LOST IN TRANSLATION

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Immigrants are a growing part of the workforce in communities all over New York State, yet the state-run English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program has not come close to keeping pace with demand for its services, according to a new report from the Center for an Urban Future.

The report, titled “Lost In Translation,” finds that more than 1.6 million New Yorkers have limited English skills but state-run ESOL programs enrolled just 86,433 adults last year, serving only 5.3 percent of those in need. Even though the state’s foreign-born population has grown by nearly 1.3 million since 1990, the report points out that adult ESOL programs administered through the State Department of Education added only 15,000 new seats over the same period. New York City was home to 1.2 million adults with limited English skills in 2005, but just 41,585 residents were enrolled in state-funded programs that year.

As highly-educated workers flood out of New York, businesses in a variety of sectors – from home health care to manufacturing – are hiring immigrants in record numbers. But workers hoping to advance find few opportunities without English proficiency, says the report.

It also hurts the businesses that employ them. At Karp Associates, for instance, a 50-year-old company in Maspeth, Queens that manufactures access doors, workers’ limited English proficiency restricts their ability to interact with managers or clients. “They’re machinists, they’re tool makers, they’re die makers, they have fantastic skills. The problem is the communication,” says Gerry Gorman, Karp’s president and CEO. “Right now our company is handicapped. Our growth is limited by the language and labor skills that we need.”

On a broader scale, ESOL instruction is critically important for local and state economic development: “boosting a worker’s English skills improves productivity, reduces turnover and helps businesses grow their jobs,” the report explains.

The study makes several recommendations for improving adult ESOL in the state. It calls on state and local leaders to increase funding for English language instruction, encourages business leaders to fund training for their workers, and urges the legislature to reform how the largest pot of money is divvied up. For the full report, visit The Center for an Urban Future. [11/20/06]