Teaching Workers English Helps Contract Cleaners

What we are starting to see in parts of the U.S. is large contract cleaning companies providing classes so that their non-English speaking staff can learn English. While some may be doing this independently, many have joined forces with organizations, often non-profits, that works with contract cleaners and other organizations to help teach these workers English as a second language.

Also, some of these organizations extend this training to what they refer to as “life skills.” These life skills include such things as how to use an ATM, open a bank account, sell a car on Craig’s list, and even help their kids with homework.

Such training programs, though still relatively rare in the professional cleaning industry, are not that new among other U.S. businesses, where immigrants have long counted as a significant part of the country’s labor force. For instance, all the way back in 1915, Bethlehem Steel, then one of the largest steel companies in the world, began providing their immigrant workers with similar training.

What Bethlehem Steel started more than a century ago continues today as the Bethlehem Project, operated by a non-profit organization called the National Immigration Forum. Along with teaching English, the program’s goals are to help promote citizenship and the ability of these workers to realize the “American Dream,” which includes improving their job skills, earning power, their family’s lives, and the lives of their communities.

McDonalds Corporation has a similar program and is now viewed as the real leader in these types of training programs. The Corporation developed an English training program called “English Under the Arches,” which provides both personalized trainings as well as web-based training to their franchise owners as well as their foreign-born employees.

And this is important… the training is provided so that workers never need to leave the job site. Virtual classrooms are created so that employees can join the class when they are not busy, but put things on hold, for instance, during the busy lunch hour, when they are needed to serve customers.

Company Benefits

At first glance, this might seem like a nice, charitable exercise by these companies, including contract cleaning companies. And in many ways it is. However, upon closer examination, what we are seeing is that it is far more than a charitable gesture. Teaching English and “life skills” is paying off big time for some of these companies.

For instance, McDonald’s, which reports an 85 percent graduation rate, says they have a 90 percent employee retention rate among those workers graduating from the training program. Further, fully 96 percent of these people advance in their positions in McDonald’s.

This is significant because the fast food industry has historically had very high turnover numbers, similar to the professional cleaning industry. Keeping workers on board – and even having them advance up the ladder – is a significant cost saving for McDonald’s and because of their dedication to the company and its culture, also helps ensure greater customer satisfaction.

According to one leading contract cleaning company that provides English classes for their staff, the program is helping these workers move on to bigger and better things. “While many do stay on with our company and take supervisory positions,” says the company’s CEO, “others use the training to start their own business or move on to higher paying jobs.”

Publicizing These Programs

Another benefit these companies with English speaking classes are enjoying – whether they want to or not – is that these programs are proving to be a bonanza in positive public relations. In fact, they are even providing marketing opportunities for some of these companies.

For instance, the Bethlehem Project mentioned earlier, has an annual Citizenship Day Celebration, honoring employees and their employers who have helped their workers become U.S. citizens. “This is viewed as a prime news event,” says Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum. “[It helps these companies get] widespread media coverage and recognition from elected officials all over the country.”

And even if companies prefer to keep a low profile about their efforts to teach their workers English, word gets around. Their customers invariably become aware of their efforts and because of this, are proud to be associated with their cleaning contractor. That’s customer loyalty at its best.


Ron Segura is founder and president of Segura & Associates, an international janitorial consulting company based in the U.S. He has over 45 years of experience in all segments of the cleaning industry with ten of those years spent overseeing the cleaning of over 4.5 million square feet for The Walt Disney Company. Ron can be contacted through his company website at https://www.seguraassociates.com