Offering programming around Hispanic Heritage Month is just one way to acknowledge Latinx employees. But to support Hispanic folks long term, employers may need to consider frameworks that will help them succeed.
If a company’s Latinx population isn’t as engaged, outgoing or successful as other groups, the answer may simply be a lack of confidence in their English skills, experts told HR Dive. That’s how English as a second language classes can be a powerful benefit when executed right.
"We're at this critical moment where we are thinking about reskilling and upskilling in general. We almost always leave out immigrants, refugees and speakers of other languages — just like we often leave out other groups that are historically underserved," said Katie Nielson, chief education officer of learning platform EnGen. "We just overlook them. We say, 'Oh they don't have the language skills. How can we upskill them with tech skills if they don't speak English?' If you help people get English skills, then all of a sudden you reveal a completely untapped talent pool."
Nielson, who has a doctorate degree in second language acquisition and has worked in the field for nearly two decades, founded EnGen. One of her areas of research was the crux of technology and language acquisition. "Then I built the platform based on not just my research but the huge body of research on how adults learn languages, how to best serve them and how to use technology to help them get access to instruction," she told HR Dive.
The company partners with workforce development organizations, adult education centers, two-year and four-year institutions of higher education and public libraries. "Any type of organization that serves immigrants," Nielson said. Some clients include Queens Public Library, Miami Valley Career Technology Center, University of Maryland, American Prison Data System, MaineHealth and FuturoHealth. For organizations, like businesses, who don’t have instructional staff, EnGen often steps in as teacher.
As HR teams seek to meet the needs of current employees, figuring out what those are, exactly, should be top of mind, Nielson explained. Still, it’s not always straightforward. "It's definitely not what the chief diversity officer decides they need," Nielson said. "That’s why I'm drawing on 50 years of research on what helps people learn languages, because we know what they need."
For example, employees having a sense of agency is critical to the process. People need to understand how the program will work. That understanding is often missing in employer-based programs and in English bootcamps, Nielson said. Additionally, in her experience, Nielson has seen employers make easy picks — that is to say, select shoo-in high-achieving individuals — for reskilling programs.
"They choose the people to participate, who they know are going to do well. Rather than thinking through, 'How can I help the ones who started but didn’t finish? How do I figure out what's keeping them from going forward, so I can get them the support they need to actually finish?'"
Step one is asking that untapped talent pool not just, "What do you need?" but "Where are you struggling?"
For HR professionals looking to get the ball rolling on company-funded ESL classes, Nielson’s main piece of advice is to measure the success of said upskilling program. In her experience, a clear definition of "success," solid metrics and plans to report findings will put HR teams on the right track.
"We have lots of initiatives all over the place to 'do something,'" Nielson said. "But if we don't put a framework in place to evaluate how well those initiatives work we're never going to make them better."
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly quoted Nielson. It has been updated to accurately reflect her statement. HR Dive regrets the error.