Tesla launches new ESL program after Austin group raises language barrier issues

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AUSTIN (KXAN) – Efforts are being made to make more Austinians eligible for jobs at Tesla’s new gigafactory.

Austin Community College District said it is working with the company and community partners to launch an English as a Second Language (ESL) program.

A local group called the Texas Anti-Poverty Project has done this.

“As a community, we want – we want the factory, the Tesla company to be successful, but we also want it to offer every opportunity to every resident,” said Ofelia Zapata, who created the group.

She says the group is focused on the living wage, housing and education of residents of Travis County, and in February, they began holding community meetings with Tesla and neighbors from the Hispanic and Latino community.

“To see how we could help families find jobs, because Tesla doesn’t ask for a high school diploma, so we have a lot of people who would fall for it,” Zapata explained.

But during their second meeting, Zapata said a spokesperson for Tesla informed them that English was still a requirement. KXAN has contacted Tesla for comment, but the company has not responded.

“It was very, very disturbing for us to find out that it was not going to be – that many of our families could not work there because of the language barrier,” said Zapata, a community activist from the region for 30 years. .

This includes Maria Teresa Perez Meza, who has been looking for a job for months.

“Since my husband is working, and if I were to work, we would have two incomes and that would really help us pay the rent,” Meza said in Spanish.

United Way of Greater Austin said an analysis of its pleas for help indicates the Dove Springs area of ​​Meza is in our area’s third-largest zip code with rent and electricity being the biggest need. main needs.

Meza quit her fast food restaurant job during the pandemic in part because she contracted COVID-19. So, she was excited when Zapata told her about the openings of Tesla’s Travis County gigafactory.

“It will open the doors for me that I’ve been waiting for,” Meza thought.

But then she discovered an English requirement for many positions that she might otherwise qualify for.

“Oh, well, that’s when my hopes fell apart,” she said.

Just before Wednesday’s monthly meeting with the Texas Anti-Poverty Project, Zapata said a spokesperson for Tesla called her, saying they had started an ESL course with ACC.

KXAN confirmed with ACC, where a spokesperson said the program is “an ESL lead for students seeking careers at Tesla,” and “is currently in the design and pilot stage.” They added that they would share more details in the coming weeks.

Zapata says it’s a big step and that will be their goal.

“We will begin to do our part as a community to spread the word in the pulpit, make announcements in our congregations and let as many people as possible know they can enroll in these courses.”

She also hopes Tesla will hire bilingual workers and supervisors who can help translate for native Spanish speakers when needed.

Zapata also wants to make sure that homes like this are included in future deals with companies moving to Austin.

“We would like the county and city incentives to be black and white, hiring people of all languages,” Zapata said.

Meza says the language barrier is also the reason she couldn’t progress in her fast food job, and she looks forward to more details on ACC’s new program.

“I’m dying to learn English because it will open a lot of doors for me in my life,” Meza said.

United Way of Greater Austin says the major postal code needs of the Tesla plant include child care expenses and rent.

The agency says two of the zip codes surrounding the plant – 78721 and 78724 – are in the top 20 most in need of help in the Austin area.


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