Coffee is brought to the U.S. from around the world, so it seems sort of fitting that coffee is being used here in Denver to introduce people from around the world to the keys to success in America.
At Emily’s Coffee, customers stop in and get their daily java fix, maybe a cup of tea and a scone. The workers in the coffee shop, meanwhile, are getting something much stronger than caffeine: training in the skills it takes to succeed in today’s workforce.
Emily’s Coffee, which opened five months ago, is actually part of a job training program run by the Emily Griffith Technical College that gives refugees from around the world who arrive in Colorado a hands-on job training lesson and real-world experience in an actual American work environment.
Located at the corner of Glenarm and 13th Street, Emily’s Coffee is the only business in the Denver Metro area that serves as a job-training program for refugees from around the world. The program has successfully trained 49 refugees for customer service jobs in Denver and other parts of Colorado. Many of them have taken their skills to other coffee shops and restaurants in the area, including Yellow Feather, Hooked On Colfax, Kaladi Brothers Coffee, Curious Coffee, Dazbog at the Hilton, Denver Athletic Club, Brown Palace, Le Central and, probably not surprisingly, Starbucks.
The 12 students currently enrolled in the program will graduate this Friday at the school at 1:30 p.m. after successfully completing the four-week program. It was originally an eight-week program but administrators decided to make it more intensive to address the urgency with which students needed to find work. Still, school officials are confident the students are leaving with skills that will allow them to move beyond the usual jobs offered to refugees who have limited English skills and little customer services experience.
“The majority of refugees resettling in Colorado find employment in the hospitality industry and meat packing plants,” said Kevin Mohatt, community relations manager of the Language Learning Center at the college. “Though housekeeping and meat packing are decent first jobs for individuals with low levels of English, we felt there was a need to assist refugees with higher levels of English to find jobs that afford better pay, more chances to improve their English and greater opportunities to move up in the workforce.”
Through Emily’s Coffee, Mohatt explained, students interact with customers rather than toil in the background with little or no public interaction. “A coffeehouse was a natural place to provide training for a worthwhile skill (like barista training) and customer service at the same time,” he said.
The students also learn what the school calls “soft skills”, which include the importance of punctuality and how to ask for clarification, something in which even a lot of natural-born American workers could use a refresher course.
The refugees hail from countries around the globe, Mohatt stated, including Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Mali, Uganda, Ukraine, Iraq, Iran, Burma and Bhutan. Many arrived here escaping persecution or other hardships in their homelands.
“They have left their homes and in many cases lost family members,” said Mohatt. “Life in the U.S. is a big improvement compared to the refugee camps, where many of them lived for years, but building a new life while trying to understand the culture, the language, the transportation system and find a job all at once is tough.”
Participants in the Emily’s Coffee program express gratitude at acquiring their new skills and realize that what they have learned goes beyond merely serving coffee.
“I like my job. I like when we have a busy day because I get to speak and improve my English,” said Tetyana Kovina, a graduate of the program who came to Colorado in July, 2011, after fleeing Ukraine and now works at Curious Coffee. “In Emily’s Coffee we work with real customers. There we don’t just look, we can learn and do.”
Mohatt said the coffee shop is doing well, despite the trying economic times and the sometimes-difficult prospect of maintaining a successful business while training people who have only recently arrived to the U.S.
“One of our biggest struggles is always working to maintain a consistent high standard of quality while training individuals who are not only new to an espresso machine but to our country and culture,” he said. “We are lucky to have a consistent customer base that is supported by the staff and students of Emily Griffith Technical College.”