This post includes contributions from Saba Imran.
We recently published a blog post on Remote Job Readiness Resources for Clients With Online Access. But how are agencies continuing job readiness training when participants don’t have access to technology or lack digital literacy skills? This post includes job readiness resources for supporting clients without online access and/or digital skills, informed by strategies refugee service providers have begun implementing nationwide.
Initial Steps to Take
- Think through your communication strategy. Clients’ situation may have changed in recent months, so don’t assume that they aren’t familiar with technology like WhatsApp or Zoom, even if they didn’t use these virtual tools much before the pandemic. HIAS’s Virtual Communications Guide includes questions for determining if voice-to-voice, WhatsApp, or Zoom interactions are best for you and your clients. The guide is available in several languages and includes pictorial instructions on making phone calls using a smartphone and on using videoconferencing apps.
- Lean on your existing partnerships. Comprehending digital content in English is especially challenging for clients with low English proficiency. Reach out to English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers to see how they have adjusted to teaching remotely, what platforms they are using, and if there is potential for collaboration.
- Seek support from family and community members. Consider asking clients if there is a trusted family member, friend, or community member willing to serve as a “tech lead” to help set up virtual meeting apps and assist with learning new technology.
“Those with lower levels of digital (and English) literacy depend heavily on family members for support.” – Tarsha Miller, We Made This Lead at ECDC African Community Center of Denver
- Connect clients with Internet service. If a lack of Internet connection is keeping clients from using technology, check Lifeline, a federal benefit that lowers the monthly cost of phone or Internet service; EveryoneOn, a resource that helps to identify local low-cost Internet options; or consider using grant funds or donations to cover the cost.
“We have encountered issues where [clients] simply have no way to communicate with us remotely because they have no WiFi at home and/or are unable to pay their Internet and cell phone bills while they’re out of work. In those cases, we’ve used donor funds to help cover bills, and/or to provide pre-paid cell phones which we drop off along with donations from our emergency pantry.” – Hannah McMillen, Driving Opportunity Coordinator at ECDC African Community Center of Denver
- Provide digital literacy tutorials. Check Switchboard’s recent blog post, Resource Round-up: Multilingual Tutorials on Zoom and Other Online Platforms, for tutorials on using virtual meeting apps. The YMCA Houston team provides phone orientations to clients on how to access job readiness workshops using Zoom.
“This has been useful for [clients] to take remote ESL classes, complete intakes for services, and just in general to improve their knowledge of technology, to which their lives will increasingly relate.” – Joanne Pantaleon Torres, Employment Services Director at YMCA International Services
No- to Low-tech Job Readiness Activities
Practice over the Phone: When implementing phone-based practice activities, remember to speak slowly with longer pauses if you are communicating in English. Since you won’t be able to assess body language for understanding, pause often to check for comprehension. Consider these ideas:
- Practice job interviews over the phone using the most common interview questions. Make sure clients understand from the beginning of the call that the interview is for practice only.
- Check the Higher Job Readiness Curriculum for discussion questions in each section that may be asked over the phone. Curriculum topics range from traditional first jobs to workers’ rights and more.
- Simple reading comprehension activities are also feasible for a phone call, especially if you’ve already covered relevant vocabulary. For example, the U.S. Work Basics (1.5J) or Skills for Success (2.1A) activities in the Higher Job Readiness Curriculum include work-related scenarios that can be read aloud, followed by comprehension questions.
- “Assign” participants with independent tasks such as asking a friend questions about their U.S. work experience or finding a “Help Wanted” sign posted in their community.
- Record and/or share short job readiness videos via Internet link (where accessible), text message, or a USB drive.
“When the clients are unable to use Zoom or do not have enough access to the internet to be online, the instructor sends a recording of the workshop and asks them to text back answers to questions related to the workshop. This way, even if [clients] do not have a smartphone themselves, they can watch the video using a friend’s or a relative’s phone.” – Joanne Pantaleon Torres, Employment Services Director at YMCA International Services
Written Assignments: If feasible, make hard copies of written job readiness activities that can be delivered to clients’ homes for them to complete independently. Attach a cover letter explaining what is in the packet, that it is for practice only (not required agency paperwork), when you will check in, and how to contact you with questions. Also include a printed copy of the client’s resume for their reference, if available.
- The Higher Job Readiness Curriculum includes several worksheets to consider (see the list of activities at the beginning of each section).
- Center for Applied Linguistics has developed phrasebooks in several languages that include a jobs section covering several job titles and basic job search terminology.
- Vocabulary Picture Guides, shared by Caritas in Austin, Texas, offer industry-specific vocabulary translations in several common client languages, with photos for housekeeping and food service.
Online Platforms for Virtual Classes: Service providers are relying heavily on Zoom, GoToMeeting, and WhatsApp for communicating with clients during this time. Class content is being adapted to current needs. Keep in mind that clients may be sharing devices with several family members and may only have them for a limited amount of time. You’ll also want to check security settings for any virtual groups you create and use passwords for meetings, if possible.
Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska uses GoToMeeting to provide online lessons, including on aspects of the job search process that have changed due to the pandemic, such as virtual interviews and drive-through job fairs. “We used to focus a lot on the handshake, but obviously don’t encourage that anymore.” We [used to talk] a lot about body language, a smile being one of those things. But it is hard to see a smile while covered with a mask. So we address those things…and talk about the new reality.” – Jessica Ploen, Supervisor of Education and Training, Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska
If your clients have access to the WhatsApp messaging app, here are some ways you can use it for job readiness cohorts:
- Create a designated group where participants can message you and each other.
- Use the voice messaging feature to send audio messages to clients in place of text messages.
- Ask students to record basic greetings or interview answers in English as voice messages. Peers can listen to recorded messages and provide helpful feedback.
- Share links to job readiness training videos (see ideas above) and ask discussion questions within the app.
Be patient with yourself and with clients as you continue finding alternative approaches to in-person job readiness training. Even the best remote learning solutions can’t replace the human connection experienced in a physical classroom. However, we live in an age with many options for staying in touch, so clients can continue to learn and practice new skills valuable to their journeys in the U.S.
“Last week I met with our teachers and for the first time they said they actually kind of like, and in some ways prefer, online classes now. For the first three months I didn’t hear any of that. So we are all adapting!” Jessica Ploen, Supervisor of Education and Training, Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska