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District partners with Andersen Windows to help workers enhance English skills

November 26, 2019
Andersen ESL students

Before moving to the United States two years ago, Andersen Windows and Doors employee Sharon Derosier enjoyed successful careers working in an accounting office in her native Philippines and as a high school math and science teacher in Thailand. 

But Sharon’s limited English-speaking skills made finding an office job in the U.S. virtually impossible. In the summer of 2018, she landed a manufacturing position in Andersen’s manufacturing plant in Bayport.

When Andersen began piloting English as a second language (ESL) classes for its Bayport employees this summer, Sharon jumped at the opportunity. “I want to be more fluent in speaking, reading and writing English so I can advance my career,” she said. “My goal is to get an office job.”

In January 2019, Andersen began having discussions with Stillwater Area Public Schools about offering ESL classes to Andersen employees. “The potential for a great partnership was evident in the first conversation,” said Jan Hepola, manager of Andersen’s talent and organization development department. “Within weeks, they were touring our production environment, talking with potential students about the work they do, and how ESL might support their career aspirations.”

The pilot was announced to Andersen employees in May. For two hours every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon from June through August, Sharon and three fellow employees gathered in a conference room in Bayport to work on developing their English language skills. 

Rachel Bassett, a licensed ESL teacher from Stillwater Area Public Schools’ adult education program, provided assessments and individual learning plans for each student. She also trained several Andersen employees who volunteered their time to assist the students in areas such as phonics, pronunciation, reading and conversing with others.

Lisa Krause, a senior learning and performance specialist at Andersen, is the company’s point person for the ESL program. She is pleased with the growing interest among those committed to improving their English language skills. The pilot was successful: 16 students were added to the rolls in September along with support from 15 Andersen volunteers.  

“We have tremendous diversity in cultures, language and experiences among our production employees,” Krause said. “For example, more than 12 languages are spoken in Andersen’s Bayport plant. The company’s goal is to recognize the unique talents and experiences its employees bring to work each day, and to prepare them for a successful Andersen career. This program is one example of the company’s commitment to attracting, retaining and developing its current and future workforce.” 

Launching the pilot and continuing this program is an investment in Andersen’s current and future employees.. “The students’ engagement is pretty exciting, and they are making a personal commitment to attend,” Krause said. “

That would include Sabitra Ghale and Kaji Tamang, a married couple who work in Andersen’s Bayport plant.

“It’s gone well,” said Ghale, a native of Nepal. “I am speaking more English, and I feel more comfortable speaking to people. I have a bright future by coming to Andersen — we have good benefits, and I like the work.”

Photo caption: Andersen’s Sabrita Ghale, Lisa Krause and Daw Hersons share a laugh.
Story and photo credit: Frame Maker, Andersen's employee newsletter