English for Speakers of Other Languages Pilot Program Helping Employees and Employers in I-Drive Corridor

Business Community & Services

With low unemployment rates and visitors returning to the community after the COVID-19 pandemic, employers in the International Drive corridor are dealing with talent shortages. Orange County’s I-Drive Community Redevelopment Act (CRA) Advisory Group, which guides strategy in the tourism corridor, recommended an investment in English language to support professional growth and retention. The English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) pilot program was launched as a result.

“The Advisory Group recognized the importance of having enough of the right-skilled talent to meet growing needs of leisure and convention business returning to our area, especially given the environment of low unemployment,” said Renuka Sastri, senior on-call professional and lead, I-Drive Workforce and Economic Development Programs. “We researched employee needs and found hospitality workers have been challenged to invest time in learning against the need to maintain income.” While there are several ESOL offerings in the community, accessing them has been noted as a challenge especially for those in shift work.

ESOL For Working Adults is part of a larger economic development effort to help employers in the I-Drive area attract and retain employees and help the 75,000 people who live or work in the area have access to better income opportunities. For the pilot program, which continues through June 2023, the CRA Advisory Group invited select employers to to participate in three cycles of ESOL classes to their employees.

Rosen Hotels & Resorts accepted the offer, and more than 60 associates signed up, with some 100 more expressing interest. Recognizing the value this brings to students, Rosen Hotels & Resorts is paying its employees to attend classes as part of their workday so they do not have to choose between work or home life and learning English.

Pilot partners include UCF Global for the language instruction and data analysis. Funded by a grant from Orange County, the Aeras Foundation is providing digital devices, and Rosen Hotels & Resorts, as the participating employer, is providing students and class space. Program metrics include participant needs assessments (demographics, barriers to learning, reasons for participation), skills assessments on speaking, reading, writing, listening), student satisfaction, and employer operational impact.

“Our goal is to help I-Drive area employers not only improve the experience for their guests, but also develop and retain the talent they have,” said Sastri. “Rosen Hotels & Resorts is already seeing improvements in associate and guest experiences, and it’s anticipated other employers will see the value and choose to offer the classes to their employees.”

Funding for the instructional elements is being paid by Orange County Government from CRA funding to UCF Global. The total investment for the pilot program is $127,510 for program design, delivery, digital devices, and data analysis.

“This is a great opportunity to participate in a public-private partnership to improve the employee experience and provide employees with opportunities to progress within the company,” asserted Sastri.

Based on the success of the pilot, the County is considering ways to operationalize the program and make it available sustainably to other employers.  Businesses that wish to learn more about the program, it’s offerings and opportunities to partner with Orange County can visit OCFL.net/ESOL or email Renuka Sastri with the Office of Economic Development at renuka.sastri@ocfl.net.

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