In California, immigrant families are among the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. For out-of-work non-English speakers, it is even more challenging–with few clear pathways to employment.

For this reason, Chinese for Affirmative Action joined the Chinese Progressive Association and the City College of San Francisco in coordinating the fourteenth annual Hospitality Vocational Training (HVT) Program. First established for job seekers with limited-English proficiency, this program has provided its 300+ past participants with skills, expertise, and connections needed to navigate a competitive job market.

On Thursday, December 10, we held a virtual graduation event for the sixteen participants in HVT’s 2020-21 cohort. 

Over the course of two months, students improved their English language skills and participated in skill-building activities relevant to the service and hospitality industries. Together, they wrote and workshopped their resumes, engaged in mock interviews, and learned about state, federal, and municipal labor laws. 

In the past, classroom instruction was supplemented with forums, roundtables, and hotel site-tours to show students what it is like to work in service and hospitality. In the face of the global pandemic, we had to reimagine the program from start to finish, trading classrooms for conference calls and on-site tours for online forums with past graduates and prospective employers. We also set aside time to accommodate students who were unfamiliar with video conferencing and other communications technologies. 

Although CAA’s 2020 HVT program was unconventional in many respects, those present for the graduation event expressed gratitude for the experience. One student confessed that, entering the program, she was hesitant to use English in job interviews and other professional interactions. Moving forward, she says, “I will be less shy when seeking work and selling my skills.” Another credited the instructor with helping her “[learn] a lot and [feel] empowered to improve.” A third student added, “though we are a small group, we are like a family, supporting each other and helping each other.” 

The future of the service and hospitality industries is uncertain–but by providing immigrant workers with language acquisition, professional networking and skill-building opportunities, CAA is committed to establishing a more confident and qualified immigrant workforce. Said Lori Admokom, the program instructor, “Students are in good hands with the support of CPA, CAA, and the HVT program. We have a strong track record of placing students in jobs and we are here to help you.”

HVT is just one of CAA’s several programs devoted to San Francisco’s for non-English speaking Chinese immigrants. Since 2014, over half of HVT participants went on to secure employment.