ENL Class at Sherrill Manufacturing

Partnership Creates English Class at Sherrill Manufacturing
Posted on 10/03/2023

For many years, Sherrill Manufacturing struggled to fill vacancies in its Oneida County flatware factory, President Matt Roberts said. There were a variety of jobs, but there never seemed to be enough workers to fill those positions.

These days, the manufacturing company is fully staffed, due in large part to a new crop of workers moving to the area from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and California. About 20 percent of the company’s workforce is now made up of native Spanish speakers.

“When we started hiring more Spanish speakers, everyone pulled out their phones and started using Google Translate,” Roberts said. “I can get by with my Spanish, but it certainly wasn’t the best way to work.”

Roberts and Operations Manager Jose Alvarez approached Madison-Oneida BOCES for help. MOBOCES has offered English, high school equivalency and adult basic education classes in Madison and Oneida counties for decades through its Adult and Continuing Education division, and it has periodically partnered with local businesses to offer specialized trainings and workshops for employee groups.

MOBOCES and Sherrill Manufacturing launched a unique partnership this summer to teach English as a New Language (ENL) classes at the factory to anyone who wanted to enroll.

Now, anywhere from 15-30 people attend free ENL classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays right in the company’s conference room. Spouses, siblings and children of employees are welcome to drop in.

“We consider this to be part of their work day – twice a week, they have English class,” Roberts said. “To me, that is pennies on the dollar. Investing in our workforce  that’s going to pay dividends in the long run, for the company and the region too. Doing this makes sense.”

The class focuses on conversational skills as well as basic reading and writing to help them not only in the factory but at the grocery store, the bank and in the community, Roberts said.

chris with studentOn the first day of class in August, an adult education case manager from MOBOCES met individually with everyone who planned to take the class to assess their English skills and provide baseline information to the instructor. New hires who join the class receive the same assessment, and a case manager returns to conduct a new assessment after a student completes 40 hours of instruction to measure improvement.

 “I can already see tremendous improvement in one or two months, just from watching the class. It’s really amazing to see their progress,” said Chris Ebersold, an adult education case manager.

MOBOCES tapped Brandon Mendoza, a veteran ENL teacher who is fluent in Spanish, to teach the class. Mendoza is a full-time ENL teacher in the Rome City School District; he also teaches ENL at Mohawk Valley Community College and GED classes for MOBOCES at the Rome ACCESS Site for adult learners.

“It’s nice to see the corporate world partnering with education and government in this way, to see an effort like this that is helping to revitalize the area,” Mendoza said. “I was thrilled to be asked to do this! There is a huge need for ENL teachers but most of them end up in bigger cities. The need in smaller areas like this for ENL teachers is huge.”