Kerry strives for better communication
Kerry Ingredients in Blue Earth believes effective communication is essential, so they’re asking their Spanish-speaking employees to brush up on their English skills.
“We have a group of people we have difficulty understanding when pertaining to employee and food safety aspects,” says plant manager Doug Klukow.
“The intent is not to get rid of people. Some of them have been with us for quite a while and have proven to be valuable employees,” he adds.
Meetings have been held with the workers to explain why they should improve their language skills.
Kerry has joined forces with Community Education so some 20 people can attend English Second Language (ESL) classes in Blue Earth, and the company will pay the costs.
Before that happens, however, company officials will have to clear up some initial miscommunication.
Contrary to what some employees may believe, no ultimatum was ever given requiring them to take and complete ESL classes to keep their jobs.
“There may have been some misunderstanding. We are going to go back and clarify what we meant,” Klukow says. “It’s an optional program. It is non-punitive.”
He says the company must follow various government regulations when processing, handling and storing products. So, it is vital any training given to employees is clear and understood.
Workers also must be able to follow and understand customer product specifications, Klukow says.“We’re also concerned about the safety of our employees,” he adds.
Klukow mentioned the October 2007 fire that destroyed a warehouse area as an example for knowing what to do if an emergency arises.
Sue Vogelsang, coordinator of the Adult Basic Education Program in Blue Earth, says other companies have taken advantage of ESL classes at other sites.
She says classes — held in Blue Earth, Wells and Winnebago — are three hours long and participants may attend according to their schedule.
Klukow says workers are being encouraged to take the classes and should view it as a way for self-improvement.
“This is a real positive thing and that’s why we are willing to bankroll the program. We want to help them here at the plant and hope it bleeds over into their everyday lives,” he says.
Workers aren’t the only ones being asked to take language classes.
Klukow says supervisors at the plant also are encouraged to learn Spanish, but that also is voluntary.