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Speaking Up: Empowering Employees With On-Site English Classes

January 14, 2020 at 05:10pm

Starting a new job is overwhelming for most people. Imagine how much more difficult it could be if you didn’t speak the same language? Think of the challenges you’d face in learning new tasks and communicating with supervisors and teammates, not to mention striving to earn a promotion. At Rhino, we believe in inclusion, so it’s our responsibility to ensure that all of our employees have the resources they need to thrive.

Many of our valued team members come to Rhino from other countries with diverse multilingual and cultural backgrounds. For those who speak little-to-no English, it can be difficult to self-advocate—both in the workplace and in the outside community. Our English Language Learners (ELL) program is one way we aim to bridge that gap for our team.

With grant support through The Vermont Department of Labor and a partnership with Vermont Adult Learning, our basic, intermediate, and advanced educational training helps Rhinos improve their English language skills. Classes run 90 minutes, twice a week, on a 12 week program cycle. It’s encouraging to see how having a person-to-person learning experience—paired with the support of a classroom full of other learners and teammates going through the same process—boosts motivation and success.

Between juggling a full work schedule and a busy home life that could include the major transition of being in a new country, we know it can be nearly impossible to find time to tackle learning a new language. Making the process easier, more accessible, and less stressful for our team is the Rhino way, so our ELL classes are held during the workday. Employees are paid for their time in the program and don’t have to worry about finding rides or childcare.

The goal, beyond improving the English skills of our employees through spelling and pronunciation practice, is to give our team members a breadth of skills that will benefit them in other areas of their lives. “I think the ability to self-advocate is really important, and that is applicable both in the workplace, and outside of work,” says Ariella Pasackow, our People Program Manager. “We want people to know how to ask for help, and what to go to their supervisor with, or what to say to a team leader if they’re having a problem.”

“There’s also so much opportunity to advance through our skill-based pay program. If people don’t know how to ask for help, or don’t know how to advocate for themselves, then they might not move up and gain as many opportunities for advancement,” she adds. “We want to use this class as a way for people to gain that confidence, and I think that can be hugely beneficial outside of work. If you’re more comfortable talking to your supervisor, it’s going to be easier to interact with someone in the community, too.”

It’s particularly rewarding to see the positive impact the English education classes are having for our employees. The job is getting easier for people who’ve gone through the program as they gain more confidence in their roles and communication abilities.

Sabina Sahmonovic has been working with us for 17 years. When she first came to Rhino, she only spoke her native Bosnian language. Initially, she began learning bits of English by absorbing it from those around her but often still had to rely on other Bosnian co-workers to translate when communicating with supervisors. Several years ago, Sabina took her first ELL class at Rhino, with a mix of other students who knew varying levels of English. “The class helped me so much, and I learned a lot from my teacher,” says Sabina. “I learned a lot about work and about communicating with people.” As a team leader, she now uses a lot of what she’s learned to help teach other employees.

Great communication is an essential ingredient for building a stronger, more engaged community and we’re thrilled that more and more Rhinos are finding their voice through the ELL program.