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Helping Prepare Adult English Learners for Employment—Dale Fisher

Helping Prepare Adult English Learners for Employment—Dale Fisher

When we meet with adult English learners, questions around employment are always near the surface. Those who do not have a job, know they need to get one. Those who have jobs, want to move beyond their “survival” job, to one that better uses their qualifications and experience.

As ELL teachers, we have three main challenges: teaching the English they will need for their job search, explaining the Canadian workplace culture, and encouraging the learners that they have more transferrable skills than they realize.

I always begin my employment lessons after we do Chinese New Year, because the vocabulary we use to describe the different animal signs is very useful. I always point out which characteristics are positive for the Canadian workplace, such as trusting vs. trustworthy, and aggressive vs. assertive. Luckily these characteristics are intuitive if you are born in the year of the rat. ☺

It is very important to help the learners realize that they have more skills than they realize! I begin by showing my three skillsets: teaching, large group catering, and child care. Each set has three specific skills, such as “prepare interesting activities which help children develop physically, educationally, and socially”. The learners start to write down my skills, because they want to copy the language. I always make the connection between the skill, and a Canadian job. For example, if you can plan activities for children, you can have a day home in your home, or take care of seniors.  I have to do quite a bit of coaching to help them realize how many skills they have. If they can sell something in their home country, they can sell something anywhere.  They usually forget their computer and language skills which should be listed.

The ALIS website, ( has excellent employment books, all available for free. I order a class set of Work Search Basics and Working in Alberta. They have current information on resume and cover letter writing, work search strategies and interview skills. Many learners want these for their children.

We work on giving a 30 second resume both for a survival job and their career job. We practice saying these “elevator pitches” in groups or pairs. I always emphasize that they have to be prepared to give their pitch whenever they meet anyone who might have a lead on a job. Here is an example of a template:

I have ___________ years of experience as a ______________________________

I am good at _______________________________________________________

I have strong _________________________________skills.

I can operate a ________________________________

I have strong computer skills and am familiar with _________________________

_______________________ and _______________________________________

I can speak _____________  and ________________, and I am taking classes to improve my English.

I am ________________________ and ____________________. (qualities like responsible)

I like to ______________________ and _______________________ (show physical energy)

We also do mock interviews with typical questions, and discuss how these can be answered.

Our first priority is to ENCOURAGE. It may be a long road ahead to achieve their goal, but the road is a good one, where they will meet wonderful fellow travellers who will become their new friends and community.


Photo of Dale Fisher

Dale Fisher, BA York U., B Ed U. of Toronto, Dip ESL U. of Calgary,
an  ATESL Accredited Instructor with 18 years of experience with
design and delivery of adult and young adult ESL curriculum.

Posted in: Dale Fisher, ESL Classroom, ESL Tips

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