College helping employees at resorts to learn English
The Arizona Republic
Jul. 14, 2006

Melissa Navas

The Phoenician resort's English class has a view of the golf course and desks draped in white tablecloths with high-back chairs. Munchies for 15 students include fresh fruits and gold-fleckedpastries.

The class is all part of the Phoenix resort's plan to provide quality customer service by making sure its employees know English and are properly trained in American hospitality.

The Phoenician and other Valley resorts are enlisting the help of Scottsdale Community College's ESL for Hospitality program to customize on-site English courses. With tourism bringing in $17.5 billion to the state, resorts say they cannot find enough employees locally and must recruit abroad.

Scottsdale Community College has filled the niche to train the foreign workforce since 2001. The college has worked with six resorts and several smaller construction and landscaping businesses.

Next week, the program will begin its most aggressive campaign to enlist more resorts and businesses, said John Liffiton, the director for the English as a second language program.

Liffiton said the language training allows for better communication, which translates to better operations and service.

"Many of them are speaking their native languages because their colleagues are from their own countries," Liffiton said. "But that's not going to help them in the workforce. They need their English."

Instead of businesses sending students to the college as in the past, they can design their own programs.

Jane Fletcher, director of human resources at Marriott's Camelback Inn in Paradise Valley, said the college's on-site class is more accessible than a regular school for employees who have families, other jobs or transportation difficulties.

Nearly 45 percent of the hotel's employees speak primarily Spanish or a language other than English, Fletcher said.

The college works with businesses who have at least 15 students for an on-site class, Liffiton said. Payment for classes varies, with some businesses opting to reimburse students for tuition or others allowing students to attend class while on the clock.

When ESL instructor Nikki Serafin began her 14-week course at the Phoenician in March, she had orders to use oral exercises to teach students how to make polite requests and learn housekeeping terms.

Serafin would take students around hotel grounds to role-play. One student would be a guest and ask how to get to the spa or golf course while another student would give directions.

After hours of homework and studying, some find the classes pay off. One manager at the Phoenician said he noticed a change among employees after the classes.

"After classes, they would come back to work smiling and joking," said Johnny Rodriguez, the fleet service manager. . "Now, they talk among themselves in English, and they laugh at each other. I've seen their morale shoot up because they're learning something."

Antonio Valladolid, one of Rodriguez's employees, said in Spanish that now he is able to practice English with his children and understand orders at work. There is less confusion, he says.

Before getting back to work in the resort's maintenance area, he borrowed a phrase from Serafin's lesson on how to speak to guests.

"Thank you for coming," he said in perfect English.