May 8, 2018

This on-the-job language program creates community through communication

Founder and CEO of ESL Works on how bringing English-language skills to the food industry helps foster an important kind of connection

Employers can hire ESL Works to host English-language classes for their employees. Photo courtesy of ESL Works

Community and communication are indivisible. Community means togetherness, creativity, and problem solving. It encourages friendship among unlikely individuals. Community ultimately generates equity of access to knowledge and resources. And communication shares these virtues. Community and communication are irrelevant without each other.

I unequivocally believe that a lack of communication and community at work is what leads to unhappy workplaces–and yes, high turnover. Without the know-how to ask for or seek out growth opportunities, employees stay stuck in their positions. Without the patience to listen, managers don’t learn from their team as much as their team learns from them. Without the courage to elicit feedback, employers don’t innovate and adjust to shifting markets. Without all of the elements of healthy communication at work, we don’t have the tools to build a work community. With an average full-time American work week clocking in at about 47 hours, building community among our colleagues is just as necessary as carving out time for friends, family, and ourselves.

My company ESL Works designs and facilitate English-for-work training for the food and hospitality industry. It’s our mission to break down communication barriers in the workplace in order to build stronger, enduring work communities. Every day, we witness how better communication in the workplace leads to stronger bonds among colleagues, happier work days, and longer work lives. Better communication at work leads to higher productivity and focus. It leads to good and respectful questions and healthy disagreements.

At ESL Works, we deliver industry-relevant English training to grocery stores, processing plants, restaurants, and farms. It’s no easy feat to set up 20 temporary classrooms a week. But it is easy to see the results of our work. Ask an employer why English-for-work is an important benefit for their business, and most will say it’s so their team can communicate better and grow. That might seem an unsurprising answer, but if you think about it in the reverse, it’s not such a conventional a response—ask a native English speaker why they are learning a foreign language and they might say “for travel” or “for work” or “just for fun.” For English-learning employees and their managers, English is not just a language, it is a communication skill. Who really “owns” English these days? It’s truly a global language.

That makes all the difference as we persistently reach for our north star at ESL Works–eliminating communication barriers in the workplace. Employers need clear, productive communication, and employees need an opportunity to develop and refine their “work voice.” As long as we are including our client and learner community on the decisions of what they need, we are heading toward our north star.

As the working world shifts toward a digital marketplace, we’re applying the same principles of communication and community to English-for-work learning technology that we do to English-for-work classrooms. The approach is different no doubt, but the outcomes are always the same. How do communication and community fare in an increasingly tech-driven working world? From what we’re learning as we dive into digital forms of English training, we must continually ask ourselves one question: Will this learning component improve communication and shape community in the workplace? If the answer is “no,” then the idea gets reworked. Because no matter how we deliver our product, whether it’s on site or online, our core beliefs must inspire our learning content. And if our content doesn’t inspire employees to actually talk to each other and encourage colleagues to ask and listen and respond, then we aren’t also shaping workplace communities.

Carl Sagan said “We can judge our progress by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers, our willingness to embrace what is true rather than what feels good.” Here’s what I know to be true: community and communication in the workplace are inseparable. With one comes the other. When we value and invest in communication training at work, then the working world becomes more productive, healthy, and equitable.

Rachael Nemeth

CEO of ESL Works

Rachael Nemeth is the Founder and CEO of ESL Works. A food industry veteran with 15 years experience managing people and operations, Rachael has worked with some of New York City's most respected food businesses: Union Square Hospitality Group, Baked, and Hot Bread Kitchen. She began teaching English to food industry employees eight years ago as a volunteer, and quickly recognized the value of ESL as an industry-specific training tool. The growth of ESL Works is propelled by her firm resolve to make English training a standard workplace benefit.

When she isn’t designing curriculum, speaking about English For Work, teaching, or growing ESL Works, Rachael can be found hiking, reading, or honing her wilderness survival skills. She graduated from the College of Charleston and earned her TESOL certificate at The New School where she is now pursuing her Masters in TESOL.