Job Skill Training in a Shelter-in-Place World

By SF Goodwill

Written by Caleb Jonas

During a typical week in January or February, SF Goodwill’s Career Centers would be bustling with activity. Our career services staff members would likely be running hiring fairs featuring local employers, meeting individually with jobseekers to offer coaching and support, and leading a variety of engaging in-person classes.

When the Bay Area’s Shelter-in-Place order took effect in March as a response to the coronavirus health crisis, our Learning and Development team was challenged to use technology to offer trainings that were more vital than ever to the vulnerable individuals Goodwill serves. Our mission—to provide second changes through training and the dignity of work—was important before the pandemic, but it is critical now.

We quickly transitioned our ongoing in-person classes to an online learning environment, and began new cohorts in a fully virtual model. As a result, we’ve now served dozens of learners with a variety of digitally-enabled trainings in areas as diverse as Everyday English for non-native speakers, and our Google IT Support Certificate Program. Along the way, we learned more than a few lessons about how to make online trainings impactful for adult learners with barriers to employment:

  • Keep students engaged
    • One of the greatest challenges of a fully online learning environment is the temptation for students to become fatigued or distracted. To combat this, our instructors have increased the number and shortened the duration of breaks from web-based training sessions. They’ve also been sure to set high expectations for student participation. As Vince Lopez, our Ramp to Retail Training Specialist explained, “I tell students on Day 1 that you’ll get out of this class what you put in. I ask you to be ready to share your thoughts and experiences so we can all learn from each other.”
  • Connect individually
    • For many of the students who enroll in SF Goodwill classes, the current crisis has increased their economic stress, and some worry about meeting their basic needs such as preserving housing and finding food. Arthur Martin, a technology Training Specialist, made it a point to call and speak with each of his Google IT Support students individually outside of class. He found that “telling students that Goodwill is here for them to help them overcome the challenges of this crisis is a really important way to make sure everyone has the support they need to be successful in class.”
  • Different technology for different purposes
    • When the shelter-in-place was enacted, Robin Garnham was preparing to offer in-person ESL at Work classes for SF Goodwill’s non-native English speaking employees. However, Garnham quickly had to change his plans, and made the decision to record a series of short videos designed to develop everyday English skills. As Garnham recounted, “I worried that cohort-based classes would present too many logistical challenges for our learners. I chose to move my lessons to a video format so I could use graphics, symbols, and pictures that kept students focused and enabled them to build confidence.”

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