Literacy in the Workplace: A Story of Resilience during the Pandemic
Guest Post by Laurie Fisher, Executive Director, Literacy Council of Frederick County
Founded in 1963, the Literacy Council of Frederick County (LCFC) teaches adults the reading and English language skills they need to provide for their families and contribute to the broader community's well-being and prosperity. In recent years, LCFC has sought to expand its Workplace Literacy Program by collaborating with employers in the hospitality and restaurant industries of Frederick County to support English classes in the workplace. The program is designed to empower employees with limited English language proficiency to gain sustainable employment, achieve greater financial stability, and positively impact their families’ lives. The program also helps employers identify and retain an educated workforce and reduce turnover, thereby strengthening the local economy.
As the Workplace Literacy Program expanded, LCFC began to identify new partners such as Plamondon Hospitality Partners (PHP), which manages several Frederick County hotels. PHP partnered with LCFC to provide weekly classes for their hospitality associates focused on English speaking and comprehension, emphasizing workplace vocabulary, workplace skills, interaction among staff, and overall basic conversation skills. Classes began in January, and the students were just completing their first session in March when state-wide restrictions were imposed, and operations at hotels everywhere were drastically reduced. Despite restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, LCFC’s partnership with PHP has been a model of resilience and flexibility.
Rather than put the program on hold, LCFC and PHP pivoted to distance learning platforms. Classes continued on Zoom, and PHP provided laptops, tablets, and technical support for their employees. The transition to online classes provided the added benefit of helping employees learn new digital literacy skills. They were then able to apply these skills to help their children with online instruction at home. Kim Brown, LCFC’s Workplace Literacy Program Coordinator, met with PHP hotel representatives to adjust the curriculum in response to the pandemic. They integrated new COVID vocabulary and cleanliness protocols to teach required cleaning and maintenance processes. They also emphasized vocabulary and customer interactions associated with disinfecting and sanitizing hotel properties to ensure the continuity of services. Students practiced basic customer conversations related to the frequency of cleaning and sanitizing to boost consumer confidence that appropriate guidelines were being followed at all properties. PHP reports that the program has increased employees’ confidence in speaking directly with clients and that staff service has been rated higher at each of the participating hotels compared to their brand average.
“The investment by the Crimsonbridge Foundation and other funders has been a critical factor in the Workplace Literacy Program’s resiliency and commitment to the hospitality employees even in the midst of the pandemic and devastating economic impact on the tourism industry,” shared Laurie Fisher. “The employees are enthusiastic about learning, come to class regularly – even on their days off – and are recognized by their employer for the direct role they play in guest satisfaction and economic recovery for the travel industry.”
The Workplace Literacy Program in Frederick County has illustrated the power of innovation to build bridges across sectors. LCFC was recently recognized for their work in teaching English to hotel housekeeping staff through the annual Visit Frederick Ambassador of the Year Award from the Tourism Council of Frederick County.
The Crimsonbridge Foundation partnered with the Literacy Council of Frederick County in 2018 and 2019 to expand their Workplace Literacy Program. LCFC is part of the Crimsonbridge Foundation’s English Language Initiatives program, which provides strategic support for organizations seeking to expand successful models, seed innovation, or implement new technology.
Photo credit: Plamondon Hospitality Partners