Web-based Spanish course for energy utilities goes live

Atlanta

With Hispanics the largest minority group in the U.S., Apogee Interactive, Inc. and a consortium of energy utilities have created a Web-based “Situational Spanish” course for energy industry employees.

Developed jointly by Apogee and utilities such as Southern Company, Exelon, FPL and the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, the course teaches essential words and phrases necessary to communicate with Hispanic customers and contract crews in utility company settings.

“It’s effective for utilities in all regions since it utilizes a controlled response method of simplified Spanish,” said Joyce Robledo, Spanish advisor to the course and adjunct professor of Spanish at several Georgia state colleges. “This method ensures employees will be understood by all Hispanics regardless of their country of origin and ensures employees phrase questions in such a way as to receive understandable answers in return.”

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“Difficulty scheduling traditional class time was one of the primary drivers for moving to electronic learning, or eLearning,” said Al Martin, director of employee learning at Southern Company, which has 25,000 employees in four states. “Traditional and conversational Spanish courses didn’t really fit our needs either,” he explained.

“We’re not looking for our employees to be fluent in Spanish, just comfortable with the phrases they need to understand and use on the job,” Martin said.

The Apogee web-based course begins with Hispanic culture and language fundamentals. Then students can select the “job tracks” they need, bypassing material that applies to other jobs. (See sidebar for an overview of various phrases.) Current job tracks apply to meter readers, energy auditors, linemen, tree trimming and construction supervisors, and customer service, marketing and office staff. Several more are under development, including one for power plant workers.

Vickie Bogue, who works in employee learning at Southern Company, noted that large pockets of their territory was over 70 percent Hispanic and that front-line employees were having difficulty communicating with customers. They looked into customized, instructor-led training, but noted that field employees were having difficulty attending regular classes–leading them to Apogee’s “Situational Spanish.”

“Our field employees will benefit greatly from this course,” Bogue stated. “The job tracks specifically address their day-to-day communication needs.

“This course isn’t expected to make any of us proficient in Spanish, of course,” Bogue added. “But, it will allow us to demonstrate to our Hispanic customers that we value them.”

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