Workplace Literacy Tutoring Program Offers Dual Benefits to Sioux Falls Employers, Employees

SIOUX FALLS -- As Director of Environmental Services at Sanford Health, Tom Malone manages a diverse group of about 200 employees who provide an array of cleaning services at Sanford, from cleaning patient rooms to public and outpatient areas. Many of his employees speak three to four languages but may find English challenging.


For Malone, making sure employees have the right training to do their jobs is paramount. “Our No. 1 job is infection prevention. To do that, we have to have people who are trained correctly. We have to be confident that they can tell the difference between a disinfectant and glass cleaner.”


When Malone heard about REACH Literacy’s workplace literacy tutoring program, a nine-week on-site literacy training program that is adapted to specific workplace needs of employers, he immediately saw the potential. “When we heard about it, knowing the challenges our group has, it was an instant yes for us,” Malone says.


REACH tutors work with employees in language instruction, real-life literacy skills and workplace-specific modules. Typically, tutors meet with employees twice a week for an hour. REACH completed a training last fall for 18 Sanford employees, and the overall response has been very positive, Malone says.


Having a skilled workforce is critical to a company’s success. The National Institute for Literacy estimates that businesses lose more than $60 billion in productivity each year due to employees’ skill deficiencies. Workplace literacy tutoring can help address some of those gaps.


REACH’s workplace literacy tutoring model offers benefits to employers and employees, says Paige Carda, Executive Director of REACH Literacy. “Employers may see benefits such as increased employee retention, quality of work and morale, as well as additional benefits. Employees feel supported in their learning and development through our on-site tutoring model,” Carda says.


Carda points to how providing this benefit to employees can help with retention. “Our tutoring program encourages employees to make connections with each other. You’re building a community; people are engaged beyond just a paycheck.”


The importance of building a great company culture is a major reason why Grand Prairie Foods has offered three sessions of the workplace tutoring to employees. The company was the pilot program for REACH’s tutoring model, and REACH has continued to work with Grand Prairie Foods to add more workplace-specific training.


Valerie Loudenback, Vice President of Grand Prairie Foods, says offering REACH literacy tutoring is part of the company culture and approach to support their employees holistically.


“We approach our employees from a multi-dimensional perspective. It’s not just about what they do in their jobs but how their quality of life is outside of work. Literacy is critical to that. A lot of our employees didn’t speak or read English. We needed to provide that opportunity to people,” she says.


So far, 25 Grand Prairie Foods employees have completed the program, and word of mouth is spreading quickly. More employees want to participate, Loudenback says. Grand Prairie Foods paid for employees’ time in the course and held a graduation ceremony.


“We recognized their achievement, and their peers recognized it too. That continues to drive interest in people wanting to participate. We had seen the results of the REACH one-on-one tutoring, which is what prompted interest in the group tutoring. We saw those measurable results for some of our employees,” Loudenback says.


The structure and on-site model makes it easy for employees to attend classes. Sanford held the program between the Environmental Services’ first and second shifts for convenience for employees.


Loudenback says the group learning model provides community support for employees. “You don’t have to go to another place for the training; it’s a safe spot.”


Loudenback encourages other organizations to do an internal audit to consider any literacy-related errors and take steps to work through them. “Each organization needs to assess where mistakes can happen due to literacy and think about creating ways to work to address them,” she says.



For more information about REACH and workplace literacy tutoring, visit, or contact Paige Carda at


By BryAnn Becker Knecht

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