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Special Addition to the WorkStyles Newsletter, October 19, 2006.

On September 29, 2006 Spring Institute's WorkStyles Program completed its 200th program. In this Special Edition, Spring Institute recognizes the successes and hard work of our students and staff who have participated in WorkStyles since 1985

Reflections on WorkStyles
By Barbara Sample, Director of Educational Services 

October 3, 2006

A brief summary of WorkStyles for those who don't know the 2-week program: It's a 60-hour, intensive course; team-taught, utilizing a combination of ESL and what I consider to be human potential training techniques. While the objectives focus on interviewing skills, completing applications and developing a resume, the real content involves increasing confidence and self-esteem. The underlying philosophy is one of respect for what each participant brings to the training. In this challenging, but supportive environment, you'd see (if you sat in on the class) brainstorming on flipcharts, the use of video feedback, role-plays, and people working in groups helping each other.

WorkStyles #1 was held in February 1985 with participants from Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.  The history of WorkStyles goes back to 1984, though. Myrna Ann, Bob Sample, and I met with Charles Ray, a colleague and later a Spring Institute Board member, over lunch at the Three Sons, an Italian restaurant near the original Spring Institute at 50th and Lowell in NW Denver. Charles, a Community Mental Health professional, developed WorkStyles at the Lakeview Center in Florida in 1981 and 82 for CETA (Welfare) clients. Originally designed for native English speakers, WorkStyles focused on both career and personal effectiveness skills.  It was clear we would need to adapt the program for use with non-native speakers, but Charles could see the potential WorkStyles had for refugees who had some of the same challenges to their self-esteem and confidence that CETA clients had. We (Spring) decided to purchase the franchise for something like $2000 and began offering it to refugee participants in 1985.

Classes were held first in Myrna Ann's [Spring Institute's President and CEO] church, First Baptist, across from the Capitol. Later, with the permission of our landlords, we used vacant office space in the downtown buildings where the Spring office was located. We even ran WorkStyles at the Glendale library once or twice. Eventually Central Presbyterian Church was WorkStyles' home before we moved to 1610 Emerson. Over the years we have developed close working relationships with agencies throughout the refugee network: voluntary agencies, Emily Griffith Opportunity School, and of course CRSP and the Mayor's Office.

Many people contributed to the manual that we now use, but Shirley Brod was instrumental in starting the process of adapting WorkStyles materials for speakers of other languages. (She would probably be best known to some of you as the person who wrote the lyrics to the WorkStyles song. "We've all learned to do applications….")

 

Early memories of WorkStyles: Virtually all Refugee clients went through CRSP, the Colorado Refugee Services Program, when we started WorkStyles in 1985. There was definitely a need for pre-employment training for refugees, but there was no system of referrals in place initially. We needed to do a bit of convincing, but the CRSP case managers agreed that we could try WorkStyles with their toughest clients, the ones they were ready to sanction for non-cooperation, refusing to take jobs, hopping from job to job, and blowing it once they were on a job. That first group was tough. None of them had been successful at keeping a job, they were defensive, resistant. Underneath the tough exterior, though, people were unsure; they didn't know the cultural rules or the language for getting a job and keeping it. WorkStyles provided them both information and practice. They gained skills and in the process confidence that they could be successful at getting and keeping the next job. The transformation was quite remarkable. We were hooked.

 

Participants in the early days of WorkStyles in many ways were very much like the participants today. Some people had strong English, some had low English, some were highly technically trained, some came to Denver with few transferable skills. An early class included this classic contrast. Ralucca from Rumania was a laser optics engineer; her co-participants were Cambodian and Laotian fishermen and farmers. We weren't sure that Ralucca would benefit from WorkStyles. After all, she had excellent English and already possessed the skills to get a higher paying job than any of us, her trainers, had. But we were wrong. She did benefit from the coaching, and the contrast between her grim first WorkStyles interview and her second was dramatic. However, the greatest benefit came as a result of her interaction with her classmates. At the end of the two weeks she acknowledged that she had gained an awareness of the challenges they faced, and had enormous respect for the strength it took to meet those challenges. By the way, Ralucca ended up at Nikon with a $35,000/year job traveling all over the world.

 

Then there was Joua Her. Most Hmong we had encountered had pretty upbeat attitudes, but Joua looked like her face might crack if she smiled. She arrived in the US as a young widow with three small children, no English, and limited skills. She was very resistant to taking the training. We worked with her and her now teenage and young adult kids to address each objection. Transportation? We got her to the bus stop.  (That may be when we added reading a bus schedule to the curriculum.) How would she prepare dinner for her family? Her daughter said the kids would help. The first week of WS was pretty grim. But somewhere along the line she brought in her needlework. She was incredibly talented. In her second interview when asked about her skills (sewing), she showed her work to the interviewer. My memory is that her case manager had come to visit WorkStyles that day and stood at the door of the training room. She watched the confident applicant and said to me, "That is not Joua Her. That is someone else. Where is she?" Well, the Old Joua Her was gone. The New Joua was the first person in her WorkStyles group to get a job, a job at a sewing factory. She was consistently recognized by her employer for her superior work, attendance, and attitude. When the Mayor's Office provided contractors an opportunity to honor clients, we chose Joua. Anwar, one of Chris and Yohannes' predecessors, took the award out to the company, but was told Joua was no longer employed there.  Where was she? Joua had located a position that was closer to home, paid more, and met her needs. She gave appropriate notice, left her first employer on good terms, and was newly employed having used her WorkStyles skills to get a new position.

 

Hadera Gesesse from Ethiopia taught us that one of the most important things she learned in WorkStyles was the strange custom of "selling yourself" in the job interview. She informed us, "In my country it's not okay to say good things about yourself. Others may do that, but not you. And if you smile in a conversation with a boss, he will think you are rude or crazy, because you are not taking the situation seriously. But here, I have learned to smile and to say good things about myself to help convince the boss to hire me."

 

We have an exercise to address realistic expectations. There was the dental surgeon who needed recertification to practice here. What did he do? Took a part-time job washing dishes, coached gymnastics (another skill), and studied for his exams. Two years later he showed up at Spring to say, "Remember the steps? Well, I'm half-way toward my goal." Haven't heard from him, but suspect he has achieved it by now.

 

Another person, a computer programmer, decided to jump all the "steps to the future" and go straight for the job he was qualified for. It took 3 months of full-time job search, but he did it.

 

From Hmong to Vietnamese to Russians to Bosnians to the "Lost Boys from Sudan" to the Somali Bantu. What have been the themes, the gifts to all of us through the years? We think of the power and confidence people gain by pushing through challenges – doing an interview on video and having your performance critiqued is not easy, but once you have overcome that challenge, it is easier to take on new challenges…. It's "a piece of cake" to show a prospective employer in an actual interview what you can do for that company.

We figure over 2,500 people have gone through the WorkStyles training since it started in 1985. WorkStyles has made a difference in a lot of people's lives. It has made a difference for the participants, but those of us who have been WorkStyles trainers realize how fortunate we are to work with such remarkable people. We have learned so much from them. We are awed by their strength and spirit. We are inspired by their gift of diversity and tolerance. And we know how lucky this country is.

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