes and cover letters, and attend interviews. 77% of learners found employment in the warehouse industry, and were employed in the warehouse industry either with the same employer or a new employer within 90 days of program completion.
Reflection and Key Takeaways:
During the design and delivery of the project, Solomon College took away a few valuable lessons including the importance of collaboration between training providers and industry, the value of workplace essential skills to newcomers, and the importance of ongoing program evaluation to measure efficacy.
Working with the industry through various stages of this project from curriculum development to program delivery, and program evaluation, has enabled Solomon College to validate that the KWEST program is meeting industry standards. Newcomers benefit in reaching employment outcomes when the educational provider and industry work collaboratively to support the learner.
Developing workplace essential skills, and in particular digital skills has had profoundly positive impacts for newcomers taking the KWEST program. Learners who had limited computer proficiency at the beginning of the program were amazed at their confidence in working with technology in a few short weeks. Using the Fishbowl Inventory Management System and other technological devices prepared them for the warehouse work environment. Learners also benefited from using computers to search for jobs on the internet, using Google Suite for developing resumes and cover letters, managing files and tracking job applications, as well as completing homework assignments and connecting with the Program Instructor. The newcomers saw that the workplace essential skills they acquired are transferable to a wide range of work opportunities.
Continued program evaluation was integral to the success of the KWEST Program. The evaluative measures utilized by the KWEST program helped Solomon College recognize that learners needed more hands-on skills development with inventory management systems, and that learners wanted volunteer opportunities to enhance their workplace skills. With ongoing evaluation, Solomon College was able to identify learners’ needs, adopt effective training strategies, acquire useful training resources and tools, and most importantly, stay abreast of warehouse industry demands.
Solomon College undoubtedly experienced unprecedented challenges while piloting the KWEST Program from 2020-2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we made many adaptations, modifications, and changes to ensure the KWESTprogram was able to deliver what it intended and promised to achieve. We are proud of our success in delivering a remarkable program which has helped multi-barriered learners acquire essential skills and increase their confidence in finding meaningful employment in Canada.
|Alberta Initiatives Gallery:||Yes|
|Language Focus:||Workplace Skills|
|Produced by:||Solomon College|
|Funded by:||Alberta Labour & Immigration|
|Added:||July 22, 2022, 10:18 a.m.|
|Updated:||July 26, 2022, 10:30 a.m.|