Learning the lingo on the job in Somerville

On October 12, 2010, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

Workplace training pays off for Somerville’s Angelica Textile

Mayor Curtatone recently honored the workplace English training program at Angelica Textile in Somerville. Left to Right: Mayor Curtatone; Michael Taylor, state director of Workforce Development; Jose Lopez, Angelica employee; Robert Haynes, MA AFL-CIO president; Fernando Lemus, United Food and Commercial Workers Union. ~Photo by Elizabeth Sheeran

By Elizabeth Sheeran

One Somerville business has discovered a new strategy for turning good workers into great workers.

Dozens of employees at Angelica Textile Services have attended on-site classes to improve their English language skills, and company leaders say that translates into better productivity and a safer workplace.

“It makes for a better employer-employee relationship when we’re all talking together,” said John Joyce, regional director of Angelica Textile Services, which is the main supplier of linens to Boston-area hospitals. “It does help productivity. It is helping us communicate better. We’re very concerned about safety, and it’s important that our employees understand our goals.”

Joyce said workplace language training is a good investment for a business like Angelica, whose Somerville plant employs about 600 people, most of whom are immigrants. The company kicked off its on-site English classes in March, in partnership with the United Food and Commercial Workers union and the state Department of Workforce Development, which provides grants for workforce training, funded by employer contributions.

Around six percent of Angelica’s employees are attending classes twice each week for two hours: one hour during their regular working shift, and one hour off the clock. Angelica plans soon to extend the training to include more students and more advanced classes, and to expand the program to its other New England locations in Worcester and Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

At the company’s Innerbelt Road plant on October 5, Mayor Joe Curtatone commended the success of Angelica’s workplace English classes with certificates of recognition, and invited other Somerville businesses to launch similar programs. “It’s good business, especially in a city as diverse and densely populated as Somerville,” said Curtatone.

Recalling his own family members who emigrated from Italy, he said newcomers have always played an important role in Somerville’s economic development. “Without the immigrants of our community, this city would shut down,” Curtatone said. He added that improved English skills will not only help employees become better workers, but will also help them be better parents and better citizens.

Somerville resident José Luis Lopez, a student in Angelica’s English classes who hails from El Salvador, also had a message for local business leaders. “These classes are so important for all of us because it opened the door to get better job positions here in Angelica, but also to our families, especially to our kids,” said Lopez, who was chosen to speak on behalf of his fellow classmates. “We hope other companies follow Angelica and offer English classes for their workers.”

The program at Angelica is part of the state-wide English Works Campaign, a coalition of leaders from business, government, labor and immigrant communities. The campaign targets English proficiency as tool to boost economic growth, by making the state’s workforce more competitive. Workplace classes are a key piece of the puzzle, since most newcomers who want to learn English have limited transportation options and are juggling major family responsibilities outside of work.

Brian Gilmore of Associated Industries of Massachusetts, an employer association, said the best evidence that workplace language training pays for itself lies in the fact that companies are willing to invest their own resources to get matching funds from the state.

“It isn’t just a free ride. The employer is making a considerable commitment to the program,” said Gilmore.

Keith Goclowski, a shift manager at Angelica in Somerville, said he has witnessed first-hand how an on-site English skills program for workers can pay dividends for their employer.

“It has changed the atmosphere in the workplace,” said Goclowski. “Now we have more of a connection, and that connection changes things. It has changed the atmosphere. It improves morale. It improves quality. It will better both their lives and their company’s life.”


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