Employers be advised. The Nebraska City Rotary Club meeting at 12 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 6, at the Eagles Club at 600 1st Corso could be a game changer for your business.
Laura French, an English as a second language instructor at Southeast Community College in downtown Nebraska City could have the solution to your problems.
French said that, while many local businesses are struggling through long periods of trying to find motivated and knowledgeable workers, a group of diligent, hard working and skilled non-English speakers are bridging the language gap to make themselves available for employment opportunities.
Graduates from the Southeast Community College English as a second language program could fill those long standing job openings.
Employers with non-native English speakers already in their work force should still come to the Rotary meeting. French said, non-native speakers, when made aware of the chance to refine their English skills at Southeast Community College, could make a commitment that improves fluency and enables employers to promote them to other job openings.
French said workers at Cargill or Honeywell in Nebraska City, for instance, may have enough English to do their job, but not enough English to be promoted.
Class work at the college can help address that.
The English as a second language classes at Southeast Community College are free and are open enrollment, which means students can join anytime.
The students are first given a computer administered test that determines their level of fluency and then begin class work to improve that level.
French said, on any given day, she might work with speakers who are functional with the English language and just need practice along with students who are truly new to the English language.
For a good percentage of the speakers, it’s the language barrier, not a lack of skill, that makes it hard for them to find good work.
By graduating from the English as a second language class, speakers can then take the high school diploma they received from their former country of residence and go on to college classes. Some already have college degrees.
Program grads who don’t have a high school diploma can enter into adult basic education classes to receive a GED and then go from there.
Students are required to attend two classes per month and log 20 hours of combined class time and distance learning.
French said she is amazed by the work ethic of her students. After long days at their regular job, and after having taken care of the family’s needs, students come to the college setting for three hours of course work.
“It just makes me want to do everything possible that I can for them,” French said. “They’re just good people.”
French said the foreign speakers are people who are in this country chasing the American dream and dealing with the complications that come with living in a rural area where their native tongue isn’t spoken.
In metropolitan areas, there might be areas of the city where foreign speakers have their own radio station, newspaper, restaurants and cultural centers.
“Here, it’s a lot harder,” French said, adding that many Spanish speakers go to Omaha for doctor visits because they have a Spanish-speaking clinic.
French said she finds it gratifying to see non-native English speakers find the confidence to engage in conversations.
“You can see them being kind of surprised, ‘I am talking to English speakers. We are understanding each other. It works,’” French said.
Just recently, French said that the college had its English as a second language students in a setting with English speakers learning Spanish. After the English to Spanish speakers finished their final class, they met with Spanish speakers and were able to have conversations with those native speakers.
Having that dynamic take place was fun to see and French said there is considerable interest for English speakers who would like to learn Spanish as well.
For more information on the offerings at Southeast Community College, call Cindy Meyer at (402) 323-3636.