Successful Learner Recruitment Strategies
Community Literacy of Ontario has collected information on effective learner recruitment strategies from a wide variety of sources, including from participants in CLO’s two online workshops on learner recruitment held in 2006 and ideas shared by CLO’s board of directors. As well, strategies were taken from research from Kingston Literacy’s “Reaching Across the Barriers”, the Ontario Literacy Coalition’s “Seeing the Need; Meeting the Need” and CLO’s own “Learner Recruitment and Retention Toolkit.”
Effective learner recruitment strategies from Ontario’s community literacy agencies include the following:
- We set up a year-round recruitment committee made up of one or two board members, staff and community members. The only job and focus of this committee is student recruitment.
- As part of staff and tutor training we make sure everyone is aware of how important a friendly, helpful, warm attitude and atmosphere is to current and potential adult students.
- Our literacy agency uses radio advertising targeted at youth. We use youth voices and encourage them to use their own words and lingo for the script.
- We create student business cards. These cards both empower the current students and also serve as a tool for recruiting new students, since the cards are given out to their friends and family.
- We offer casual help to our community. For example, we hold a drop in night at our literacy agency and we offer to help people complete forms free of charge. This puts us in contact with people who might well like to improve their literacy skills.
- Our literacy agency holds a pizza lunch open house where potential learners can come in and speak with current learners.
- We offer short-term courses. The mini courses are based on ideas and needs that come from current students. Courses have included: budgeting, genealogy, living wills, “writing your memoirs”, etc. These courses result in greater visibility in the community and some participants are inclined to stay and work on their literacy skills!
- Our literacy agency offers a “bring a friend day” for all current students. We advertise this event and offer special promotions to the guests and to students who bring in friends.
- We encourage learners and volunteers to visit the specific communities they are affiliated with and bring program material in order to raise awareness of literacy issues and the services offered by our agency.
- We put a flyer or bookmark about our literacy program in grocery bags.
- The student group in our literacy agency researches, writes and publishes their own student newsletter to share with current and potential students.
- Our literacy agency conducts a sidewalk survey on International Literacy Day. We asked the public if they are familiar with our agency, its location, and whether they would refer someone to us. We also hand out basic information about our program.
- We officially recognize learners who have referred other learners to our program.
- Our agency holds a coffee house once per year. We invite adults from the community to read their own poetry or prose. We invite local musicians, singers and artists to showcase their talents. Students help with the planning and implementation. This event greatly increases community awareness of our agency and also helps our students gain some good solid skills!
- Because of the stigma in some people’s minds, we do not use the word “literacy” in our promotional material. Instead, we talk about “essential skills”, “upgrading”, or the “skills needed to get a job or keep a job”.
- Our agency wants to attract more single mothers. We created recruitment messages for this group and then tested them with a group of single moms. We then hired a single mother to conduct several community presentations to increase awareness of our services and inform other single mothers of their value.
- We put bookmarks, brochures, business cards, magnets, etc. into as many locations in our community as possible: doctor’s offices, schools, libraries, community centers, playgroups, health units, legal aid offices, bus shelters, and malls.
More Successful Learner Recruitment Strategies…
- Staff, students and volunteers participate in as many community events as possible (fall fairs, special events, community barbecues, town hall meetings, etc.).
- In addition to our board of directors, we have an advisory committee made up of many diverse groups from our community. This committee provides extremely valuable advice on outreach strategies.
- Our agency produces promotional material directly aimed at people with very low reading skills. This material has few words and uses mostly pictures.
- We hold an information night for the general public at our literacy agency twice per year.
- Our agency moved our office to a central downtown location. While this was difficult for us financially, it greatly increases the number of learners and our contact hours.
- Many of our learners are interested in getting new jobs or keeping the jobs they already have. We use a lot of workforce materials with learners and talk to them about what is of interest to them.
- Our agency contacted local temporary placement agencies, in case people come to them looking for work but need upgrading first.
- We simplified our program information and designed it in the format of a flyer and aimed the message directly at the learner. We also printed up simple, clear and eye-catching messages and posted them on community bulletin boards.
- We use tear-off information sheets in laundromats, train and bus stations and fast food places.
- Our agency conducts seasonal promotions around Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Mother’s Day, etc. This has always worked well for us, especially when we target our seasonal promotions to the family and friends of adults with low literacy skills.
- We clearly show in our outreach material that we offer a choice in the type of programming (small group or one-to-one) and that there is also choice and flexibility in schedules (both days and evenings are available).
- To showcase success and to encourage current and potential learners, we hold a “celebrating learner success” night where current learners, their family and friends and community members are invited.
- Our agency has an Outreach Committee whose sole job is to brainstorm creative ways for our agency to conduct community outreach.
- • We have a display about our program in the window of the local library.
- Our agency delivers some programming onsite at Ontario Works. This has greatly increased our exposure.
- Some of our students love to sell our program’s raffle tickets at the mall. They sell tickets and talk up the program as well. This also greatly builds their self-esteem as the students know that they are making an important contribution towards the cause of literacy by reaching others.
- We regularly ask students where they heard about our program and track this information so we can target our recruitment efforts in the most effective way.
- We have a team of staff, volunteers and students deliver flyers directly to people’s homes and to social service agencies.
- Our literacy agency approaches professionals, like doctors, lawyers and religious leaders. They all come in contact with people who need assistance of some type, and if they have our pamphlet or business card available, they could pass it on to a potential learner. We also ask to do presentations to these groups so they know just what services we can provide.
- While offering a warm and friendly atmosphere, we also ensure that our office presents a professional appearance both to enhance our credibility and to show respect for our learners.
- When we are starting a new course, we telephone people we know in the community and ask them directly to refer people to us. Mainly we contact people in the network of social service agencies, but we also reach out to the business community (“Do you know anyone who would benefit from this training?” or “Would you hand out these brochures to people who come into your business?”). The direct contact is usually more effective than just sending a notice.
Strategies from “Seeing the Need; Meeting the Need”
The Ontario Literacy Coalition’s “Seeing the Need, Meeting the Need” research report on learner recruitment and retention (written by Yvonne Roussy and Doug Hart) recommended the following strategies to help get people into programs.
It is critical to remember that first impressions count. When students first come into a literacy program, make sure their first meeting with staff and other students is warm and welcoming. Students indicated that the personal contact they had with staff and other students was a major factor in their decision to enroll. Programs can help make the first experience positive by:
- Getting back to people who call the program as soon as possible
- Giving new learners a tour of the program and introducing them to instructors, tutors and other students
- Making sure everyone they meet is friendly and helpful
- Asking already enrolled students to help orient new students
It is also important to promote your program to the family and friends of potential learners. Family and friends are often the ones who suggest that a person go to a literacy program and their encouragement is often instrumental in the adult’s decision to enroll. When programs plan their advertising and outreach, they should keep this in mind. Programs might:
- Make brochures, pamphlets and public service announcements that reach out to the families and friends of adults with low literacy skills
- Give presentations about the idea that “someone you know” might benefit from literacy training
- Talk to the public and be sure to explain how families and friends can support people who need literacy training
Another good strategy is to promote the program by helping to build self-esteem. Learners told the OLC that when they felt better about themselves, they decided to come to a program. Literacy agencies can help people feel better about themselves by advertising their services with a “Yes You Can!” message. Literacy programs might use different ways to get the message out like:
- Radio and newspaper advertisements and public service announcements with a “Yes You Can” message
- Posters and brochures with a “Yes You Can” message, especially ones designed by learners
- Public speaking engagements where learners talk about how they succeeded
OLC also recommends asking successful learners to promote your program because nothing succeeds like success. Students who are doing well are the program’s best advertisement. Successful students can also do public speaking, organize special events and do radio or TV ads to talk about how helpful the program was. They can meet with new learners and show them around the program or form a peer welcoming committee.
Northern Connections: A Recruitment Success Story
Northern Connections Adult Learning Centres in Sharbot Lake has effectively used the essential skills and occupational curricula to successfully recruit new students. In fact, these strategies have brought them almost more business than they could deal with!
Northern Connections uses the occupational curricula that were developed by Literacy Link Eastern Ontario (LLEO). LLEO has recently produced eight occupational curricula on CDs for literacy learners. They include learning activities (and answers) and exit demonstrations based on each occupation’s essential skills. Each curriculum is in a PDF format. Some of the occupations include Landscaping and Grounds Maintenance Labourers; Hospitality; Health Care; Food Counter Attendants; and Call Centre Workers. LLEO is currently working with Northern Connections to make the occupational curricula adaptable for various literacy agencies. The complete list of the occupational curricula and instructions for ordering are at: www.lleo.ca/LLEO_assets/pdfs/cd_order.pdf.
In order to market the occupational curricula, Northern Connections created a letter, calendar and posters. Northern Connections also wrote two articles on the occupational curricula that had a greater response rate than any marketing they had previously done. They had 15 calls and four drop-ins within the two weeks that they ran the articles in their local paper. These may not seem like big numbers to some, but for a small, rural program it is significant.
Northern Connections has also recreated their partnership with Ontario Works. With Ontario Work’s new mandate towards increased employability as opposed to literacy, Northern Connections was told that Ontario Works would not be referring to literacy as much any more. However, this innovative literacy agency was able to sell Ontario Works on the value of the occupational curricula and the essential skills.
Questions and Activities for Reflection
- What recruitment strategies have worked most effectively in your agency and why?
- What recruitment strategies have been the least effective in your agency and why?
- Does your agency face barriers (other than a lack of resources) when it comes to using various recruitment strategies? If so, what are they? How could they be addressed?
- Of the recruitment strategies suggested in this training module, which ones would work well in your agency and what steps could you take to implement them?
- Trying out new recruitment strategies is not just a matter of changing a few words in a brochure or on a website. What could your agency do that’s both downright new and different but also likely to be successful in your community?