Sears was noticing high turnover rates among Level 1 automotive technicians in Houston, and they turned to TEEX for help.
In order to get a promotion and a raise, Level 1 technicians had to pass exams on job tasks, such as front end alignment, but the exams and the training manuals were written in English. Those employees without a good command of the English language had difficulty passing the exams, leading to retention and promotion problems in the Sears Automotive Group.
Sears called on TEEX for help because of its training experience, versatility and its ability to provide training services on an extension basis to all 33 Sears stores in the Gulf Coast Workforce Board area.
Sears and TEEX partnered in a workforce training grant proposal to the Texas Workforce Commission. The proposal addressed Sears’ core problems on several fronts. The Texas Workforce Commission provided nearly $300,000 of funding for the program through an APEX (Achieving Performance Excellence) demonstration grant.
“We put together a training program to work with these employees to improve their workplace English so they can pass the exams and move up in the organization. The goal is to make them better employees, improve safety and decrease the turnover rate,” said Doug Wehrly, manager of the TEEX Houston Regional Training Center (HRTC).
The Houston Center assessed about 300 Sears Automotive Group employees, at all levels, for potential language deficiencies, Wehrly said. The assessment was open to anyone who wanted it, he added. The completed assessments were turned over to Sears, who is expected to select between 80 and 100 employees to participate in the TEEX training program.
Another major part of the project involved rewriting the Sears training manuals on batteries, tires and alignment, and translating them into Spanish. The manuals now have the English and Spanish text side by side, Wehrly said.
“And TEEX Media Productions worked with us to revise and update the Sears automotive job skills and safety training video and translate it into English and Spanish,” he said. “We provided the Automotive Group managers with the video and a curriculum on safety training to use with employees. And Trina Smith of TEEX developed an instructional guide to be used with the videotape.”
Sears is setting up the schedule for participants and the first TEEX class is expected to start in March, Wehrly said. Employees selected to participate in the program will be paid while attending the training sessions, which may be held at any one of 19 Sears locations in the Houston metropolitan area, he added.
The TEEX classroom training sessions will incorporate traditional Workplace English as a Second Language (WESL) instruction. It will be supplemented with several alternative and interactive educational strategies, including scenario-based, computer-based training designed to engage the interest of adult learners. This will include an interactive learning tool designed like a computer game, which was developed through the grant, Wehrly said.
Participants will attend two-hour training sessions twice a week for 12 weeks.
And the TEEX assistance won’t end there, said Wehrly. “If there are other barriers to success in the workplace, we can refer them to local agencies for help. For example, if they wish to pursue their GED, need childcare assistance or transportation assistance, we can refer them to support services.”
Once they complete the TEEX training, Sears will identify a mentor to work with them on the job to continue improving their skills and success.
“I really think this will change their lives,” Wehrly said. “It will give them the opportunity to move up into a better paying job, and to participate more fully in the community through better English skills.”