Apr 13, 2016

Choosing the right communication program for engineers

In the modern workplace, where company culture, productivity and employee engagement dramatically affect the bottom line, employers are finding an effective communication program to be more important than ever.

Whether you have remote teams, international offices, or non-native English speakers in your local office, providing employees with advanced English training can significantly improve the effectiveness of your workforce.

Choosing a vendor can be daunting, so here are 7 questions to make sure to ask any provider that you evaluate.


1. Who is your typical learner?

Find out quickly if the typical learner sounds like your employees. If you are a tech company looking to improve the English communication of your engineers, you probably don’t want a language and communication program that focuses on beginner Spanish for middle school students. Teaching intermediate to very advanced speakers requires a different approach than teaching beginners. Many companies have created a business language and communication program for these advanced speakers as an add-on, but be cautious if this is not the core competency of the company. You will want to find out if their primary product matches the needs of your employees.

Key follow-up questions include:

  • What proficiency level do you typically work with?
  • How does your approach differ based on proficiency level?
  • Are most of your customers learning for business or personal use?
  • Do you have experience working with employees in my industry?
  • Who are some of your current clients and why did they choose you?


2. Who are your teachers?

If you are searching for a solution for intermediate or advanced English speakers, you are likely already looking for a solution that has a live component, as asynchronous e-learning is generally geared towards beginners. But what goes on during that live instruction will vary greatly from company to company.

A language and communication program is only as good as its teachers. These days, with $250 and a week of video tutorials, anyone can get certified to teach English as a second language. It’s important to find out upfront if the teachers are just college students trying to make a few extra bucks while juggling midterms and frat parties or if they are experienced career instructors who know how to identify the students’ strengths and weaknesses and match their learning style.

Even more important than a teacher’s experience is their personality. We all had that teacher at our high school who has been putting students to sleep for the last 20 years. So do they accept anyone whose resume meets a list of qualifications or do they only hire the most dynamic and engaging teachers?

Finally you want to find out if their teachers feel valued and connected to the company or if they have heavy turnover rates, which will affect the quality of teachers they can hire and the consistency for your employees. Happier teachers will also provide a more positive learning environment for your employees.

Key follow-up questions include:

  • What qualifications do you look in new teachers?
  • What is the recruiting and interview process like for new teachers?
  • What percentage of your teachers come from referrals?
  • Are teachers evaluated on a continual basis?
  • Why do teachers choose to work for you over your competitors?
  • What ongoing support do you provide for your teachers?


3. How would you describe the student/teacher relationship?

Teacher student relationships vary significantly between companies. Some companies  rarely allow students to have the same teacher twice while others only match each student with one or a handful of instructors. Both have their pros and cons: numerous teachers means more flexibility for the student and exposure to various accents while having fewer teachers creates real relationships, provides accountability and a more cohesive learning experience.

Key follow-up questions include:

  • What percentage of the class does the student speak?
  • Will students always have the same teacher or do they have a new teacher every time?
  • How do you ensure the lessons are seamless if a student has multiple teachers?


4. How do you customize the learning?

Customization is a modern buzzword when talking about a language and communication program, but what does it really mean? For some it might mean that the company has no curriculum at all, while at others teachers follow a very rigid curriculum and the customization only means going at the student’s own pace. So when a company says they teach relevant material, it might mean they integrate the language learning with the students’ day-to-day at work or only that they teach from a list of vocabulary terms that are typically associated with the students’ industry.

Key follow-up questions include:

  • Is there a specific methodology you follow?
  • What does a typical lesson look like?
  • How do you identify and work on the students’ weaknesses?
  • How big of an emphasis do you put on grammar vs. communicative skills?
  • Do you work on cultural skills?


5. How can I measure my ROI?

Transparency into the learning is important for both the student and other stakeholders in the organization.

For adult learners, learning language and communication skills can be a long and difficult process. Having visibility into what they’ve accomplished so far and where they are going can be a powerful motivator. Additionally, knowing that other stakeholders in the company also have visibility into their progress holds students accountable and keeps them on track.

For direct or program managers, details on progress and engagement allow you to calculate and present your ROI. Consistent reporting also allows you to provide guidance and encouragement for those struggling or quickly identify anyone who doesn’t seem to be prioritizing the program.

Key follow-up questions include:

  • Is there an assessment at the start of the program?
  • Can I see the engagement levels of my program as a whole? On each student?
  • How do students monitor their progress?
  • How do I monitor student progress?
  • How many hours per week does the average student use your program?


6. What type of support can I expect?

Both students and program managers will need support from your provider, especially in the first few weeks. You want to make sure your provider will take care of getting your employees onboarded and keep them engaged with as little work for you as possible.

Key follow-up questions include:

  • What is the onboarding process?
  • Will students have a specific point person in case of questions or problems?
  • Will I have a specific person to speak with in case of questions or problems?


7. What type of flexibility do you provide?

If you have busy employees or employees in more than one location, flexibility is going to be key. Make sure the language and communication program – and contracts – are flexible enough to accommodate your employees and any future changes to your business.

Key follow-up questions include:

  • Can the language and communication program be implemented globally or only in certain regions?
  • Can you accommodate multiple time zones?
  • How do learners schedule classes?
  • What is your cancellation/rescheduling policy?
  • Do learners have to take classes at the same time each day?
  • Do you require large multi-year contracts or are there multiple payment options?
  • Are licenses or lessons transferable from one employee to the next?
  • What is the process to add new learners to the program?


– Jenny Tannenbaum


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