Sonoma County businesses help employees boost English skills

For Costeaux French Bakery, offering English classes to workers has benefited both the employees and the company.

"All around, it's a win-win situation," said General Manager Will Seppi, whose family has owned Costeaux for more than three decades. "It's an investment I definitely will make again."

The Healdsburg bakery, which is celebrating 90 years in operation, provided English classes to about 20 non-native English speakers through a program sponsored by the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber has been offering such classes for five years. They involve 32 hours of instruction that are adapted to fit the workers' language levels and key words and phrases they need to know.

"It's completely customized based on the company's needs," said Kelly Bass Seibel, the chamber's director of workforce development.

Last year the program served about 50 companies, she said.

After taking the chamber classes, one of the bakery's managers signed up for a course at Santa Rosa Junior College, Seppi said. Employees were "overwhelmingly positive" in reaction to the classes, and the company is looking for ways to keep them practicing their English.

Holly Fox, manager of the Two Thirty-Five Luxury Suites in Healdsburg, said about five workers from the boutique hotel and E&M, an industrial automation company, are taking classes. Both companies are owned by the Deas family.

Edgar Deas, a family elder, came to the United States from Cuba as a boy and knows the benefits of being able to speak English comfortably in business settings, she said. The company wanted to invest in its workers and "give them better opportunities in the company and anywhere they want to work in the future," Fox said.

The classes also can help workers communicate at doctors' offices, stores and their children's schools. Along with language classes, the chamber program offers literacy training for workers to help their children prepare for school.

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