A Cargill classroom in Costa Rica
In Costa Rica, Cargill offers its employees a quality education, teaching courses like English and communications that will help them thrive in and out of the workplace.

Creating opportunity through education

To ensure its Central American employees can earn a high school education, Cargill launches an innovative enrichment program.

To stay safe in a plant operations environment, employees must be able to read posted instructions and warnings. Shortly after expanding its meat operations in Central America in 2011, Cargill discovered a significant number of its new employees in Costa Rica were unable to read—and many had not completed primary school.

To close this gap, in 2013 Cargill’s business in Costa Rica began offering employees an opportunity to achieve a basic education, including reading and writing, as well as the option to finish high school. The program was offered in partnership with Instituto National de Aprendizaje (INA), a government-run organization focused on providing citizens with access to education. A portion of Cargill’s payroll tax in Costa Rica is funneled directly to INA, funding the development of the new program, which closely resembles an employee education effort by Cargill in Honduras. Designed for convenience and easy access, teachers come directly to Cargill facilities to instruct courses in reading, writing, Spanish, English, communication, management, computers and technical subjects.

The objective of the program is to give Cargill employees an opportunity to achieve the minimum sixth grade education standard with the option to earn a high school diploma. If employees choose to go beyond high school, they can take higher-level courses through other INA facilities.

Employees enrolled in the program attend classes after their shifts in a Cargill plant. Offering courses on-site is convenient for employees who may not have an easy way to get to a school. Cargill’s facilities are also clean, comfortable and familiar.

“The program is good for everyone,” said Karen Lopez, manager of human resources for Cargill’s meat business in Costa Rica, who oversees that country’s education program. “The employee gets an education and is better equipped to seek new opportunities with the company, and the company has a better-trained workforce with which it can more effectively communicate important information.”

The Mexican Center for Philanthropy recognized Cargill for its unique and innovative approach to ensuring its employees in Central America have access to a broad range of learning opportunities. Other companies have contacted Cargill to learn how they might implement a similar program at their facilities.

To date, more than 85 employees have enrolled in the program in Costa Rica, with four taking primary-level courses. “Some of our employees tell us [they are] very happy to have taken classes at Cargill,” Lopez said. “Now they can help their own kids with their homework.”