May 27, 2014—As of April of this year, the Custodial Services Department began a program to help its employees learn English. The Custodial Department at the University of Utah is by far one of the most diverse departments on campus: over 21 languages are spoken across the staff. This diversity is one of the department’s strengths though sometimes can cause a bit of a barrier in communication with the staff and their employees.
Three and a half years ago the University began participating in the Refugee Program, sponsored by Deseret Industries (DI). The DI trains these refugees in basic English skills while also enhancing basic work knowledge. They then introduce these refugees into a work environment they are interested in, whether it is custodial, landscaping, construction, etc. The U brings these candidates in and continues their training in the department they will be working in.
Most of the staff in the program arrives with limited English language skills when they begin work at the University, sometimes complicating communication between the Custodial Services supervisors and their employees. Custodial Services leadership wanted to create a way for new employees to improve their English language skills and they see this program as a way to improve the department as a whole.
After speaking with the English Skill Learning Center (ESLC) in Salt Lake County, Custodial Services set up a program for their employees to take English classes. They are tested and split up into three learning levels. On April 8, 2014, the first level of classes began, with a focus on verbal interactions and work related conversation.
In just a few months, the Custodial Services staff has seen great improvements, not only in their employees speaking skills but also in their overall spirit as well. “With the folks that are attending class right now, I’ve seen a lot more confidence…they’ve been timid to speak English and I think this class has been their first step into getting to this higher level of confidence so they are more willing to engage.” said Sandra Thomas, Executive Secretary at Custodial Services. Samuel Robertson, Associate Director over the department, agreed, “It’s amazing to see because we have these employees who have been with us for a long time and finally they are understanding what’s going on around them. You can see the light in their eyes that the language is finally clicking.”
The Department has goals to keep the program going and plans on starting a second session of classes focusing on reading and writing skills on June 12. Sandra gave her final thoughts about the program, “We’ve accomplish more than we thought we would. We’re excited to see the further success the ESLC Program will accomplish!”Contributed by Kate Giolas