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Partnering with Metro North ABE helps build employee capacity


Cummins, a manufacturing plant in Fridley, Minnesota is partnering with Metro North Adult Basic Education (ABE) to offer workplace learning to its employees. The goal of the program is to improve the English language and digital literacy skills of its employees, in order to increase communication and opportunities for advancement within the company.


Cummins approached Metro North ABE to support the English language skill development of some of their employees. They wanted to give back to their great employees by helping them with general conversational skills in English. This, in turn, could help employees move up in responsibilities within the company. 


Kathleen Moriarty, ABE Program Supervisor, responded to the initial request from Christopher Best, Cummins Operations Manager, with a proposal to pilot a ten-week English as a Second or Other Language class on-site for employees. The operations manager identified conversational English as an initial goal of the program, to benefit employees in their daily lives. Leading the on-site class instruction is Janet Van Benthuysen, a Metro North ABE teacher with experience in both manufacturing and teaching English as a Second or Other Language. According to Janet, "I understand the working environment where I am teaching. I started my career in manufacturing, starting on the assembly floor, moving to quality control, and then accounting. I understand the challenges that these students are facing."


In the program's pilot, classes were held for 10 weeks on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the afternoon, between shifts. This mixed-level class had students with a wide variety of backgrounds and skills. Still, all wanted to improve their English and advance their careers at Cummins. Janet shared, "In my class, I had a student who was a level one English speaker to a student who was three credits away from earning his Bachelor's degree. The challenge was to create a class that addresses the needs of all students."


After the ten weeks, Janet clearly had strong results, with 63.6% of students increasing one level on a standardized test, at the end of the program. But the class created more than just test results, it boosted students’ confidence in their English language skills and created a stronger work culture where employees formed stronger teams. According to Janet, "I had 3 leads from Cummins that worked closely with the class. There was one student who was always reserved. One day, near the end of the class, one of the leads shared with me, ‘I have worked with this employee for over a year and never exchanged more than the necessary words with him, now we have full conversations. It’s really incredible!’"


The success of the project is attributed to the partnership between Cummins and Metro North ABE, as well as the involvement of leads from the company in the class development and implementation. According to Janet, "The success of the project is really about the partnership. Not only did Cummins suggest the project, but they worked with me to build the program. Cummins made sure I had screenshots of the computers at each student’s workstation to build vocabulary connected to students’ daily tasks."


Cummins immediately requested a new proposal to continue the programming throughout the year, with a rotation of digital literacy instruction and English skills instruction. Moriarty states, “It is refreshing to see an employer invest in the skill development of their employees, not only for their jobs but for their lives outside of work, as well. We are enthused to continue this partnership going forward.”


The workplace learning program between Cummins and Metro North ABE is a valuable opportunity for employees to improve their English language and digital literacy skills, as well as advance their careers within the company. The success of the program highlights the importance of partnerships and collaboration in workplace learning and development.