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Bear Creek Corp. Joins Rogue Comm. College to Increase Employee Skills

Excerpt from the fall 2001 CASAS Quarterly Report Newsletter Bear Creek Corporation, Medford, Oregon, is Southern Oregon's largest employer with more than 2,600 standing employees and a seasonal workforce of more than 11,000.

The company provides fruit for its’ direct marketing affiliates such as Harry and David and Jackson & Perkins. In the Orchards Division of Bear Creek Corporation, 99 percent of the supervisors are native Spanish speakers with an average education level of less than sixth grade. Last summer, Bear Creek Corporation formed a partnership with Rogue Community College to help supervisors gain the basic skills necessary to more effectively perform their present jobs, to assure the safety of all employees, to transfer to other divisions of the company during off-season times, and to prepare them for future advancement within the company. By implementing the CASAS Workforce Learning System, a system designed to meet the essential education and training needs in the workplace, Bear Creek Corporation and Rogue Community College were able to identify the basic literacy skills of the Orchard Supervisors and develop a program to help increase those skills. With monetary resources supplied by a Department of Labor Current Workforce Grant through the Oregon Department of Community Colleges and Workforce Development, Rogue Community College instructors used the CASAS ESL Appraisal Form 20 to separate 36 Orchard supervisors into three literacy levels: beginning, intermediate, and advanced. One tutor was assigned by community college staff to provide one-on-one tutoring with a student who was pre-literate in both his native language and English. As an incentive for employee participation, classes were held during regular working hours three times each week. The ten-week program included 70 hours of work-based instruction in four areas: English, math, computers, and horticulture. Students were provided with their own study materials including a dictionary, books, binders, notepaper, zipper-pouch, pens, pencils, highlighters, calculators and computer disks. The participants were expected to arrive to class prepared to learn, with these supplies in hand each day. Recognizing that ‘learning how to learn’ was a new skill for many of the participants in this program, community college staff incorporated instruction on how to use these supplies and organizational tools throughout the program. Students achieved higher reading and math gains than expected for the length and duration of the program. Using the CASAS assessment system, ESL students can be expected to make five-point score gains in reading or math after 80-100 hours of instruction. In only 70 hours of instruction that combined four different topics, the average increase in math scores for students participating in this program was 4.94 points and the average increase in reading scores was 4.73 points. CASAS level gains in ESL require increases of between ten and 30 points depending on the level. By this standard it might have been expected that no level gains would be made given the number of hours of instruction. However, according to the Adult Basic Education Final Report from Rogue Community College, 42 percent of the students increased one or more ESL levels in math and 45 percent increased in reading. One outcome identified by the grant was that participants would improve their scores or pass the Chemical Applicators’ License in future exams. As of June 30, 2001, one supervisor has taken this exam. He scored 86 percent of the required passing scores on his first attempt, and passed by his third attempt. These scores and rate of gain are dramatically higher than average scores and point gains among those who take the exam in Spanish. (Based on data provided by Oregon Department of Agriculture for Pesticide Applicators License exams taken at Southern Oregon University from 1997-2000 and the Bear Creek Corporation Workplace Learning Program and Rogue Community College Final Reports) Aside from showing remarkable student learning gains, the program was successful in other ways. Supervisors have improved their speed and accuracy at tasks such as timekeeping, vehicle reporting, and e-mail. The transition to electronic record keeping and communication has saved time for administrative staff in the main office.

As a result, the company realized an immediate savings estimated to be approximately $25,500 per year. As well as monetary rewards for the company, intangible rewards such as increased employee confidence, morale, retention, and overall satisfaction appear to have resulted from the project. It was also known that improved comprehension of pesticide labels and ‘mixing math’ reduces the risk of mistakes, accidents, injury, fines and settlements. Since the grant ended, Bear Creek Corporation has maintained its partnership with Rogue Community College. Seventy-five percent of participants have signed up for on-going ESL or GED classes at Rogue Community College. Based on this continued interest, employees will be offered the opportunity to continue attending classes at the college on their own time. RCC and BCC will provide four orientation sessions to employees who would like more information on attending basic education classes at the community college. CASAS Workforce Learning Systems has contributed to the success of this program. By using WLS, Bear Creek Corporation and Rogue Community College were better able to focus instruction on employee needs, and in return improve employee productivity and success rates. For more information on this program, please contact Nancy Vaughn, Director of Adult Basic Education at Rogue Community College at 541-245-7713, or Annika Forester, Senior Training Specialist at Bear Creek Corporation at 541-864-3829.

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