Al Lock has been one of Bangkok’s leading corporate training consultants for many years and has a track record to prove it. He’s admired and respected by much of the Thai HR and training community and known as a man who delivers what he promises. Always a firm believer in ‘quality costs money’ Al climbs into the ajarn.com hot seat to talk about corporate English language training.
Al, what’s the major difference between what companies were looking for five years ago from English language training, and what they expect nowadays?
Before the Baht floated, a fairly large number of companies simply "threw" money at training. As long as the teacher was fairly competent and didn't cause too many problems and the reports looked good, they were happy. Then money got tight...and training budgets became very competitive in terms of where the money was going to be spent. Value became the key...in the true sense, not in the sense of cheap, but in the sense of getting something worthwhile for your money. How that affected expectations varies from company to company, but just about everyone is more demanding today. Some much more demanding.
We’ve all taught largish groups of low-level company staff, who seem to make little progress it must be said. Are companies beginning to steer away from training the ‘lower orders’
At least some are. Others are putting the responsibility for low-level training on the employees, expecting them to make the effort to improve and show evidence of it on their own before the company will consider providing language training for them. Others are monitoring more, and if someone doesn't progress within a certain time period, the company stops providing the training. All sorts of different solutions out there.
Would you say that the corporate language business is too competitive for its own good and that the low-end providers spoil things for schools who do want to take things seriously?
I actually think it's the opposite in a way. The low-end providers create a situation where companies realize that they have to pay for quality service if that is what they want. I have always felt that a good program was easier to set up at a company after they had a bad experience with a provider that promised them the moon for a cheap price than with someone who hadn't had any experience with a language provider. Of course, there are also the companies that choose not to have language training because of such experiences.
What are examples of programs you put together?
I've put together a lot of highly customized programs for companies that have specific needs...specific report writing programs for engineers, programs tailored to positions that are not addressed by any EFL/ESL materials, programs to assist busy executives, coaching programs for a company's internal quality improvement program. Those type of programs are where I am focused with my current position. In the past, I put together "in-house" programs for a number of clients and put together a variety of programs spread out over a good part of Thailand. The focus for me has always been creating a "win-win" solution for everyone involved...the client, the language school, the teacher, and myself. If any of those parts didn't feel it was worth doing, it wasn't going to work.
Talk us through the process of actually delivering a first-class corporate training program
The process is time consuming, but it actually is pretty simple.
1. Find out what the client wants. Their goals and priorities.
2. Find out where the students are.
3. Present a realistic solution and justify it. Make sure that expectations are realistic (this is the hardest part...the magic wand is what too many want).
4. Deliver the program
5. Follow up.
You know the minds of many of the HR and training managers. What are they looking for in their corporate teacher?
Professionalism means being a good teacher and well-prepared. It also means looking the part. Dressing smartly. Being where you are supposed to be when you are supposed to be. No surprises. No tantrums. There are a lot of teachers in Bangkok who are not professional.
Reliability for the HR people means that they don't get a change of teacher part way through the program. That is probably the number one thing that loses schools corporate clients. Teacher changes during the course. I said there were a lot of teachers who aren't professional? There are even more that aren't reliable.
By the way, I happen to think there are some absolutely superb teachers in this town. I've had the good fortune to work with a number of them. Top-notch reliable professionals. But I don't see how many of them can stay here with the wages being offered by many schools. I also think that IF the teacher has been well-prepared by the school - briefed on expectations, goals, etc. - most of the teachers I have worked with are very capable of delivering a good product.
Are the larger multi-nationals finding it impossible to get what they want from the language providers here?
Well, I know that some of the larger multi-nationals have brought in people from overseas to run seminars and workshops in areas that you would think some of the local vendors should be able to deliver. And at very high cost as well. Impossible? Well, if there is anyone out there who currently thinks that, I hope to have the opportunity to change their mind.
Has there been a shift in the times that corporate staff study or is it still very much a Tuesday/Thursday 5.30 to 7.30 gig?
I think that is still the bulk of the time frame. I've been fortunate in that I've dealt extensively with clients who were willing to consider other schedules in order to have the right teacher for the job.
“How can we guarantee that our staff’s English will improve?” I bet you wouldn’t mind a dollar for every time you’ve heard that?
I don't hear it much anymore. I pre-emptively strike it. No matter how good a program or how good a teacher, no one can guarantee that someone's language skills will improve. We, as teachers, know that. Language aptitude is a concept I find worth explaining to customers. It's nicer than discussing students' study habits.
Is using the bog-standard mid-term report, final report, and token teacher observation really enough to make the client think they’re getting a good deal?
Less and less. And I think you are going to see some major changes in that regard. Things that I hope are better for the client and the teacher.