ORLANDO, Fla. — A pilot program aimed at upskilling hospitality workers who didn’t grow up speaking English is underway in Orlando.

What You Need To Know

The English Program for workers in the I-Drive Corridor (EPIC) provides on-site English language instruction taught by educators from UCF Global.

Orange County is funding the classes through a nearly $128,000 grant with UCF Global, which is utilizing the University of Central Florida’s research capabilities to track data on the program, explained Orange County Government Senior Public Information Officer Despina McLaughlin.

Around 65 workers for Rosen Hotels and Resorts are taking these classes on the company’s campus, says Senior Human Resources Manager Kimberly Carson. The classes happen during the workday and participants are paid for their time.

Franklin Perez, a Rosen Centre Hotel warehouse manager originally from the Dominican Republic, has been taking classes for several weeks now. As his English improves, the 48 year old plans to apply for college.

“It was one of my dreams since I came to this country and I didn’t have the opportunity before,” he said. “Now that I have it, I want to take it and take advantage of that.”

The Rosen workers taking English classes are in their mid-20s to early 80s, explains Renuka Sastri, a senior consultant for the workforce and economic development for Orange County.

Sastri says most of the students have been in America for eight years or more, but taking formal English classes wasn’t accessible for them until now.

“They don’t have to worry about extra transportation needs, extra childcare needs and all of the other things that have traditionally been barriers,” Sastri explained.

The EPIC pilot program runs through June. If the pilot goes well, the county hopes more I-Drive businesses will get involved so any of their employees who don’t speak English can learn the language.