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Pearson Managers Take Spanish to Communicate Better with ‘Pickers and Packers’

At Pearson’s Cranbury Distribution Center, the company is taking a novel approach to dissolving the language barrier between its Hispanic employees and their supervisors.

It’s called Spanish in the Workplace, and it’s a required class for Pearson’s managerial staff.

State Labor Commissioner Harold Wirths takes a quick lesson in Spanish from Mercer County Community College instructor Emily Jacobs at a Basic Skills class held at Pearson in Cranbury.
State Labor Commissioner Harold Wirths takes a quick lesson in Spanish from Mercer County Community College instructor Emily Jacobs at a Basic Skills class held at Pearson in Cranbury.

Click-here-to-find-out-how-trainingThe company has enrolled its Hispanic employees in English as a Second Language for a number of years, but then Pearson turned that idea inside out by having its supervisors take Spanish. The company’s thinking was simple in its brilliance. If the language barrier is approached from both ends of that barrier, then it will dissolve more quickly.

Glenn Cipriani, Pearson’s vice president of distribution, said the entire Cranbury operation has become much more efficient and productive as a result of the dual-language classes. “We can communicate better and provide better customer service,” he said.

The Pearson distribution center employs hundreds of people in the busy summer months to distribute 1,100 titles and over 40 million textbooks to colleges and universities around the country. Most employees are “pickers and packers” who pick and repack the textbooks in boxes along miles of computerized conveyor systems in Pearson’s vast warehouse. Pearson has a large multicultural workforce and many speak little or no English. On the other side of the workforce equation, most of Pearson’s management staff speaks little or no Spanish.

State Labor Commissioner Harold Wirths, who attended a final class in workplace Spanish one day last June, courageously took a quick lesson in Spanish verb forms before the entire class before congratulating the employees on their accomplishment.

The Basic Skills training program is a partnership between the NJ Department of Labor & Workforce Development, the NJ Community College Consortium, and the New Jersey Business & Industry Association. Classes are also offered in basic computer applications (Microsoft Windows and Office), verbal and written communications (including customer service), and mathematics & measurement.

This story was originally published in the August

2013 issue of New Jersey Business, the magazine of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association. The author is Christopher Biddle, President of Biddle Communications & Public Relations.

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