Integrating ESL Employees into Your Workplace

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Image: Rob Marmion

Workplaces in the United States, especially in southern states like Texas and Arizona, increasingly are populated with workers whose first language is not English. According to a 2016 U.S. Department of Labor report, there were 27 million foreign-born workers, 16.9 percent of the total labor force. Changing demographics are having a major impact on businesses, and the demand for skilled labor, including non-native English speakers, is growing.

Southern states are becoming home to a greater population of immigrants for whom English is a second language. Businesses often have real concerns about whether the language skills of an immigrant job applicant are adequate.  A candidate’s resume or application may be well written, but what about that person’s oral language skills and accent?  Furthermore, many jobs require basic English language skills to succeed. So, what can companies do to integrate English as a Second Language (ESL) employees into a workplace and help them improve their English fluency on the job?

Offer on-the-job ESL classes
ESL classes to improve immigrants’ English language skills could be offered at the workplace during the workday, before or after the workday, or in a mixed configuration, with the first hour of the class (for example) held during the workday and the second after work hours. Most adults lead busy lives, and offering ESL classes at the workplace can alleviate some scheduling challenges. Most importantly, the goal of such classes should be to link learning English clearly to practical skill contexts, such as safety posters, memos, tools, and machines, and with co-workers and supervisors with whom to interact. Specific vocabulary, including the names of machines used and other specific terms used on the job, can be discussed and practiced where they are used and needed.

Involve your native English-speaking coworkers as peer mentors or conversation partners, as that can help to strengthen teamwork and a sense of community at the workplace. The result can be a more pleasant working atmosphere, as well as more efficient work practices.

Tips for developing ESL training

  • Develop short, discrete, and achievable goals for the program
  • Conduct an information session for all workers and their supervisors, including both non-native English speakers and native English speakers alike, to clarify the process of language learning and to get buy-in from all stakeholders
  • Use the native language when appropriate in instruction, and encourage team members to allow the use of their native language in the workplace
  • Get workplace leaders involved in instruction, so they understand what is involved

Conclusion
Given the fact that immigrants potentially could account for half of the growth in the nation’s working-age population between now and 2030, it is important to equip them with the language and skills they need to be successful in these skilled labor jobs.  Staff One HR’s team of Human Resources Managers can assist you in developing ESL training for your company, updating your employee handbook and job descriptions, and identifying other opportunities to help your company and team succeed.  We can help build your company culture with excellent HR support, training and development.

Contact the author directly at gerson.gutierrez@staffone.com.