apple Putting out the Welcome Mat

What’s in it for Me?

Successful recruitment begins with spreading the word in the right places and in the right ways in order to contact potential learners. Recruitment materials need to highlight how literacy can make a difference in people’s lives and encourage learners to participate in life-long opportunities. Potential learners need to hear a positive message about what they will gain from the training and how literacy can make a difference in their lives.

Part of the problem with recruitment is that our promotional strategies and materials can sometimes be based on mistaken assumptions about what adult students want. Remember that students come to you because of something THEY want – not something YOU think they should need or want. We have to stop thinking from our own point of view and assumptions and try instead to consider recruitment from the point of view of adult learners.

Successful promotional strategies will always answer the question: “Why should I come to your literacy agency—what is in it for me?” Does your organization think about this when it prepares its recruitment strategies and materials?

Student Voices

Current and former students are naturally a wonderful source of information on learner needs and recruitment strategies. Talk to students; find out how they learned about the program. Was it through print or radio? A referral from another agency? Use what works! You could conduct a brief survey, ask questions informally or hold a focus group with learners on this topic. As well, test out your promotional materials and strategies on current and past learners.

Sample questions to ask adult students:

  • How did you find out about this program?
  • What made you want to come here?
  • What keeps you coming?
  • What would stop you from coming?
  • Would you suggest this program to others? Why or why not?
  • What is most helpful to you about this program?
  • What is least helpful to you about this program?
  • How can we reach other adult students?

Word of Mouth

Word of mouth referral is probably the most successful way to recruit learners.

An extremely effective recruitment strategy is to involve adult students in promoting your literacy program. Adult students are a wonderful inspiration to the community at large as well as to potential learners. Word of mouth also relies on family and friends highlighting the need for literacy instruction and the availability of programs. ABC Life Literacy’s “Who Wants to Learn?” research further confirmed the importance of family and friends when it found that 32% of potential learners heard about literacy programming from family and friends.

Knowing this, encourage everyone to talk literacy up! Create opportunities by holding community presentations, writing a learner-of-the-month feature article, etc. Incorporate learner testimonials into your promotional material and invite learners to speak at community events. Encourage learners to bring a friend to social events or even to a training session. Some programs provide learners and volunteers with business cards that they can pass out when talking about literacy.

Community Organizations

Every community has many local organizations that provide a wide range of services. Linking with community organization such as other social service agencies, service clubs, faith-based organizations, support groups, and professional services like doctors, lawyers and dentists is a great way to increase referrals.

Sometimes other organizations don’t even think of suggesting a literacy program, so we need to actively market ourselves to them. Link with other agencies and let them know what your program can do for their clients. Like us, community organizations are very busy and they will need to clearly understand the benefits of your program before they will refer. Talk about how you can help each other and work together for the ultimate benefit of the client. Be aware of staff turnover at agencies. Linking with other organizations should not be a one-shot deal; you need to both create and nurture linkages.

As well, ask other organizations for their input on recruitment strategies. Ask them what would make them want to suggest your program to a client. Keep in mind that ABC Life Literacy found in its “Who Wants to Learn” research that 23% of potential learners heard about literacy programming from school or community groups.

A networking group of social service agencies can be a valuable tool for establishing a working relationship with agencies whose clients might need literacy training. In some communities, various social service agencies get together several times per year to network.

A great example of community networking occurred when Literacy Network Northeast held its first regional open house event in January 2006. Literacy agencies from across the region invited possible referral organizations and community partners to visit agencies over lunch so they could have a chance to see the various literacy programs and what they do. It was a very successful event that resulted in increased community exposure for literacy.

Targeting Community Needs

When thinking about learner recruitment, consider your community as a whole and be aware of local trends. What are the needs and issues in your community? What other organizations are providing related programs and services? What supports are available? What are the gaps? What is going on with your local economy that impacts your services? Are community demographics changing? Are the programs and services you offer still relevant?

These and other issues may already be being discussed by your board of directors or around your LSP (Literacy Services Plan) table. If they aren’t being discussed, consider having a planning session in your own agency to talk about these critical issues. This information can help you to target your recruitment efforts and to design or adapt your programming to fill gaps and to meet identified community needs.

Using Your Exit and Follow Up Results to Recruit

Although the mandatory exit survey is given to students who are leaving a Literacy and Basics Skills program, you can still use the results to help recruit future learners. For example, the question about learner satisfaction can be a powerful recruitment tool. If the statistics clearly show that a strong majority of learners were satisfied with what your agency had to offer, you could boldly state: “xxx% of learners
are satisfied with our literacy program” in your recruitment materials. And, because the exit survey must be given to all learners who met their goals, you can also incorporate information on goal achievement into your recruitment messages.

The other questions on the exit survey can also help you with recruitment. For example, the survey asks if the hours your program offers are convenient.

You can also add questions to the exit survey to obtain more specific input about your agency and learner recruitment. For example, one or two of following questions could be added to the exit survey:

  • How did you hear about us?
  • What made you decide to come here?
  • Why did you stay?
  • What did we do well and what could we have done better?
  • How can we reach other adults with low literacy skills?

The information gathered at three-and six- month follow-up can also be useful for recruitment. For example, you might be able to attract new learners if you can clearly demonstrate that the majority of previous learners did indeed meet their goals and went on to enhanced independence, further education or employment.

Following Up with Potential Learners

Lack of follow-up with potential learners by literacy agencies was a problem identified by ABC Life Literacy in its research. Ensuring that your literacy agency follows up promptly and courteously with potential learners on initial contact is crucial. It would be frustrating for someone who has taken that first difficult step of contacting a literacy agency to be left waiting for the phone to ring. If your agency has a waiting list you should still follow up to explain the waiting list process or refer them elsewhere. And once someone is on a waiting list, it is a good idea to keep in touch so they don’t think you’ve forgotten about them. If your agency is not the right place, be sure to make a quick and helpful referral to the appropriate service provider.

Reaching Diverse Cultural Groups

Sometimes it can be difficult to reach diverse cultural groups in your community. Staff and volunteers must be sensitive to cultural differences and programs should incorporate traditional knowledge, languages, stories and customs when designing course content and recruitment materials. It is also good to have your staff and volunteers reflect the diversity of the community you serve.

As well, cultural awareness and anti-racism awareness for staff and volunteers is important. A community advisory group made up of representatives from various cultural groups can provide valuable advice on effective ways to link with diverse communities. It is also important to ensure that your literacy agency establishes linkages with organizations serving diverse cultural groups.

Use of Computers

ABC Life Literacy’s “Who Wants to Learn?” research found that of those who state that they might take a literacy program in the next five years, just under a third are extremely interested in using the Internet to take an upgrading program, while an almost equal number are not at all interested in the Internet option.

Using computers and the Internet can be very appealing to some. It can be a great hook to get people into literacy agencies because they may feel more comfortable upgrading their computer skills than improving their literacy skills. As well, using computers is a highly tangible skill. People can experience learning and success quickly. Online learning opportunities also add additional flexibility in programming that can help to meet the diverse needs and schedules of adult students.

Here are some great sources of online learning opportunities for adult learners:

  • Contact North works with the e-Channel organizations selected by the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development to deliver Ontario’s online literacy courses. The Contact North | Contact Nord Technical Help Desk is also provided for e-Channel students and practitioners.  Provides Ontarians online literacy and basic skills courses, that are either “live” in an online classroom or at “anytime” at a time and place convenient to the student.  Supports services at no cost to indigenous, anglophone, deaf, and francophone cultural groups, and to those preparing for apprenticeship and postsecondary programs.  Manages an online meeting space for students, teachers, coaches, trainers and leaders of adult literacy and basic skills programs.  Offers an easy and convenient way for Ontarians to interact and learn through real-time or anytime classroom lessons.
  • The Learning Edge is a project of the Wellington County Learning Centre. The Learning Edge is a highly rated online newspaper for adult learners packed with interactive activities:
  • Copian database provides a wide variety of information, tools and resources to support the Canadian literacy community.

However, it is good to remember that some people may be fearful of computers. In recruitment material and in program orientation literacy agencies should promote that they offer a variety of learning opportunities, including the option of using computers and the Internet. For those that prefer to learn in traditional ways, that option is still very much open to them.

Questions and Activities for Reflection

  1. How would you answer if someone asked you “Why should I come to your literacy agency – what’s in it for me?”
  2. The experiences of past and current learners are a very effective recruitment tool. Do you use their voices enough in your recruitment strategies? Could you do anything differently?
  3. Family and friends help to refer adults to programs and they also provide critical support once people are enrolled in literacy programming. What can your agency do in order to encourage greater involvement of family and friends in the recruitment process?
  4. How does your agency conduct outreach to diverse cultural groups within your community? What other strategies might be valuable to try as well?
  5. What questions could you add to the exit survey that would help you improve your recruitment practices or promote your agency?
  6. Given that word of mouth is probably the single most successful way to recruit adult learners, what could you do differently to most effectively use this as a recruitment tool?
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