Chobani’s “Voxy” Pilot Holds Promise for ESL Learners

Mary Jo Ferrare

6/5/2019

Effective communication between employees and employers is perhaps one of the most critical workplace barometers. A successful communication strategy supports worker comprehension of assigned tasks and reduces job duty uncertainty. On the production floor of regional manufacturers, an effective communication strategy minimizes the potential for accidents and ultimately contributes to a safer and more productive jobsite.

In the Mohawk Valley, the issue of workplace communication is made more challenging by non-native speakers who, despite language and cultural barriers, have successfully integrated themselves into the manufacturing, hospitality, and healthcare sectors. In a typical workplace setting, a group of limited English proficiency immigrant and/or refugee employees will rely on one or two bilingual co-workers to translate for them. On occasions when the “interpreter” is absent or unavailable, productivity and quotas may not be met, which in turn, becomes problematic for the employer.

A variety of traditional methods have been used to encourage English language literacy among our region’s foreign-born employees. Following the economic recession, worksite ESL classes were offered as well as after work and weekend programs provided by local religious institutions, community colleges and BOCES. Not surprisingly, though well-meaning, these programs were not overly successful as the commitment of in-person classes was not compatible with this group’s family obligations, often irregular schedules, and long shifts.

At the Workforce Development Institute we recognized the need to experiment with new technology as it relates to teaching and learning the English language. We were fortunate to be introduced to Voxy (www.voxy.com), an online English learning platform, which provides web-based training via personal computers and smart phones. Shortly thereafter we were approached by management at Chobani, an international manufacturer of Greek yogurt, who expressed interest in piloting a program using Voxy as the training provider.

On May 14, 2019 this pilot was launched at Chobani’s manufacturing facility in New Berlin (Chenango County). Fifteen (15) refugee employees will participate in a six-month program, an ESL Apprenticeship, designed to improve English language literacy on the production floor. Successful graduates of the program will receive a 25 cent per hour salary increase with the potential for career ladder advancement.*

It is important to note that Voxy is a highly configurable solution that can be adapted to the real-world needs of different employers and sectors, and it can be co-branded, leveraging a B2B, blended model offered through local vendors such as Community Colleges or non-profits; this aspect of the product was important to WDI so that local partners are not removed from the process (think Amazon and the elimination of local retailers).

Stay tuned for updates on the pilot in the near future. We are hopeful Voxy will become a well-used resource in the toolbelt of workforce development professionals in terms of offering a convenient option for ESL learners


* Week three of the ESL Apprenticeship program [June 5, 2019] indicates a 60% usage of the platform (nine of fifteen participants), as reported by Voxy.