The best adult education programs are collaborative endeavors. They involve a range of community partners working together to touch the needs of adult learners on the job and in everyday life.
That collaborative environment is the strength of Building Skills Partnership. BSP teachers train over 2,300 janitors throughout the state of California by bringing together “unlikely allies,” as the staff often calls them, such as the large janitorial companies that employ many BSP students and the SEIU-USWW – the union that represents them.
BSP brings these stakeholders together to give their students educational opportunities at their worksites. The collaborative spirit in this undertaking is impressive, but what makes BSP a beacon for innovation in adult education is its commitment to preparing students for a 21st century workplace while also not losing sight of what their students need outside of that workplace.
Recently, BSP created a pilot program that taught 30 janitors at a large Silicon Valley technology company how to work with tablets. As is the case with all of BSP’s initiatives, the tablet program came out of a collaboration between stakeholders. BSP staff developed the curriculum based on the skills its students need to navigate a tablet-based work order system that the employer was planning to roll out. In order to teach their students how to work within this system, BSP instructors started by showing their class how to send and receive emails. The class then moved on to more complex tasks, like writing and sending work orders and maintenance requests.
According to Grazia Mora, BSP’s program assistant who designed the curriculum, the class was successful because it was designed with attention to the needs of each student. By starting from the very basics, the class allowed beginner students who had never held a tablet before to slowly become familiar and comfortable with the device and realize that they were indeed capable of using one.
This helped build confidence in the learners and kept them engaged. Mora pointed out that this newly gained confidence went beyond the classroom. “Because we work with adult learners, I have found from experience that they tend to doubt themselves,” she said. “They feel old and not capable of learning, but technology can help them get them that confidence they lack.”
Increasing student confidence is a critical success factor for many adult learners, and BSP demonstrates how technology can help students gain confidence in their ability to learn while encouraging them to take advantage of digital learning opportunities. Students’ levels of formal education vary greatly as do their experience with technology. But BSP’s staff knows their students well enough to overcome these pedagogical difficulties because the organization does not just train students, it supports students and listens to them.
With over a decade working with this population in Silicon Valley, the staff understand that students need digital literacy skills to move ahead in their work lives. And because they ask those students about their lives away from work, the staff also knows they need to show students how tech can help them at home.
In addition to teaching those 30 janitors how to use the online work order system, BSP provided the same group a set of life skills, including:
But perhaps most importantly, Ms. Mora saw growth in how the students viewed themselves as learners. For many of these students, there was a sense that they could learn something new if given the opportunity, which has huge implications for them as they move forward in their careers.
As is the case with all of our Beacon Communities, BSP’s work is motivated by their desire to close the digital divide for low-skilled adults. Access to technology is an important part of that work. To truly close that gap, and provide students with the confidence and skills to use the technology in ways that are meaningful to them in life, requires more than just access, it also requires an understanding of each student’s uncertainties, hopes, and needs. The needs of the student—both professional and personal—are at the center of all of BSP’s initiatives.