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'Reading in the Workplace' energizes Tektronix employees
Photos and Story by James Hill
by James HillThe impact of poor literacy skills can take a huge toll on a company. Paul Wild, a manager for Portland Community College’s Customized Workforce Training Center, estimates that $60 billion worth of productivity in the United States is lost every year due to a lack of reading skills. That is why the 11-week courses, "Reading in the Workplace," he helped to develop for Tektronix are so important for the company, and its employees."There is a lot of advanced terminology that, especially for non-native speakers, is difficult to understand," Wild said. "We’ll take the benefits packages at Tektronix and explain it to employees. We try to encourage a lot of inquisitive skills and break it down to cut out anything that they don’t need to know. In order to teach effectively you have to be relevant."Words as simple as "accommodate" or abbreviations as well known as "CEO" are standard learning items in the class. The employees, who mostly come from non-native speaking backgrounds, sound out and define simple, yet crucial vernacular. These words often come from the company’s workplace manual and are integral to the employees’ jobs.Tektronix, Inc. discovered as computer technology continues to rapidly change, the literacy skills of their production employees need to rapidly change with it, from being able to read a work order correctly to being able to communicate with fellow workers in the job place. To do it, Tektronix partnered with PCC to put together a customized literacy training program. Wild said that many businesses are starting to understand they shouldn’t hire replacements, and instead need to train the people they have. Tektronix agreed and in 1998 came to Wild to put together an assessment that put its employees into four different literacy categories. The "Reading in the Workplace" program began in January of 2000 and much of the push to implement it can be traced to Lauran Potter-Torres.Potter-Torres, the training systems manager for the company’s manufacturing division, was hired three years ago to teach computers to the line operators so they could adapt to the new needs of their manufacturing lines. But because of the operators’ difficulties with language skills, Potter-Torres volunteered to teach English as a second language (ESL) at lunchtime and ended up with about 20 employees attending. That soon evolved into her coordinating three more volunteers to help with instruction."I was then able to prove need and value for some type of assistance and we began the process of selling it up (to the company)," Potter-Torres said. "Paul did a great presentation when we presented the program to senior managers," said Potter-Torres. "He has continuously given us examples from experience, and support by following up with presentations. He has remained a very reliable partner in the delivery and continued customization of the program."Employees who did not speak among themselves now all speak to each other in English after having completed the 11-week course. They previously spoke Spanish to Spanish, Cambodian to Cambodian, and Vietnamese to Vietnamese. Now English is the standard language."The morale improvement is very noticeable," Potter-Torres said. "They return from class in great spirits."PCC instructor Lorna Tran, one of four in the partnership program, said she has been "in awe" of how the employees, many which are 15- to 20-year veterans of the company, have tackled the program."I’m continually impressed with the level of communication and knowledge that these students bring into the class," Tran said. Ultimately, the bottom line is that the employees feel that their managers and company value them. That has developed a much more dynamic work place for all Tektronix employees. "The employees tend to get pretty excited when the company decides to invest in them," said Wild.