Students practice caregiver skills-based competencies in a Chinese language classroom in Seattle • Photo by Kate Baldwin Photography

We all want jobs that have great professional benefits, like health coverage and a retirement plan, to support ourselves and our loved ones. This is especially true for immigrants and refugees seeking economic security in a new country. Too often, though, the needed training and education for jobs with these benefits can be difficult to obtain due to language, cultural and financial barriers.

In Washington State, however, high-quality training for the 50,000 professional caregivers offered through SEIU 775 Benefits Group uniquely meets the language needs of its diverse participants. Once learners are equipped with the training to provide in-home care to older adults and people with disabilities, doors to a career with robust workplace benefits are opened.

I know firsthand how important this type of language access is. When my family immigrated to the U.S. from South Korea when I was 12, my parents worried their English skills would prevent them from passing the written exam for their driver’s licenses. With their ability to drive essential to getting a job, they were so relieved to learn the exam and study guide were available in Korean.

I’ve never forgotten how this simple but powerful commitment to language access changes lives.

About 16% of those seeking caregiver training speak a primary language other than English. To ensure language isn’t a barrier to joining this vital workforce, SEIU 775 Benefits Group’s training – from classroom instruction to course materials – is offered in up to 16 languages. In-person classroom and materials interpretation by professional and community interpreters is provided in dozens more.

SEIU 775 Benefits Group instructor Minjie Lu demonstrates caregiving skills in a Chinese language classroom in Seattle • Photo by Kate Baldwin Photography

Once trained, the scope of workplace benefits for our state’s professional caregivers is commensurate with their essential role as healthcare workers. They include high-quality, affordable health coverage for themselves and their children, contributions to a retirement plan and access to a free online job-matching platform to secure clients. And ongoing continuing education benefits provide opportunities for higher wages and professional advancement over time.

With the tens of thousands of caregivers it serves annually, only the University of Washington system serves more learners each year in our state than SEIU 775 Benefits Group. But unlike many other training or educational programs, fluency in English isn’t required. Those served reflect the unique cultural and immigration histories of our state with most commonly spoken languages of caregivers being Russian, Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Ukrainian, Arabic and Khmer.

Furthermore, caregivers get paid by their employers while they complete this training, making the educational opportunity particularly accessible for those with limited finances.

The life-sustaining work of caregiving —  with the contributions of so many immigrants and refugees —  builds a culture of care we can all we proud of. AARP consistently rates Washington among the top states for long-term care. There’s no doubt that accessible training for everyone interested in this vital work, regardless of the language they speak, and powerful professional benefits to attract and retain these workers contributes to this stand-out ranking.

For my own family, access to a Korean language study guide and drivers’ exam were an economic game-changer as new immigrants in Washington State. As our state’s need for in-home care for our aging population quickly grows, how much more so is the accessible, in-language professional training for one of our most in-demand professions.

Jee Kim is the Equity & Language Access Senior Program Manager at SEIU 775 Benefits Group, a nonprofit improving the skills, health and stability of the caregiving workforce in Washington State. 

Previous articleIn Kelly Akashi’s Encounters, galactic sculptures collide at the Henry Art Gallery
Next articleA Lunar New Year offering from a Golden Dragon baby