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Troy’s Turnkey Workplace Services Partners with CRLC, Turning Showroom into a Classroom for English Classes in the Evening 

Like many small business owners, Mike Paris would lay awake at night, wondering how he could continue to grow his office furniture and project management company, Turnkey Workplace Services.

He was ready to sign a deal to move their headquarters from a former Grand Union grocery store on Pawling Ave. in Troy, to the former Ken Feiden furniture store and Yonder Farms parcel near the Rensselaer Technology Park on North Greenbush Road.

At 15,000 square feet, the new space would be nearly double the size.

Paris had the customers. Turnkey works with local, regional and national companies, including Procter & Gamble, JPMorgan Chase, Chubb Life, RPI, and Key Bank.  

His concern was staffing. 

“Without question, we have one of the best workforces around,” he explains. “Our crew is fiercely loyal, extremely polite and hardworking, though only a handful can speak English fluently. This is a team that moves large scale products in and out of both commercial and residential buildings. They are dismantling and installing furniture in someone’s workplace. Communication is critical, and I didn’t want the language barrier to become a safety issue.”

Group of Turnkey Workplace Services employees gather in the company's showroom four nights a week to learn English. Employees are seated at tables and in armchairs, with notebooks, speaking English to each other.

Turnkey Workplace Services employees gather in the company’s showroom four nights a week to learn English.

Not Labor, Language 

Then, Paris had an epiphany. It wasn’t a labor issue he was grappling with. He had a language problem.

“I realized Turnkey has 80% of what we need to grow,” he said. “We just need the language piece. That’s when I found Capital Region Language Center.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Hispanic workers account for about 19% of the country’s workforce. It marks a higher labor force participation rate than the national average. 

Kim  Andersen, founder and director of Capital Region Language Center (CRLC) says more organizations are seeking language classes – especially English and Spanish. Her 20-year-old school, a New York State certified Woman-Owned Business Enterprise (WBE), also offers: Albanian, American Sign Language (ASL), Arabic, Catalan, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, and Portuguese. 

Success Starts with Questions 

As with any business or organization that CRLC partners with, Andersen began by asking Paris lots of questions. Her goal was to tailor an English course specific to what his team needs on a jobsite.

“Before we start teaching, we need to understand an employer’s challenges and goals,” Andersen explains. “This isn’t an off-the-shelf software program or curriculum. Whether it’s one-on-one or a class of 18, we customize every course so the students and employer can be successful.” 

The Five C’s of Language Learning

In addition to Turnkey, Andersen says Capital Region Language Center is currently providing language classes at Price Chopper/Market 32 and University of Albany. Her language instructors are also working with school librarians through BOCES in the Hudson Valley, teachers through the Greater Capital Region Teacher Center, and human services professionals at Lifeworks in Ballston Spa. 

Some are offered on-site, while others are online. 

Showroom Becomes a Classroom

Paris says one key advantage at Turnkey is his showroom. 

“We are a furniture business, so we have plenty of seating,” he said. “There are rolling white boards and nesting tables. So now, our showroom transforms into a classroom in the evening.”

Turnkey employees listen to CRLC's Kim Andersen, during an after-work English class, offered in the company's Troy showroom. Group is seated at tables, with Andersen at the head of the room, speaking to the group.

Turnkey employees listen to CRLC’s Kim Andersen, during an after-work English class, offered in the company’s Troy showroom.

Andersen also recommended technology that would allow students to join the class remotely. 

“Our staff works hard all day long,” Paris explains. “Classes needed to be after hours. Sometimes, everyone can’t be in the same place, so Kim recommended we purchase an Owl. It is a specific camera that follows the speaker while talking, so people can participate online.” 

Andersen and Faith Pirlo, who recently joined CRLC to help meet the growing demand for English classes, are now teaching on site at Turnkey four nights a week, from 5pm – 7pm. 

Paris is impressed. 

“It is amazing what Kim and Faith did in just the first five weeks,” Paris says. “These are individuals who could not have a conversation (in English). Now, they are asking how I’m doing when we see each other in the office.”

Kim Andersen, founder and director of Capital Region Language Center, teaches an English lesson at Turnkey Workplace Services. Andersen is standing and writing on a white board in the company's showroom.

Kim Andersen, founder and director of Capital Region Language Center, teaches an English lesson at Turnkey Workplace Services.

Paris estimates he invested about $25,000 for 100 hours of classes and the equipment. Now that he’s seen the progress, he is already planning to continue.

He’s not alone. 

More Companies Offering Upskill English Classes 

A recent story in Fast Company says more brands, including Chobani and Amazon, are investing in upskill-English classes for employees. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts by 2028, the Hispanic workforce will reach 7.4 million people, more than any other age, sex, race or ethnic group in the U.S. 

CEOs are taking notice of the benefits, pointing to three key returns on investment:

  1. Growing the internal talent pipeline
  2. Boosting retention and advancement in a tight and expensive job market
  3. Unlocking new opportunities for employees, both inside and outside of work

Paris says he would like to see all three outcomes at Turnkey. Many of his strongest team members have been recruited by word of mouth. By offering English classes, he hopes it will attract more of the same kind of reliable workers that comprise his current team.

Five Ways English Classes Benefit Your Bottom Line

For now, he enjoys staying late to listen in on the progress his employees are making.

“After a homework assignment to practice introducing themselves, talking about their family and explaining their job (in English), Kim invited anyone who was willing to come up to the front of the room and speak to the class,” he says. “It was totally optional, but every single person did it. They were cheering each other on, taking videos on their phones. It was incredible.” 

Mike Paris, owner of Turnkey Workplace Services, joins an evening English class in the company showroom. Paris began offering the class free to his employees, through Capital Region Language Center. Paris, right, listens to an employee practice speaking English.

Mike Paris, right, owner of Turnkey Workplace Services, joins an evening English class in the company showroom. Paris began offering the class free to his employees, through Capital Region Language Center.

Andersen recently visited a Turnkey work site to get a better sense of how the team must communicate with customers and vendors on the job. Paris says it is just another way she and Pirlo have built trust with their students. 

“The team has really embraced both Kim and Faith,” he said. 

More Than Just Good for Business

Being able to talk to employees and seeing their enthusiasm and progress is proof he made the right investment, partnering with Capital Region Language Center, according to Paris.

“What amazes me is that every night, after working a long day of installing furniture, this team walks back through the door, workbooks under their arms, ready to go,” he says. 

Paris says he is sleeping fine, with plans on track to move to the larger showroom this fall. 

“Capital Region Language Center was the missing piece in taking Turnkey to the next level,” Paris says. “Obviously, it makes good business sense, but I’m a local kid from Troy. I’m 64 years old, my kids are here working with me, I’m a lucky guy. I can clearly see how these language classes are making a difference. It helps us as a company, but most importantly, it will help our employees for the rest of their lives.”

We offer workforce language classes for groups as well as one-on-one instruction. Online and in-person. Contact us at: info@crlcalbany.org or visit our website.