I've Been Working on My Job Skills, All the Live-Long Day
By Bill Bliss and Steve Molinsky

While a famous American folk tune from the 1890s described life working on the railroad, an equivalent modern tune would need to feature the life of workers in electronics assembly plants, fast-food restaurants, nail salons, health care facilities, and other present-day places of employment. These and other workplace settings are the destinations of many of our adult English language students as they make the transition from our classrooms to the world of work. And the song we hear loud and clear these days from government agencies, funding sources, and the business community, is to make sure we're preparing our students with the English skills they need to succeed in the workforce.

Employment preparation and workforce transitions are a major focus of much of our own work. Our goal is to integrate employment communication and workplace content into all levels of English instruction rather than delaying this until students have mastered the basics. The reality is that many or most of our students are already in the workforce, so we are not necessarily preparing them for some eventual job. Rather, we are offering them communication skills they can use immediately in occupations in which they want to succeed and strive for promotion as well as providing them with the language skills they'll need for further training to change jobs and advance their careers.

Work Words

The Word by Word and Word by Word Basic Picture Dictionary programs develop students' essential occupational vocabulary through lessons on the names of occupations, job skills and activities, the job search process, job safety, workplace locations and equipment, and specific lessons on office, factory, and construction site work settings.

Work Communication

The Foundations program for beginning-literacy and low-beginning students provides a photo-rich introduction to the world of work, from the job application process and employee work schedules to paychecks and safety warnings.

The four-level Side by Side Plus program offers students a careful progression of employment preparation lessons including basic job search skills, following instructions, asking for and giving feedback about job performance, dealing with customers, and identifying personal qualities that promote career advancement. The extensive work-related reading and writing practice in the program includes time sheets, pay stubs, accident forms, safety signs, memos, and employee manuals.

Day by Day, a unique self-contained course for beginners, focuses exclusively on workplace communication. In this single volume, students learn the language they need to obtain employment and communicate effectively with supervisors, co-workers, and customers. The most popular features of the course are teamwork activities that engage students in cooperative learning tasks, bulletin board notices that provide cultural information about employer expectations and employee rights and responsibilities, and simulation activities and role-plays that develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills in workplace contexts.

Work Songs

Work has inspired songwriters for generations and in all genres, from folk ballads to country music to rock 'n' roll. Bruce Springsteen sings of working in factories and on the highway, Dolly Parton celebrates the "nine to five" life of women in the workforce, and Donna Summer's waitress "works hard for the money." Our own celebration of the worker can be found in a WordSong included on the audio CD with the Word by Word and Word by Word Basic Picture Dictionary programs. Here is an audio file of the tune, which teaches the names of occupations:


And here are the reproducible worksheets for the song — a lyrics sheet and a cloze exercise — which you can find in the Lesson Planner books and CD-ROMs included with the Teacher's Guides.

As the song says: "Working for a living, One thing in life is true, Everybody's got a job to do." We hope that some of our work here will help make your job preparing students for the workplace a little easier, more effective, more tuneful, and more fun!