Breaking the Language Barrier

By offering ESL classes, Molly Maid hopes to improve opportunities for employees.

By Devlin Smith

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

With about 50 percent of its workforce consisting of native Spanish speakers, some Molly Maid franchisees wanted to find a way to help employees better communicate with English-speaking clients. A few franchisees instituted on-site language classes to help workers improve their English language skills, but Molly Maid wanted to implement a formal program to be used systemwide.

With help from the American Council on Education, Molly Maid created its Workplace Education Program. In October 2000, the pilot program launched at a franchise in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, teaching English as a Second Language classes to 28 employees a few mornings a week.

Through a partnership with a local community college, the Chapel Hill franchisee was able to get an instructor free of charge. "The key is that the community colleges need students, and they need contact hours between instructors and students. This all ties into their funding," explains Stephanie Zikakis, vice president of new business development for Molly Maid. "That particular community college was very excited about the opportunity to come in for an hour two or three times a week and teach the classes."

Molly Maid envisioned the Workplace Education Program growing to include high school equivalency courses, but funding and partnership issues have prevented further expansion. "With all the cutbacks in education, we haven't been able to get another pilot program started, but we haven't given up hope. We believe it's important, and our franchise owners believe it's important," Zikakis says. "It's difficult--you've got to find the right partnership, someone who has a commitment to the community and wants to provide the classes."

Though the formal program currently operates only in Chapel Hill, Molly Maid franchisees continue to offer their own informal language training. "We have a number of people that are word by word, phrase by phrase trying to help their employees understand [English]," Zikakis says. "We do recognize that the more English we can help them with, even on a very informal basis, the better it is for them, for the business and certainly for our customers."

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