Workplace English and Citizenship Program Benefit Workers, Consumers and the Economy
America’s industries have met this challenge before. In 1915, industrial giant Bethlehem Steel was one of the first corporations in the nation to provide English training for their immigrant work force. To remain competitive in today’s global economy and diverse society, a successful business must be a modern day Bethlehem Steel.
Today, one in six U.S. workers is foreign born and over the past two decades immigrants have accounted for about 50 percent of the growth in labor force. As in generations past, immigrants are on the front line of our nation’s industries, striving for the American Dream.
Franchise owners and operators see these statistics play out every day on the job site. The smart ones are already adapting their hiring and training practices to make sure foreign-born workers have the skills to do their jobs safely and efficiently, keeping customers happy, and help the business grow and prosper.
In the fast food industry, McDonald’s Corporation is a true leader in this regard, providing English language training for its workers through its “English under the Arches” program. Five years ago, McDonald’s partnered with language instruction experts to design a training program tailored to the needs of its franchise owners and operators.
Using Web-based conferencing technology, workers in several franchises simultaneously attend a “virtual classroom” without leaving the job site. In the virtual classroom, students are connected to an instructor and to each other.
“English under the Arches” is a success. Students have an 85 percent graduation rate, and show a measurable increase in speaking proficiency. There is more than a 90 percent job retention rate for these employees, and 96 percent advance in their jobs.
In 2010, more than 80 percent of immigrants coming to the United States came from Asia and Latin America.
Immigrant workers are vital to the lodging industry as well. Under the leadership of Executive Chairman J.W. “Bill” Marriott, Marriott International, Inc., one of the world’s largest lodging companies, has been a pioneer in supporting programs that increase job and language skills.
In 2007, Marriott launched Sed de Saber (“thirst for knowledge” in Spanish), an interactive language program that uses storytelling, voice recording, games and review exercises. To complement Sed de Saber, Marriott established small learning centers at select hotel properties enabling associates and managers to study together. The approach helps associates improve their communication skills, while giving managers an opportunity to create enhanced work environments.
Today, Marriott’s Sed de Saber program is offered at 415 locations. As of 2010, the company has helped improved the skills, and lives, of more than 2,500 associates.
Helping Employees Learn English Helps Bottom Line
Today’s immigrants have diverse backgrounds. In 2010, more than 80 percent of immigrants coming to the United States came from Asia and Latin America. As Baby Boomers start retiring in ever increasing numbers, immigrants from around the world will play an increasingly essential role in sustaining U.S. output and productivity.
Increasingly, immigrants will be the front line of franchises across the nation.
To function effectively on the job, these essential workers must have strong workplace English skills. Franchise owners, operators, human resource directors and safety managers know that:
Employees need to understand company policies and safety signs, communicate with customers and managers effectively,and feel respected and valued;
Managers need to be able to hire, train, evaluate and retain hard-working, dedicated employees; and
Customers need to communicate their needs and get prompt attention and service.
Integrating English and Workplace Training
The need to ensure that workers are proficient in English is growing, but the country lacks a national strategy to ease access. Instead, English instruction is left to a diffuse network of community colleges and local school districts, private educational institutions and community organizations. With the current economic downturn causing states and localities to cut back, there is demand for services and many are looking to the corporate sector to fill that void.
Thanks to advances in technology and workplace-specific English curriculum, the ability of business to provide those services are easier than ever and they are cost efficient as well. In some programs, immigrants go to a traditional classroom where language training and technical education are combined. Other programs combine English language training with more focused, industry-specific training, such as training for employment in the hospitality industry.
The Bethlehem Project
To integrate into society, immigrants want to learn English and become citizens. Like Bethlehem Steel, franchise operators can create the opportunities and partnerships to make this happen.
The Bethlehem Project, an initiative of the National Immigration Forum, strives to help employers establish work force English programs and promote citizenship awareness in the workplace. Linking new or existing English language training programs to naturalization assistance services is good for the employee and employer alike.
For hard-working immigrants, efficient access to services will mean the ability to realize the American Dream, to improve their job skills, earning power and the lives of their families and communities. For corporations, these partnerships help build employee loyalty and retention, strengthen employees’ English skills that, in turn, will improve internal workplace communications, safety and productivity.
Today’s Bethlehem Project builds on the vision of Bethlehem Steel, modernized to the business needs and opportunities of today. In fact, the integration of programs for English learning, work skills development and naturalization services into a unified package has several corporate benefits:
Builds employee loyalty;
Improves customer service;
Increases employee retention;
Helps with employee recruitment;
Maximizes employer investments in job training;
Improves customer service and relationships; and
Helps build stronger, more prosperous communities.
Finally, involvement in the Bethlehem Project provides employers with a potential bonanza of positive public relations and marketing opportunities. For example, as employees complete the citizenship process, each year a participating company could host a naturalization ceremony or a Citizenship Day celebration—prime events for media coverage and elected officials—to recognize employees who have become U.S. citizens.
Publicity about the employer’s involvement in the program can also be used to reach out to immigrant and Latino consumer markets. The immigrant experience is a recent memory for the majority of the 46 million Hispanics now living in the United States, and with Latino consumers spending nearly $1 trillion per year, the Bethlehem Project links the new with the old.
For companies that wish to offer workplace English and or promote citizenship for their immigrant work force, the National Immigration Forum will identify local service providers to provide outreach, information, assistance and training to help employees become U.S. citizens. If companies need to begin or augment existing English training, the forum can also provide assistance to set up such a program.
In October 2011, J.W. “Bill” Marriott summed it up well, “The diversity of our work force is a tremendous strength to our company, [reflecting] our ever-diversifying global customer base.”
Workplace English and citizenship programs are a winning combination for companies, workers, consumers and the economy.
Ali Noorani is executive director of the National Immigration Forum, one of the nation’s preeminent, pro-immigrant advocacy organizations. He can be reached at 202-383-5988 or firstname.lastname@example.org.