Darren Cottingham, DT Driver Training (drivertraining.co.nz)
Do your employees really understand information that you give to them? There is government legislation such as the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 which means that employers will almost certainly need to give their employees training on equipment and processes, but for workers with English as a second language, understanding and retaining information delivered in English is much more difficult.
The 2013 census reported that 18.6% of people are multilingual with English as one of their languages, which is the equivalent of more than 830,000 people. With recent high immigration from Asia, this figure is likely to increase in the next census. The most common languages spoken, other than English, are Te Reo Maori, Samoan, Hindi, Northern Chinese (including Mandarin) and French. Some regions have communities with other languages such as Tongan in Auckland.
Researchers at MIT and Harvard studied the results of a grammar quiz completed by almost 670,000 participants and concluded that the optimum age to learn a second language is before the age of 10. While it’s still possible to learn a language after that, language-learning abilities drop off rapidly after about age 17. Training that’s delivered using written materials, for example, might not be understood by the 40% of adults who are considered functionally illiterate in New Zealand. English language speakers, even native ones, can have a wide range of verbal and written literacy making it difficult to ensure that everyone has understood the messages; they might have good conversational English but poor English reading skills.
All of this makes in-person training a real challenge. Put an English-speaking trainer in a room full of people with mixed literacy and language backgrounds and the trainer will have their work cut out ensuring everyone stays engaged and understands the concepts.
A common job in New Zealand which requires periodic training is forklift operator. The recommended minimum English language level for forklift operator training is IELTS level 5.0 or equivalent. IELTS level 5.0 is the ability to ‘get by’. The pass mark is 40% for listening and 37.5% for reading. The description of level 5.0 includes the lines ‘…likely to make many mistakes. They should be able to handle basic communication in their own field.’
Therefore IELTS 5.0 could mean significant gaps in comprehension and understanding and this is something we considered seriously when we produced an online forklift training course. To be as inclusive as possible and ensure the broadest possible comprehension we used six strategies:
- Use multiple short modules rather than longer modules. Attention span wanes after 20 minutes, so it’s best to have modules that can be done in just a few minutes to improve retention of information
- Provide multiple methods of demonstrating concepts: video and animation supported by English voiceover with text and images on the screen. The videos can be played at variable speeds to suit the learner
- Provide audio recordings in English for all questions
- Enable translation to more than 100 languages for every question, including the five most commonly spoken languages, as mentioned above
- Allow course participants to retake modules as many times as is required until they get everything correct
- Give access to the course materials for 12 months so that the company can use it for refresher training, if required.
An ‘anywhere, anytime’ access model means course participants can do training materials when it’s convenient for both them and the company on any device – smartphone, tablet or computer. As the training materials are online they are delivered in a consistent way every time and the results stored in a format that can be monitored and analysed by a manager.
In terms of the forklift course, the Approved Code of Practice, which was produced in the mid-1990s, leaves some areas sparsely covered when it comes to workplace health and safety. While it insists on a minimum 80% pass rate, we opted for a 100% pass rate and incorporated additional materials to drive home the safety message.
A theory course is not a complete substitute for practical training and induction on a piece of equipment – a company still has obligations to ensure competency and proficiency on the equipment they supply. However, in the case of forklift training, the theory component is required and it is essential that operators understand good practice and the consequences of bad decision-making. Adding language and literacy options makes training more inclusive. It improves engagement with the training and helps a company fulfil its obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.