On the streets of Malden Center, you can’t miss the aroma of freshly baked bread. The Piantedosi Baking Company has made bread since 1916, producing roughly 400,000 to 500,000 pieces in a day, from three production lines running seven shifts. It supplies national restaurant chains, five-star restaurants and New England sub shops and markets with high-quality bread and sandwich products.
“What separates us from our competition is that our bread has incredible flavor and doesn’t fall apart,” said Lauren Fazio, vice president of human resources at Piantedosi. “You can have a juicy burger, steak bomb or meatball sub, as our bread hugs the ingredients.”
With the closure of Quinzani’s Bakery in 2015, Piantedosi is one of the few commercial bread suppliers in greater Boston. It employs 240 workers from 38 countries, with immigrants comprising 95 percent of its workforce. Employees mostly speak Spanish, along with Chinese, Vietnamese and Cambodian.
Piantedosi sought a workplace education partner to teach its staff English and baker’s math. The Asian American Civic Association (AACA) has provided English language learning for employees of Tufts Medical Center and South Cove Community Health Center, and worked with Piantedosi to develop a curriculum for its workers.
AACA has offered on-site classes since February 2016, thanks to a Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Adult and Community Learning Services grant for more than $80,000 a year until 2018. Piantedosi pays workers for 100 percent of their time in class, despite the grant requiring employers to match just 50 percent.
“They’ve been a tremendous partner,” said Justine Wang, AACA workplace education coordinator and instructor. “Despite the company being super busy with their bread in high demand, the supervisors send workers to class.”
Training is constant and most important at Piantedosi Baking Company. Before, supervisors would need to translate instructions for employees, taking significant amounts of time. Language barriers meant staff could not complete documentation on when bread was produced and its dimensions, or check paperwork on when machinery was last cleaned.
Piantedosi employee Sokna Tak has been at the company since 2007, when she arrived from Cambodia. “I couldn’t speak English and would hide from managers if I didn’t have a translator,” she said. “I was scared they ask me something.”
Tak first worked in packaging, her English so broken that her attempts to say “water” and “thank you” were misunderstood. Today she is a machine operator, capable of completing documentation and speaking directly to management.
“Now I know how to talk in English and I am very proud and thankful to the company for this opportunity,” Tak said. “I got a promotion to machine operator and want to grow even more.”
Gladys Ortiz, Piantedosi human resources supervisor said, “Justine makes it so fun. They’re laughing and talking together, despite being in all different levels of English.”
Tak’s English literacy has improved her life beyond the workplace. “My son in kindergarten has homework, he want me to read. He ask me, ‘Mommy, how you know how to read? Before, I don’t hear you reading.’”
Tak’s husband is amazed at her progress, as her formal schooling in Cambodia went to just seventh grade. She listens to English CDs in her car and home, along with downloading a Cambodian-English app on her phone.
AACA program manager Kristan Fitah said, “Piantedosi’s team is very supportive of the program and students. The students are learning for the workplace, but management also makes sure the workers get vocabulary for their lives.”
Piantedosi’s investment in its workforce has paid off, with the company earning its first “AA” on a food safety inspection, up from an “A” in 2015. As the inspector can go anywhere and ask anything, the students practiced describing their job duties in English. The inspector spoke to two students — including Tak — and was impressed with how engaged they were. Tak even felt disappointed the inspector did not ask her more questions, as she felt confident and prepared.
“The students want to learn. They say how lucky they are to have English classes at work,” Wang said. “If they go anywhere else for free English classes, they’ll be put on a wait list for six months or a year.”
Piantedosi is a fourth-generation family-owned business, which celebrated its 100th anniversary this year. The average tenure for employees is about 15 years with little turnover, Fazio said.
“The ownership cares about the people,” Fazio said. “We offer really competitive benefits, as we love people to spend their career here and grow.”
This post is also available in: Chinese