October 2016
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STAKEHOLDER BUY-IN IN ENGLISH FOR OCCUPATIONAL PURPOSES CONTEXTS
Anne E. Lomperis, Language Training Designs, Montgomery Village, Maryland, USA

Introduction

In English for occupational purposes (EOP) there are different contexts, or levels, of buy-in, as well as different concepts to be conveyed for “content” buy-in. The most familiar level of buy-in, to those who provide EOP programs directly to clients, is, clearly, the buy-in of that given client—first, its management at different levels, then the actual participant learners at their levels within the organization. What may be less familiar, though, are EOP initiatives at broader, often national, levels when stakeholders may begin to recognize some kind of overarching infrastructure need to improve the English of the labor force in a given country, but they don’t really know how to go about this.

In both cases, the individual client recipient of a program or the group of stakeholder planners for a national initiative, the parties need to buy in to the very basics of an EOP approach—as opposed to that of general English. Further, they need to buy in to the concepts or principles behind the best practices (Friedenberg et al., 2003), such as to appreciate that a sound program design is needed first, based on conducting an organizational needs assessment (ONA), not just customized materials based on carrying out instructional needs assessment.

Finally, there is a third focus for buy-in. As a corollary to the focus on the “trainee” side—that is, any client receiving an EOP program or any group of stakeholders planning an EOP initiative, there is also the “trainer” side—that is, the EOP teacher. Teaching EOP requires considerably more training beyond teaching general English. Yet very few, if any, English teachers have had dedicated, robust, and practical (on-site, workplace-venue) training in EOP itself (not just English for academic purposes [EAP] or English for specific purposes [ESP] overall). Hence, clients and stakeholders must also buy in to the mandate for EOP teacher training.

The Basics for Buy-In of EOP Over General English at the Instructional Level

Foundational to all EOP buy-in is to gain recognition and adoption of the basic tenets of ESP: customization to need through stakeholder collaboration. Customization immediately distinguishes ESP (EAP and EOP) from general English. However, general English may be the only experience, if any, that stakeholders may have had with learning English, so they may be very insistent on a general English approach. Or at least they may insist that a certain level of general English must be achieved first, before introducing any “complicated, technical vocabulary.” The key, countering guideline here is to show, for example, that for some standard concept in industry, such as safety, or for some standard grammar point in language teaching, such as prepositional phrases of location, it is more efficient to teach to the specific client context than to any general English context. Further, this context-specific content can be taught from a beginning level of proficiency and up.

Consider the necessary specificity of the following cases from different industry sectors for effectively addressing high-stakes incidents. Note that these communications are not interchangeable, as one might teach generic safety expressions in general English: Stop! Be careful. Wear PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).

A. Civil Aviation
We have minimum fuel (first level notification).
We have emergency fuel (final level of notification).
(NOT: We’re running out of fuel. This is a general English expression that does not match insider terminology.)

B. Oil Exploration
How many valves do I open on the Christmas tree?
(To prevent a blow-out of oil being pumped up through the bore to the surface structure that captures and directs oil flow into pipelines)

C. Cruise Line
Take Stairway 7 to Lifeboat 42.
(To quickly evacuate the ship from a given section of a particular deck)

Recognizing that every industry has very unique emergency communication requirements leads to buy-in for the customization of EOP. To teach the lesser specificity of general English expressions would be inadequate, inaccurate, and irresponsible.

Likewise, for a standard grammar point such as prepositional phrases of location, why teach “in-at-on-between-beside-across from-next to” through the typical, general English downtown street map of post office, bank, museum, school, grocery store, bus stop? One can just as easily, and much more relevantly, teach the location of industry-specific features, such as the layout of:

  • A hotel guest floor: odd/even room numbers, guest elevator/service elevator/pool elevator, ice machine, vending machines, house phone, emergency exit stairs
  • Hotel guest services: front desk, concierge, business center, restrooms, fitness facilities, swimming pool
  • Hotel outlets (that generate separate income): gift shop, coffee shop, fine dining restaurant, bar, self/valet parking, self-service laundry machines

After presenting such “real live” examples, summary documents provide key frameworks for the distinctions across general English, EAP, and EOP (Lomperis, 2010, pp.316--321). To further explain how customization is done in EOP, the list of best practices (Lomperis, 2010, pp. 321-323), another key framework, breaks down characteristic steps: instructional needs assessment, curriculum design, materials development, and delivery of training. These key framework, summary documents have proven effective, over and over, around the world, in clarifying the differences in language teaching approaches and in making the case for EOP to achieve buy-in.

Best Practices for Administrative Level Buy-In

In addition to buy-in needed for customized instruction, as above, administrative buy-in is needed at the management level for customized program design. Now a different set of the best practices (Lomperis, 2010, pp. 321-323) becomes relevant: business plan, marketing, ONA, program design, proposal/contract, and program administration and staffing. (For chapters of content related to each listed best practice, see Friedenberg et al., 2003.) In particular, ONA leads to sound program design.

Case studies of problematic program designs (i.e., those that were “doomed to fail”) because ONA was not carried out illustrate the importance of informed planning. Thus, buy-in to sound planning can be achieved in a backward, but actually striking, way when stakeholders realize that some feature they may never have thought about turns out, in fact, to have truly negative impact.

Consider problematic program design factors in the following project in Afghanistan.

  1. Length of EOP Training Cycle: In a World Bank/ Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO)/ national government ministry project, international experts were going to provide technical training in English to government ministry staff for 6 days. English training to understand the technical training was also set at 6 days. However, this parallelism did not take into account that longer language training would be needed, given the incoming level of English proficiency/literacy of the ministry staff and the exit level of English that they would be required to master.

  2. Selection of EOP Teacher/s: Further, in reference to buy-in for EOP teacher training, the World Bank insisted that the English teacher for this project had to be an expat native speaker (the author). As a preferred alternative, the author tried to make the case for Afghan graduates of an EOP training program she proposed within the MATESOL program a U.S. university was running at Kabul University. Local national English teachers would be much more sustainable in the long run than a one-time, project-related native speaker, even though the Afghans were going to require upfront EOP teacher training. So, the case could really be made for buy-in to local national EOP teacher training to build long-term, human resource capacity for the country, as opposed to losing an expat EOP teacher after a too-short, 6-day English program.

Again, this makes the case for the positive-impact alternatives of EOP customization and investment in EOP teacher training—for overall buy-in to EOP.

One more positive feature of good program design that achieves rather instant buy-in at the administrative level is the compelling track record that effective EOP programs yield in return-on-investment (ROI). One such ROI resulted in a 531% savings in budget that was previously lost, before two 10-week cycles of a highly customized but effective EOP program were put in place (Martin & Lomperis, 2002). No administrator wants to keep wasting considerable money that could otherwise be saved by making a much smaller investment in the cost of a good EOP program.

Large Scope Buy-In Through Strategic Networks

Now, for the least familiar, but largest scope, buy-in of stakeholder groups interested in the level of national EOP initiatives, the relevant Best Practices are the Business Plan and Marketing. Out of the business plan process of SWOT analysis—that is, examining strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats in the market of EOP program providers—the focus here is on identifying the widest network of contacts possible. Likewise, in the initial, soft-sell, educational phase of marketing, as opposed to the later “harder” sell of actually talking contractual terms, developing as far-reaching a network of contacts as possible is also the means to buy-in.

In this context of English needed at the level of the national labor force, the relevant framework for EOP professionals to become immersed in is a given country’s economy. To be savvy and sophisticated, the professionals educate themselves about how English is actually needed for economic development in that country by learning from a wide network of contacts who are extremely knowledgeable about the national economy. They research well the economic trends in which stakeholders are operating. What are the specific, current events and economic issues, as well as long-term goals, they are dealing with and may even be leading causes about? Often English is the “missing piece in the puzzle,” which gives EOP great advantage and leverage.

In fact, the beauty of developing such networks at this level is that, more than likely, many of these contacts have already recognized this “missing piece” need for English in the labor force. They themselves can identify documentation of the need from national sources, which indicates that initial buy-in is already in place. The EOP professional then picks up with the argumentation laid out above for buy-in to customization and following best practices.

References

Friedenberg, J., Kennedy, D., Lomperis, A., Martin, W., & Westerfield, K. (with van Naerssen, M.). (2003). Effective practices in workplace language training: Guidelines for providers of workplace English language training services. Alexandria, VA: TESOL International Association.

Lomperis, A. E. (2010). Issues in language policy for the labor force in developing countries. In M. Gueldry (Ed.), Consistent incorporation of professional terminologies into the world’s languages: The linguistic engine of a global culture (pp. 311–341). Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press.

Martin, W. M., & Lomperis, A. E. (2002). Determining the cost benefit, the return on investment, and the intangible impacts of language programs for development. TESOL Quarterly, 36, 399–429.


Anne Lomperis specializes in language planning and language policy for the labor force in developing countries. She is introducing a business model to address training of EOP teachers, EOP consultants, and EOP clients in partnership between home-base U.S. universities and local national universities in project countries.

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