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Transforming Employee Lives and Businesses through English Literacy

Joanna White, Regional Director of Food and Beverage at the Hilton DoubleTree owned and managed by B.F. Saul in Tyson’s Corner, VA, witnessed the emotional toll that a language barrier caused a Spanish-speaking member of her staff who was attempting to answer a customer’s question. “They will not speak up [again] because we didn’t teach them the right way.”

Recognizing that many of her employees were English-language learners, Joanna and Tish McFadden, DoubleTree’s HR Director, took action. With the support of the hotel’s General Manager and B.F. Saul, Joanna and Tish now oversee the hotel’s partnership with the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia (LCNV) and its Destination Workforce® program. LCNV is a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching adults the basic skills of reading, writing, speaking, and understanding English so they can access employment and educational opportunities and more fully and equitably participate in the community.

Launched in 2015, Destination Workforce® is a bold and innovative initiative that builds partnerships between LCNV and local businesses to offer courses for employees to learn English, gain industry-specific vocabulary and workplace skills, and earn credentials related to their industry. Earlier this year, Assistant Secretary Scott Stump from the US Department of Education visited LCNV to learn more about Destination Workforce® and the transformative impact LCNV is having in Northern Virginia. LCNV offers classes that combine language lessons with customer-service training to job-seeking English-language learners. Learners have the opportunity to obtain the Guest Service Gold® certification, a credential recognized by the American Hotel and Lodging Institute and widely applicable to any service-oriented sector.

Employers like B.F. Saul recognize that investing in the education and training of their employees, who represent the business each day, will increase guest loyalty and experience, reduce staff turnover, and increase productivity. Industry experts, like Joanna and Tish at B.F. Saul’s Hilton DoubleTree, were so attracted to LCNV’s mission that they decided to join LCNV’s team of Credential Trainers and facilitate opportunities for employer partners to meet promising job seekers and for graduates of the class to have access to new employment pathways.

The Crimsonbridge Foundation made a grant to LCNV in 2018 to expand Destination Workforce® and develop a new curriculum in another high-demand industry. “We know that learning English allows our students to engage in their communities as successful workers, proactive parents, and engaged citizens,” shared LCNV Executive Director Roopal Mehta Saran. “Thanks to Crimsonbridge Foundation, our adult neighbors learn English so they can become influencers, organizers, voters, change-seekers, and change-makers.”

With the help of a pro bono consulting team from Accenture, LCNV chose to expand to the restaurant industry and launched a partnership in July with José Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup, one of DC’s major restaurant groups. The class will be LCNV’s first program in DC and the 11-week course will serve employees from six local restaurants. Like LCNV’s other employer partners, ThinkFoodGroup will pay LCNV a fee for bringing this valuable education opportunity to their employees. Since launching Destination Workforce®, LCNV has explored various cost-share models. Some partners paid LCNV a fee for the course and their employees for the time they were in class. This is crucial as many employees have more than one job and cannot afford to spend extra hours at work if they are not being compensated. By helping to eliminate financial obstacles for their employees, a business is making a strong investment in their employees and brand.

Destination Workforce® not only benefits the business partners, but also transforms lives and communities. “When I first came to the United States, almost four years ago, I had nothing and I could not speak English,” shared Liyi, a participant of the Hilton Doubletree’s Destination Workforce® program. “I worked in a supermarket at night because I could not speak with the guests at the store. I was shy, I was sad, and I did not know what to do.” Liyi found that, through Destination Workforce®, she was able to earn an industry-recognized credential, obtain a higher-paying job that offers growth opportunities, and perform better in her career and within her community. “I am proud of myself because of my English and I feel like I am finally part of the United States. Finally, I feel like a person again.”


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