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Workforce Proficiency in English Could Help Ease Talent Shortage

Improving English Skills Could Ease Talent Shortage

April 7, 2022
“When you can match the learning to skills actually needed on the job, you can move people up quickly, which is essential today given the skill shortage, especially in manufacturing,” explains Katie Brown, founder of EnGen.

As she stood at the front of the class teaching English as a second language, Katie Brown wondered how her students would become proficient enough in English to be able to apply their skills to jobs in their new country.

Immigrants to the U.S. comprise a large number. A November 2021 analysis of the Census Bureau’s s monthly Current Population Survey showed that the total immigrant population in the U.S. hit 46.2 million, the highest number ever recorded in American history.

The economic power of this group can be measured in a few ways. According to the American Immigration Council, residents of immigrant-led households had $1.3 trillion in spending power (after-tax income) in 2019.

From a business perspective, 3.2 million immigrant business owners accounted for 22% of all self-employed U.S. residents in 2019 and generated $86.3 billion in business income.

From an education level, a third of adult immigrants had a college degree or more education in 2019, while over a fourth had less than a high school diploma.

The level of English proficiency, however, is hard to determine. But according to a 2018 report from the Migration Policy Institute, English learning language programs for immigrants—largely run through local nonprofits, community colleges, and school districts—are serving less than 4% of the need.

Creating a Platform to Learn English at Workplace

It was for that exact reason—to make language learning more accessible and effective—that Brown started on this journey. Ten years and ten patents later, she created EnGen, a skills-focused, virtual English language learning platform that helps companies such as Chobani, whose employees are learning English to enable them to do their jobs better. In Chobani’s case, the employees are using specifically tailored programs to improve food safety.

“Traditional programs that taught English were not useful to how people performed their jobs, and so the skills these employees either already had, or could be trained to learn, were not accessible,” says Brown, who holds the title of Chief Education Officer and Founder at EnGen.

“We use assessments to determine what language gaps exist that are preventing people from upward mobility at their jobs. And as employers are facing a job skills shortage, especially in  manufacturing, this is an excellent and fairly easy way to bridge that gap.”

Brown, using  AI-based language software, has created language courses across several sectors including the U.S. government, universities as well as language training centers. “I have conducted extensive empirical research on how to design online language programs that are efficient, effective, and entertaining. The key to success for this type of learning is that it’s adapted to the context, and it’s integrated. The workplace is the ideal place to learn a language as it’s used immediately."

Brown notes that their online content delivery system is created by subject matter experts and offers career-specific instruction. “The courses are designed for upskilling and reskilling and match industry requirements, such as OSHA safety standards,” Brown says.

Looking specifically at manufacturing training they offer a variety of courses including: 

  • General Industry Safety
  • Warehouse Machinery
  • E-Commerce Warehousing
  • Health and Safety
  • Basics of Manufacturing
  • Leadership and Management
  • Data Science

Training often leads to promotions notes Brown. She provides the example of Cambria, a manufacturer of American-made quartz surfaces. One of the company's employees, who moved to the U.S. from the Philippines, was trained and onboarded as a QA inspector, and with her EnGen courses built into her schedule, is now the QA lead.

Each employer uses the system differently, notes Brown. Some offer it as a benefit, others use it for professional development, and it’s housed in different parts of the company.

Results of Learning

While the ultimate measure of success is how employers are doing in their jobs,  EnGen also measures the overall experience. In the company’s most recent research, conducted in 2021, 550 EnGen learners, gave the following responses:

  • 80% said EnGen enabled them to achieve their real-world career goals
  • 59% of learners improved their communication with colleagues
  • 16% received a new job offer
  • 11% received a pay raise
  • 10% received a promotion

In terms of employee productivity and satisfaction, 80% of learners said improving their English helped them save time at work, while 65% ranked their job-skill improvement a 4 or 5 on a 0-to-5 Likert scale.

Those who were highly engaged with the platform demonstrated more workplace-related benefits: of 557 respondents, higher engagers were 30% more likely to rate their job skill improvement a 4 or 5 on a 0-to-5 scale than lower engagers.

Furthermore, 24% more of higher-engaged learners rated their confidence improvement a 4 or 5 on a 0-to-5 scale as a result of their improved English.”

“Often overlooked, being proficient in English is the key to unlocking opportunity,” says Brown. “Our mission is to use the technology that has evolved over the years to place learning into the hands of employees, and organizations in a way that is directly applicable to their jobs. And from a societal perspective,  we want to  ensure that millions of immigrants have the English skills necessary to succeed.”

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