Kawasaki, Lincoln Literacy team up to teach English at plant

Businesses in Lincoln, like Kawasaki, are working to make sure the city’s newest Americans have every opportunity they need to succeed.
Published: Dec. 24, 2022 at 6:05 PM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - In the last fiscal year, nearly a million immigrants became naturalized U.S. citizens. It’s a 14-year-high, and in Lincoln, the city’s immigrant population is also growing according to a report from the American Immigration Council.

The latest survey by the city of Lincoln’s New Americans Task Force shows more than 30,000 immigrants call Lincoln home. Businesses in Lincoln, like Kawasaki, are working to make sure the city’s newest Americans have every opportunity they need to succeed.

For Kawasaki, that means offering English classes for their workers like Abel Pineda. He’s a welder at their plant.

”You never finished learning and learning is very important for me,” Pineda said. “Because I’m the kind of person… I would like to find the perfection. I would like to one day speak perfect English.”

After Pineda completes the course, he wants to move on to Kawatech classes, designed to help employees at Kawasaki learn more about different jobs at the plant. Pineda hopes the English classes will help him move forward in his career.

”I can be more productive and the way that I can communicate more clearly. And that’s pretty important,” Pineda said.

Kawasaki’s goal is to keep their workforce learning, and harness skills that already exist, but maybe don’t have the language to advance. So far, 29 students have graduated from the course that comes at no cost to them. The group meets on Saturdays and the employees are on the clock during class time in addition to their 40-hour work week.

”We have a very diverse workplace here. We have people from all over the world. And those people are the future of this company,” Kevin Mattran, the training administrator at Kawasaki said.

Two courses run concurrently. Currently, the classes are in their 8th cohort. The Kawasaki class is just one example of the type of teaching that’s going on all over Lincoln.

“To be successful in the community, you need to have some English to be able to have a baseline and then grow,” Bryan Seck, the Executive Director at Lincoln Literacy said. “Lincoln Literacy provides the basic services and then partners with manufacturers and other companies including Bryan Health, to provide work-based services so people can really grow in their careers.”

The latest study from the city of Lincoln’s NATF shows 60% of immigrants in the city are experiencing educational displacement; they’re not working in their field of training or expertise and would like to do so.

”We have people here that do standard to metric conversions in their head,” Mattran said. “It’s amazing, they have the skill, sometimes it’s a matter of confidence.”

Lincoln Literacy says these classes are about more than investing in the workforce, it’s also about investing in Lincoln.

“When new Americans are able to communicate better in English, that means they can communicate better with their children’s teachers. And if they need to get medical care, they can explain what’s going on. They can speak to their neighbors and build bonds, and they can become friends with all their coworkers here at a place like Kawasaki. So English is not only a tool for Advancement at work, it’s a tool to really integrate into Lincoln, and to make friends all across the community,” said Seck.