For more than three decades, Jeannie Spence, a member of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association of BC, has been tutoring employees of the Hastings Racecourse in Vancouver. Ms. Spence doesn’t know how many people she’s helped over the years but says she’s now working with some of their adult children.
In 2011 she was presented with the Dr. Alan Middleton Workplace Literacy and Learning Award by its namesake. Dr. Middleton is an assistant professor of marketing and the executive director of the Schulich Executive Education Centre at York University, and a member of the board of directors of ABC Life Literacy Canada.
“She teaches at the track because it's a threat-free environment,” he says. “People can just drop in at work.”
Dr. Middleton has been a lifelong advocate of literacy training. “I grew up in a poor area of London, England, and my father had literacy challenges,” he says.
“Corporations need to realize it’s in their own best interest to help upgrade the skills of the whole population.” Dr. Alan Middleton, Executive Director of the Schulich Executive Education Centre at York University
He knows all too well the importance of literacy proficiency and the stigma of having weak skills. “We need all the stakeholders, such as governments, businesses and unions, to understand how serious the problem is and how they need to work together to resolve it.”
Dr. Middleton says no one entity can or should be asked to assume the entire responsibility of combatting literacy deficiencies. “It can’t all be left to governments. Corporations, for example, need to realize it’s in their own best interest to help upgrade the skills of the whole population.”
Even if a company believes its personnel don’t have literacy weaknesses, “they don’t work in isolation,” says Dr. Middleton. “Part of their future depends on interrelationships with customers, suppliers and many others.”
His main message to stakeholders? “Stop passing the issue off to someone else. It’s yours and it’s time to make change happen.”
Thanks to the efforts of Jeannie Spence, the jockeys, grooms, exercise riders and front-side staff at Hastings Racecourse in Vancouver have improved their literacy skills without leaving the grounds of the track.
Through the Hastings Learning Centre, Ms. Spence and a team of tutors support more than 200 employees each year in overcoming their literacy challenges. “We try to create a welcoming space so that people will drop in,” she says. “The coffee pot is always on, and we run weekly events and field trips.”
Ms. Spence says the program’s success stems from the strong partnerships between government, Great Canadian Gaming Corporation, the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and the tutors, and that the real heroes are the employees who have the courage to improve their skills.
She encourages other organizations to do what they can for their staff. “You have to help the people who help you,” she says. “The more you do for your people, the more they will do for you.” To learn more, visit www.workplaceeducation.ca.
For more information, visit abclifeliteracy.ca