A national English language teaching project has proven that setting resource materials in the context of healthcare increases learners' interest in applying for jobs in the sector. Kath Jones explains

The EQUAL initiative is a centre for new ideas for theEuropean Employment Strategyand the social inclusionprocess.

Part-funded by the European Commission, one of its projects is leading the way in providing vocationally based healthcare learning materials for speakers of languages other than English.

The Healthcare ESOL Development Partnership national project has tested the theory that if you teach people English in the language and context of healthcare you will encourage more people to apply for jobs in the healthcare sector.

The lead partner isCheshireand Wirral Partnership trust and the project has attracted support from the Department of Health, with other national partners including the Learning and Skills Council, Ufi - the 'university for industry' - and Skills for Health. Development agencies and the voluntary sector are among regional partners, and local partners include trusts and further education colleges.

Recent statistics make it clear why this type of training scheme is so important for health sector employers. By 2014, 1.6 million more people will be needed to meet expansion and replace leavers and retirers. A high proportion of current employees are over the age of 45. By 2030, half theUKpopulation will be over 50, due to increasing life expectancy and declining birth rates, coupled with medical advances, all increasing demand on healthcare provision. On3 July 2007there were 7,528 vacancies on the NHS Jobs website.

The approach to the training involved nine consultative workshops across regions inEnglandwith employers, employees who have English as a second language and individuals from minority language communities. The workshops informed the content and style of delivery of the learning materials.

Both the prototype materials and participant questionnaires were designed for use by participants with a specified minimum level of skills in English (strong Entry 3 or Level 1 ESOL). At this level, participants would understand enough to fully participate in the trial process without needing translation or interpreting support. During this phase, both questionnaires 1 and 2 were designed and piloted with ESOL learners at a college in north London.The questionnaires were then revised and amended in response to learner feedback and trial team observations.

Learner profile

Questionnaire 1 was organised into six sections and focused on building a profile of the participants, including their views and experiences of ESOL learning, e-learning, past and current educational and employment history, current commitments and future plans.

Participants were also asked about any experience or interest in work in health and social care as well as their expectations on trialling the materials. This data was needed to provide a benchmark for measuring the impact of trialling the prototype on participants’ opinions – whether using ESOL materials embedded in a health and social care context influenced the likelihood of their considering work in this sector.

Questionnaire 2 asked participants for detailed feedback on the prototype. Participants were then asked whether having trialled the prototype they were more likely to look for work in health and social care.

The learning materials come as a CD containing five modules, including a short videoof two people describing the qualifications, experience and personal attributes they needed to get their jobs. There is then a series of interactive question and answer exercises based on the video followed by paper-based activities and use of the internet.

Learners are given the opportunity to practice what they have learned by identifying a post on NHS Jobs and matching their own skills and experience to the job description and personal specification.

Some of the findings to emerge from the research included:

  • The majority of participants (66 per cent) had worked before coming to theUKbut only one-third were employed at the time of the study. Just 4 per cent of the sample had either previous or current work experience in health and social care. Of those in work at the time of the study, a very small percentage were doing the same or similar work – that is. using their previous skills, experiences and qualifications, whereas the majority of those in work were doing lower-status jobs.

  • After trying the materials, almost 70 per cent of the sample reported that they would be interested in applying for work in the health and social care sectors and of these 43 per cent had changed their minds significantly as a result of taking part in this trial – that is, having reported in questionnaire 1 that they would not consider looking for work in this sector. This suggests that teaching English in the context of health and social care to people who do not have English as their first language will encourage more people to apply for jobs in this sector.

  • All the participants valued being asked for their opinions and views and to describe their experiences.

  • In this study, the main reason reported by participants for improving English language skills was to find a job and language ability was regarded as important.

  • Participants appreciated the breadth, diversity and scope of healthcare work highlighted by the learning materials. It proved that minority-language speakers are frequently not aware of the diversity of jobs or the process involved in applying for work in this sector.

  • Participants generally valued the skills and knowledge they gained from trialling the prototype, such as increasing their vocabulary, finding out about different jobs and improving their computing skills, regardless of whether they had shown interest in work in health and social care.

With the theory proven efforts are being made to make employers and minority-language speakers aware of this learning resource and to gain funding to develop other modules on the CD.

The project will have a stand at the NHS Employers annual conference and exhibition in October.A conference entitled Encouraging Diversity in Healthcare Employment will be held on 6 November in the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre in London. For more information visit www.edheconference.org

Copies of the executive summary of the test workshop report and be obtained from the project office. For further details contact kath.jones@cwpnt.nhs.uk