Developing English Skills Allows Workers to Scale the Career Ladder

By Paige Farris

Historical Perspective Regarding Diversity

In 2001, W. B. Walsh et al. was critical of historical career development theories for their lack of applicability to diverse populations. The authors asserted that research on career issues for minority groups has been limited. However, cultural diversity must be addressed in today’s work force, and career development professionals are more often working with clients from culturally diverse groups. Walsh also suggested that barriers to career development may include lack of developmental feedback or mentors, discrimination in promotion/transfer, less access to training, perceived isolation, and many other issues that would tend to hold them back in their career paths.


Now, imagine that you speak absolutely no English. Being a person of color or of a diverse background is one issue that may bring difficulty to a person’s career development, but not speaking the language while trying to work and learn work skills in order to be promoted is entirely more complex. How can a non-English speaking worker have their career needs met and benefit from a holistic approach to career development?


Meeting the Needs of a Specific Hispanic Population’s Learning and Career Needs

The Backside Learning Center (BLC) is a nonprofit organization founded eight years ago as a program of the Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. Their mission is to serve equine workers by providing them with the opportunity for education, community and life skills to improve the quality of their lives, and ultimately the horses’.


Imagine someone asking you to check the bandages on the filly in Stall 26. Picture becoming frustrated when you don’t know what they are asking. Even when you figure it out from someone else in the barn who speaks a little English, you are not sure how to wrap the horse’s legs. You’ve never worked with horses before. This is your first job working with horses, and your first job in the United States. While some job training is provided, the fast-paced work environment requires that you learn quickly, which is often made easier by acquiring English skills.


By learning English, an equine worker can improve his/her position within the workplace. A hot-walker, someone who walks the horses around the barn to warm them up before a workout or cool them down afterwards, can move up to being a groom, someone who brushes, feeds, wraps bandages, bathes, and generally cares for the horses. Some grooms are able to become barn foremen, giving them leadership and supervision responsibilities in the barn. Sometimes, barn foremen are even promoted to assistant trainer. In order to climb this career ladder, however, one needs to acquire and improve English abilities.


The Learning Center assists workers with this in these ways:


Through hard work and dedication, several of the Learning Center’s students have been promoted from hot-walker to groom and even groom to barn foreman. Some have passed their GED exams and have been able to find jobs outside of the race track. Here are a few other educational opportunities available at the BLC that aid workers in climbing the career ladder:







The Learning Center is proud to serve this population and help them realize their full potential through this holistic approach to career development. As a result, the equine workers feel more secure in their jobs knowing that they are able to communicate effectively and more confident in their career prospects knowing that they have opportunities.



Walsh, W. B., Bingham, R. P., Brown, M. T., & Ward, C. M. (2001). Career Counseling for African Americans. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.



Paige Farris

Paige Farrisis the Administrative Assistant at the Backside Learning Center where she plans programming for students, coordinates volunteer projects, assists with grant writing and fundraising endeavors, and occasionally teaches English. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Spanish with a minor in International Relations from Centre College (Danville, KY) and has worked for the Learning Center since her graduation in May 2012. The previous summer, she gained experience for her current position by serving as an intern in the Learning Center. She can be reached at pfarris@backsidelearningcenter.org



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