Teaching Essential Skills for English in the Workplace: Professional Development Workshops

The need for professional development materials related to the integration of Essential Skills into workplace related English as a Second Language instruction has grown as more newcomers settle and work in rural and urban communities in Alberta. This project integrated resources and lessons learned from previously funded projects that explored ways to effectively integrate newcomers into the Alberta workplace. NorQuest College’s Colbourne Institute for Inclusive Leadership conducts applied research, builds learning tools and delivers workplace training designed to promote faster and more effective integration for newcomers to the Alberta workplace. The specialized skill set that has been developed in the Centre integrates intercultural skill development, and the Essential Skills Framework1. The Centre has created and adapted its methodology through projects including the Online Workplace Integration Language Resource, Gaining Access: New Employee Orientation to the workplace, the Guide to English in the Workplace (Common Ground), Critical Incidents for Intercultural Communication Toolkit, the Critical Incidents for Intercultural Communication in Healthcare, and Immersion to Integration. This has been combined with conducting EWP and intercultural training in over fifty client workplaces in industry, business and communities provincially and nationally over the past five years. This expertise and development represents a substantial investment of resources made by government and industry that ESL teachers preparing newcomers to Alberta could benefit from.

Lessons learned

Based on the needs assessment findings, learner needs (identified by instructors/coordinators) including wanting to know how to communicate well to find a job, especially being able to explain the skills they have. Learners want to better understand the career possibilities in Canada as well as expectations in a job, how to fit into workplace culture, to better understand why employers do what they do. 

Instructors with less experience identified needs related to having access to resources on Essential Skills, workplace language and intercultural, English language skills – why they are important and how they connect to the learners served by their program.  Instructors wanted support to understand their learner needs as internationally educated professionals, how to lesson plan and teach in an integrated approach and demonstrations of how to break down a specific skill and work with it in class from an Essential Skills, language and intercultural competence approach. Instructors with more experience wanted background resources to help them train new instructors. These instructors wanted resources to empower them to develop their own lesson plans to fit needs of their learners, wanting information on how to customize materials, what to look for when adapting materials for learners and how to adapt entry level lesson plans to higher complexity levels in the Essential Skills framework. Experienced instructors wanted opportunities to share practices on how to teach in an integrated approach.

Instructors of lower CLB learners were frustrated with the Essential Skills framework as even Essential Skills level 1 tasks in speaking, for example, align to approximately a CLB 5 or 6 according to Relating Canadian Language Benchmarks to Essential Skills (CCLB 2005). They are looking for more resources and professional development opportunities to best serve their learners at lower CLB levels.

Of the 77 people participating in the workshops, 63 completed the post workshop survey. The rating of the relevance and effectiveness are measured based on a combined score of overall impression, usefulness and instructor.

The average rating across the seven workshops was 91.2 % out of 100%. The top five benefits of participating in the workshop included:

  1. How to integrate the CLBs, Essential Skills and Intercultural Communication in lesson planning (using a check list)
  2. Developing their own intercultural competency
  3. Learning about Essential Skills and incorporating them to teaching
  4. Learning about existing resources and critiquing them and making changes to them to fit their needs (lesson plans, OLA, NOC, etc.)
  5. Discussion and idea sharing with fellow colleagues


Other project information
Project team
  • Yuji Abe
  • Cheryl Whitelaw
  • Barb Hudkins
Project sponsor Alberta Human Services
Key project activities
  • A needs assessment report included results from interviews and focus groups with ESL providers in 8 urban and rural communities across Alberta to identify professional development needs related to Essential Skills, English in the Workplace and Intercultural Communication knowledge.
  • Develop a 2 day workshop including presentation and workshop materials
  • Delivery of 7 face-to-face workshops in (Calgary, Edmonton, Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Red Deer) to at least 80 ESL instructors.
  • Workshop evaluation report on the relevance and effectiveness of the workshops for the target audience.
  • Promotion and knowledge dissemination of workshop and project deliverables to at least 400 ESL practitioners.
  • Submission to ATESL conference
  • Submissions to newsletters (e.g. Rural Routes, SHARE: TESL Canada’s e-magazine)
  • The Essential Skills for English in the Workplace workshop materials will be freely available for download from the NorQuest Centre for Intercultural Education website and the Rural Routes website.
Number of people involved in project

152 people including:

  • 2 Project team members
  • 8 ESL Providers in rural and urban ESL programs
  • 3 Collaborators in resource development
  • 77 Participants in workshops
  • 45 Participants in a conference session (ATESL 2013 in Calgary)
  • 15 Participants in pre-conference symposium (TESL Canada 2014 in Regina)
Communities participating in project
  • Claresholm/Fort MacLeod
  • Edson
  • Peace River
  • Provost