class, for example, don’t expect employees who rely on public transportation
to travel an hour to get there.
Contextualized English instruction
has also proved helpful in the retail industry, where an estimated 1. 5 million
employees have limited English profciency.
After 16 weeks in a pilot program
funded by the Walmart Foundation,
37 percent of the total 1,000 participating employees were promoted at
Kroger in Houston, Publix in Miami
and Whole Foods in New York. And
82 percent held the same position for
fve years before their promotion, says
Jennie Murray, director of integration
programs at the National Immigration
Forum, a nonproft immigrant advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.
“That’s a really good indicator that
this is a pipeline for internal promotions and middle-skill jobs that employers are not currently tapping into,”
The participants’ managers, who
were surveyed before and after the
classes, reported an 87 percent improvement in customer service and an
89 percent rise in store productivity.
The forum partnered with Miami Dade
College and the Community College
Consortium for Immigrant Education
on the initiative, “Skills and Opportunity for the New American Workforce.”
The employees weren’t paid for their
instruction time, but classes were
scheduled just before or after employees’ work shifts in various locations.
The employer’s level of involvement
appeared to be a more significant
factor in the employees’ success than
CAN EMPLOYERS REQUIRE
WORKERS TO SPEAK ENGLISH?
Steer clear of implementing English-only policies, which are permissible only
in limited circumstances where there is a legitimate business need, such as
for ensuring operational safety, says attorney Jaklyn Wrigley, an attorney with
Fisher & Phillips LLP in Gulfport, Miss.
“These policies are heavily scrutinized at practically every level,” Wrigley
For example, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission presumes such approaches violate Title VII’s prohibition against national origin
discrimination, and many states, including California, have passed legislation
barring English-only workplaces. In addition, a National Labor Relations Board
judge recently found that the policies violate the National Labor Relations Act
because they could restrict employees from discussing the terms and conditions of their employment.
whether the classes were held at the
worksite, Murray says. When company
leaders promote the English classes internally, welcome students at the start
and celebrate their achievement with
them at the end, it can make a world of
diference, she says.
A digital literacy component was
added to help workers master their
store’s technology, and a mobile app
supplemented their language learning.
The pilot is part of the National Immigration Forum’s larger “New American Workforce” initiative, which ofers
English and citizenship classes and legal
services to those working at 300 participating organizations in eight cities.
To build on that success, more than 20
corporations, led by Walmart and Cho-
bani, are preparing to roll out later this
year the Corporate Roundtable for the
New American Workforce to sponsor re-
search and develop best practices for in-
tegrating immigrants into the workforce.
“They’re coming together for a long-term efort, but it’s time-sensitive because we’re in worker shortages that
were implicated 10 to 20 years back,”
FIND THE RIGHT PARTNERS
Sometimes good ideas are born out of
necessity. Two years ago, Yohanys Castro was the HR director at a Los Angeles area hotel that was being upgraded
to become a Hyatt Regency with Forbes
four-star status. She knew she would
have to lay of workers if she couldn’t
help them improve their poor customer
service skills, which were linked to
‘Language is what connects us and makes
us visible to one another. It produces a
conduit to build relationships.’