Let's say you're a young man and you've just put in eight hours of hard work. At the end of the day you have three choices: 1) Go to the local pub and do some 12-ounce curls to keep your elbow in shape; 2) Go home to your wife and kids and watch some stupid but funny movie on television; or 3) Spend two more hours at work learning a foreign language.
If your chose C, you're just like 43 employees at Friesen USA Inc. where workers spend two hours a day twice a week for 12 weeks attending ESL classes at the plant. The classes taught by instructors from Iowa Central Community College are paid for with a $25,000 Workforce Development Grant.
According to Terry Pearson, plant personnel and safety manager, the classes should greatly improve communications at Friesen. "They're so we can communicate better," Pearson said.
Teaching Mondays and Wednesdays are Marty Pearson and San Juanita Ramirez while on Tuesdays and Thursdays the teachers are Lowell Fields and Korey Cantrell. Maricruz Flores teaches all four days. Linda Helmke acts as Iowa Central literacy facilitator in all the sessions four days. The program is an extension of the Iowa Central Community College adult literacy program and started Aug. 1.
"The classes will hopefully help us to where we can communicate better," Pearson said. He estimates that 83 percent of Friesen's 160-member workforce are not primary English speakers. That can be particularly challenging, since a lot of the Spanish-speaking employees that come to Friesen don't know how to weld so they have to be trained in addition to trying to cope with language barriers.
Every Monday and Wednesday, from 3:30-5:30, students fill up training rooms at Friesen, ready to learn. The same thing happens 2:30-4:30 on Tuesday and Thursday.
"Their attendance has been excellent," Fields said.
Pearson agreed about students' attitudes, saying, "They're excited about it."
"It takes the walls down if they know a little bit of English," said Marty Pearson, Terry's wife. "Then they start making connections.
Terry said those who did not choose to take the classes are saying how lucky their fellow employees are. He acknowledged that what's happening at Friesen is a glimpse of the wave of the future. "If you look at Storm Lake, this is the way we're heading," Terry said. He said it's a lot more convenient having the English classes on-site since employees don't have to go home after work and get ready for classes elsewhere.
Once the English classes are over, though, that won't be the end of it. The grant also covers 10 weeks of Spanish classes for management. They'll go through the same regimen, two hours a day, two days a week.