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City of Phoenix A Sample Literacy Program

February 1, 1998
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Related Topics: Basic Skills Training, Featured Article
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The City of Phoenix Literacy Program began in 1988 as a pilot in the Public Works Department in response to a city-wide training needs analysis which revealed that many long-term employees were not promotable due to their lack of basic skills. The workplace was changing and employees were frequently put in situations where they needed to solve problems, interact with customers and document information. For some employees these changes resulted in lower productivity and lower morale and self esteem.

Literacy Volunteers of Maricopa County (LVMC) was selected early on to provide the facilities and expertise to meet the City’s diverse needs. Employees indicating an interest in the program are assessed in the areas of reading, writing, and math to determine their baseline skill levels. On City time, these employees attend classes twice a week for twenty weeks, in 2-hour blocks of time. Often it is possible to schedule employees for the 2-hour block at the beginning or end of their shift to minimize work disruptions. The instruction entails one-on-one tutoring, classroom activities and computer based tutorials.

In the first year, 28 of the 34 enrolled employees successfully completed the course work. Since then over 830 employees from 13 different departments have participated in the LVMC program.

Several key elements have shaped the program and enhanced its success.

Commitment: Support has grown from all levels of the organization form the City Manager to the first-line supervisors.

Funding: The Employee Development Division of the Personnel Department provides funding for assessment, instruction, textbooks, and instructors. Compared to other employee training programs, the cost of the Literacy Program has continued to be an incredible bargain, averaging about $2.25 per employee contact hour!

Confidentiality: The employee’s grade level, assessment scores, and progress is kept confidential, known only to the employee, LVMC, and the program coordinator at Employee Development.

Voluntary: The program thrives on self-enrollment; no employee is forced to participate.

Customized: As a result of individual assessments, classes are designed to meet the particular skill level of each employee enrolled.

City time Briefing sessions, assessment and classes are all held on City time. This practive reinforces the City’s message that this program is meaningful and worthwhile.

Marketing: Over the years, marketing efforts have been updated to enhance the appeal of the program to potential candidates. In 1995, the program was renamed "Back to Basics: The City of Phoenix Literacy Program." Posters and brochures were redesigned for greater clarity and eye appeal. A video featuring one employee’s success story was produced by the City’s Public Information Office. But the best grass-roots marketing tool still remains the word-of-mouth endorsements by previous participants.

How does the City of Phoenix measure the success of the Literacy Program? At the onset of the program, success was measured by the number of grade levels mastered by each employee during the designated time period. However, this was not an accurate assessment of employee success, since an adult at an elementary grade level of reading will take considerably longer to advance to the next grade. Therefore, we look at a number of other factors to gauge the success of participants.

Pre and post-assessment comparisons, and feedback from tutors are provided from LVMC. Supervisors are asked for feedback after the employee has participated in the program. Focus groups of current and past participants are held every two years to discuss what works well and what needs to be improved. Most moving through, are the success stories written by the employees themselves and posted at the Literacy Volunteers facilities. They report on those intangible measures of success: growth in self-esteem, confidence, job skills, job performance and daily survival skills. Some of the most touching paragraphs relate how the employee was able to read stories to his children or help them with their homework for the first time.

SOURCE: City of Phoenix

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