Monday, March 2, 2015

Okay, you got the ELT stuff... time to take professional development to the next level.

I recently read another rant online from someone in the ESL field about rates and wages.  It brought me back to the concept of value and perhaps I should repeat a few things about the business of language training.

Six weeks ago I enrolled in a one-to-one class to brush up on my German.  Like many C1 learners, I was troubled by several problems.  1)  I was lacking confidence in my ability to communicate in clutch business situations.  2)  I was convinced that my speech and writing were littered with little grammatical errors (bestätigt).  3)  Because my comprehension is nearly perfect, I knew that my active vocabulary range was quite small.

The trainer is probably earning €20-27 per 'teaching hour' or €27-36 per normal hour. Quick caveat... Can you stop the 'teaching hour' pricing?  Why do we make our customers use a calculator?  Anyway, I am paying between €45-60 per hour (I'd prefer not to give the price exactly).  This means the school is keeping about 40% of the payment.  This is reasonable to me considering the service it provides.

But as the customer, I am not really focused on the price per hour, I am focused on the overall results of the course.

The price for my twelve lessons is €950-1300 (including VAT).  Will that price solve my three problems?  No, it won't.  I will hopefully solve two.  After six lessons, I notice that my confidence has improved.  I'm actively trying to use more German in more difficult situations and I have learned a few collocations.  But what else could I do with that money?  If I gave you €1000 for professional development, what would you do?

Let's take this to the next level and assume I wanted to improve by two CEF levels.  We'll stick with a one-to-one setting, I could probably achieve a CEF level in 70 hours. (Yes, I know not all levels take the same amount of time, but stay with me here).  That would cost €7000-8000.  If I were a true beginner then I might expect to pay over €15,000 to learn German, which is more than the price of a Bachelor's degree at a private university in Germany.  Naturally, I would probably join a group course to effectively share the cost but I would still have to pay at least €4000.

Learning a language takes a long time to achieve results and this puts pressure on prices.

But there is a positive here and it is one we should not forget.  Our contracts are long, which makes planning much easier.  It is not unusual for us to look at contracts which run for years.  In comparison with soft skills trainers, this is huge advantage.  Their contracts run only a few weeks - often numbered in a few hours.  This means they spend considerably more time doing the 'unpaid' work of marketing and networking to try and land new clients.

On the other hand, the reason they are able to obtain higher hourly rates is because the return on investment is much faster.  A two-day workshop on effective presentations or team building leads to a nearly instantaneous change in behavior, hopefully.  This is something we simply cannot achieve.

Combining 'quick-return' services with longer-term language training is the way to higher rates.

I am always delighted by conference presentations which ring-fence services, typically to protect their own rates or status.  Have you ever been to a presentation about coaching in which the presenter sets out to define coaching and justify why coaches earn more?  What about a presentation in which the provider talks about how they don't mix persuasive presentation training with language because it is 'over-delivering'?

This is complete nonsense.  Combining all of this together is exactly the path to higher rates.  These statements are simply an attempt to protect their own rates, markets, and/or sell some kind of additional qualification which is all but worthless.  In fact, I would argue that refusing to include effective communication skills in Business English training is merely setting the client up for failure.  It's basically saying, "Let's remove pragmatics from the training."  Similarly, if you aren't using coaching techniques in one-to-one and small group training, you are probably not creating a customized development plan, effectively using the learner as a resource or helping to develop autonomous learners.

But I will admit, the protectionists have a point.  Adding 'quick-return' services such as team-building or coaching requires a certain level of ability and experience.  It requires learning theory in other fields such as educational and organizational psychology, applied linguistics and communication.  We need to develop a greater understanding of workplace discourse and dive deeper into business studies and management theories.  (Knowing business theory is a 'must' for me.)  In short, if we are relying on ELT literature to provide knowledge about these areas, this is not good enough.

On the implementation side, they are right that training and coaching methods differ from mainstream education techniques prevalent in ELT.  But honestly, while they are different, they are also easily recognizable.  I recommend jumping into the various fields of human resources and exchanging knowledge with other trainers/coaches (outside of BELT).

So, if you want higher rates, you will have to deliver more value per hour.

For freelancers like me, it is much easier to make this shift.  We generally define our own services scope and content.  We are also fully conscious owners of our professional development.  For teachers and trainers within organizations and institutions there is less chance for expanded services.  But these environments can be great laboratories for testing techniques and theories in practice.  And don't forget, the leadership in the organization has to demonstrate value, too.  I see organizations pushing the practical nature of Business English.  The logical development is for these organizations to mix communication skills and language more and more.  In short, the lines of the ESL department/section are starting to blur.  Increasing your knowledge now and enhancing your practitioners toolkit will help you succeed in this new type of organization.

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