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LaGuardia Community College has begun providing English language training, contextualized for the retail sector, for NY-area employees of Whole Foods Market. A pilot program led by the National Immigration Forum, in collaboration with the Community College Consortium for Immigrant Education and Miami Dade College, the 12-week course is designed to increase English language skills among retail employees for whom English is a second language.

“We are very pleased to be working with the National Immigration Forum to provide NY-area Whole Foods employees with the classes they need to improve their English communication skills,” said LaGuardia President Gail O. Mellow. “English proficiency can be a key factor in determining earnings and career advancement for immigrants in New York City, so this kind of investment in skills development is so important.”

Ingrid Guzman
Ingrid Guzman

Funded by the Walmart Foundation, this program, known as Skills and Opportunity for the New American Workforce, is provided at no cost to these retail employees looking to increase their English proficiency and their career pathways in the retail sector.

Thus far, two cohorts of approximately 20 Whole Foods employees each have begun the program at LaGuardia; four additional cohorts will begin in the next few months, making the potential reach for the program a total of nearly 250 employees.

“I am grateful to have this opportunity to improve my English,” said Ingrid Guzman, who is originally from the Dominican Republic, and has been a Whole Foods Market employee for nearly 10 years. Currently, she is a bakery team member at the Upper West Side store, where she works as a cake decorator and pastry chef. She is among the first cohorts at LaGuardia. “My goal is to improve my communication with both my customers—so I can provide them with great service—and with my team members.”

In the New York area, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) training for Whole Foods Market employees is being provided at Westchester Community College in addition to LaGuardia. The program is also being piloted in Miami and Houston (Lone Star College), with employer partners Publix and Kroger, respectively.

Mark Wilkins, in New York-area leadership of Whole Foods Market, said of the project, “We at Whole Foods are excited to partner with the National Immigration Forum, Westchester Community College and LaGuardia Community College to offer our team members the opportunity to improve their language skills, further enhancing their ability to interact with and serve our shoppers while supporting their families and taking part in the communities where they live and work.”

“We started this training program because the retail sector has one of the highest levels of limited-English-proficient workers, at nearly 1.5 million, approximately half of whom are women,” said Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum. “Retail companies are eager to get involved, because they understand the profound impact that improved access to educational opportunities can have on advancement, retention, improved work quality and economic success.”

“Community colleges play a vital role in supporting their communities through programs that build the skills of immigrant workers and benefit the businesses that employ them,” said Teresita Wisell, Executive Director of the Community College Consortium for Immigrant Education and Vice President of Workforce Development and Community Education at Westchester Community College. “CCCIE is proud to be a partner in this initiative to build a replicable model that can be scaled nationwide, with the opportunity to support retail employees’ personal and career growth and contribute to increased productivity and effectiveness among retailers and the sector as a whole.”