In early 2014, Knowlton Development Corporation (KDC Columbus), a manufacturer of health and beauty products, was looking to enhance training programs at its campus in New Albany. Word of mouth led them to Kelly Wallace, director of adult education at the nearby Career & Technology Education Centers of Licking County (C-TEC).
But Stacie Trace, HR director at KDC, was also thinking of something else. “KDC has a very diverse workforce, both permanent and temporary,” she said. As the company’s business and workforce expanded, many of its workers were immigrants from far-away countries like Nepal and Somalia. “I was looking to help our employees develop more fluent language skills, because I wanted them to succeed both at KDC and in their communities, and recognized that English was a barrier for them.”
Trace asked if C-TEC also offered ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes, and a new collaborative project was born. Holly Pletcher, C-TEC’s ABLE director, worked with Trace to custom design and launch a pilot ESOL class for KDC employees in April 2014. In order to maximize attendance, the class was offered on the KDC campus so that participants could easily attend before their normal shifts.
For the next 12 weeks, C-TEC’s ESOL instructors led a series of two-hour ESOL classes on the KDC campus. Four core English language areas - speaking, listening, reading, and writing -- were addressed each week, as well as specific lessons on using English in the workplace, including understanding workplace instructions, asking questions about workplace processes, reporting equipment issues, and more. Students also learned to use a computer, search the internet, and discussed civics-related lessons.
Wallace said the first pilot session “exceeded everyone’s expectations.” At the end of the course, 30 of the 31 students who attended regularly improved their English skills on a standardized test. More importantly, KDC managers noticed significant changes in the workplace. “The most notable change is their self-confidence,” said Trace. “The ESOL students are much more outgoing than they were when we started this project.” In addition, the newly skilled students have helped bridge the communication barrier between KDC and its temporary workers, many of whom speak little to no English at all.
Meanwhile, the ESOL classes have continued. The first pilot group is currently finishing its second 12-week session, with plans for an expanded third session, most likely starting in mid-February.
“I am so pleased with the progress of our employees,” Trace said. “They are awesome workers that want to learn and do a good job here. I am so happy for them. It’s definitely a win-win situation.”