School for migrant workers sharpens skills and changes lives

School for migrant workers sharpens skills and changes lives


Taiwan is home to more than 750,000 foreign workers, who are indispensable to the fishing, manufacturing, and caregiving industries. But many workers face frequent conflicts with their employers due to cultural and language barriers. To address this challenge, an NGO called One-Forty has launched a school for migrant workers. The school offers Chinese lessons and on-the-job training, to help workers adapt to a life in Taiwan. It also teaches secondary skills like entrepreneurship, to make the workers even more employable. Our Sunday special report.

Weaving through the market, this shopper picks out ingredients for lunch, stopping every so often for a chat.

This is Tiny [Read: Teeny], who hails from Indonesia. She arrived in Taiwan in 2009 and now works as a caregiver in New Taipei.

Tiny is close with her employer Tsai Mao-yueh, whom she calls Dad. Besides managing his everyday needs, she loves to cook up a storm.

She can whip up everything from Taiwanese and Thai cuisines to authentic Indonesian delicacies. But when she first arrived in Taiwan, the language barrier made it hard just to buy groceries.

Indonesian worker
One time I went with Grandma to the vegetable market. I saw a box of tomatoes and wanted to ask the boss how much it was. The boss completely ignored me because my pronunciation was off. Grandma sat in her wheelchair and she couldn’t speak any Chinese, only Taiwanese. So I had no way of communicating with Grandma. So in the end I just put the tomatoes down and left.

For migrant workers in Taiwan, language and cultural barriers are common challenges. Indonesian workers arrive with 600 hours of language and professional training under their belt. But that training doesn’t always prepare them for everyday conversations in Chinese.

Chen Cheng-fen
Professor of long-term care studies
It’s like how Taiwanese people take the TOEFL before going to the U.S. Even if you’ve made very thorough preparations, when you’re living in a foreign place, you do still discover a gap between what you learned and the language you need for everyday life.

Kimyung Keng
Politics professor
I think that in Taiwan today, there are several NGOs that are doing great work. We have many social organizations that encourage Indonesian workers to continue classes after they arrive in Taiwan, to continue learning. For example, there’s the 1095 workshop in Taichung, and the One-Forty organization in Taipei. There’s also the Global Workers’ Organization, Taiwan. These groups hold a great deal of classes that enable Indonesian workers to continue their education on weekends, after they arrive in Taiwan.

In 2019, Tiny saw a YouTube ad for a school for migrant workers, run by the One-Forty non-profit. She was intrigued by the prospect of free tuition and lessons taught entirely in Indonesian. She told her employer that she wanted to enroll.

Indonesian worker
I told Dad, “I want to go to class. I want to go to One-Forty.” He asked when registration opened. I said Sunday. Then Dad took me to One-Forty to register for Chinese class.

Tsai Mao-yueh
They are a disadvantaged group. It is because they are disadvantaged that they left their hometowns to work In Taiwan. She is a very motivated person, and of course I fully support her. I consider her part of the family, and I want her to make advances in life.

Tiny’s school serves migrant workers, and it works around their holiday schedule. Classes are held just once a month near Taipei Main Station. The lessons are tailored to the needs of students. Today’s lesson, for instance, is on how to order bubble tea.

Indonesian worker
Before I couldn’t speak at all. Now I’m taking classes regularly. What they taught me today, later I will go and try it out.

Indonesian worker
I can communicate with my boss and I can talk to friends, to other Taiwanese people. My speech has become more clear and more correct.

Practical language lessons help foreign workers adapt more quickly to life in Taiwan. Tiny has attended class for four years now. She says she’s become a veritable shopping expert.

Indonesian worker
I’m really great at shopping now. Hitting the vegetable markets is a cinch. When there’s a buy-one-get-one free promotion, I’m on it right away. I know it’s buy-one-get-one free, and that I’ve got to hurry and buy.

Taiwan opened to migrant labor 30 years ago, and is currently home to more than 750,000 workers. According to a 2022 labor ministry survey, more than 40% of employers have experienced conflict with employees due to language barriers.

Kevin Chen
One-Forty founder
Every migrant worker I’ve interviewed has told me that they faced a huge language barrier after arriving in Taiwan. Some couldn’t speak Chinese well, and others couldn’t use Taiwanese to communicate with older grandparents they looked after. A school for migrant workers helps every migrant worker improve their life in Taiwan, to improve their language and communication skills. At the same time, they improve their work performance, too.

Besides teaching Chinese, One-Forty launched a new skills course for caregivers in 2023, to provide on-the-job training. On this Sunday afternoon, dementia care is the focus. All the students are caregivers who work firsthand with dementia patients.

Chen Cheng-fen
Professor of long-term care studies
For both Taiwanese caregivers and social workers, professional education is divided into pre-job and on-the-job training. Unfortunately, foreign caregivers in the family setting don’t get to have on-the-job training. So after they enter a family, they have no one to turn to if they have problems. There’s no team that they can consult.

Huang Yu-ting
Dementia workshop director
What results from this is that, for Taiwanese families, the quality of dementia care perhaps isn’t so good. Migrant workers might feel frustrated, as they feel they can’t do a good job. So we partnered with a professional medical team – Taipei City Hospital’s dementia care center – to provide basic training in dementia care.

Language and skills training can ease the friction between migrant workers and their employers. But only a minority of workers can get permission from employers to attend class, either alone or with their charges.

Kevin Chen
One-Forty founder
Lots of migrant workers message us and ask, “When will you have classrooms across Taiwan?” They want to come to class, because they really want to learn, but they live too far away. Some caregivers say they only get one day off every month, and they can’t go to class in Taipei but they really want to. So later on we thought, if they can’t make it to our classrooms, we can take our class materials to them. So we started sending out lessons in the mail.

One-Forty sends course materials directly to homes. It also provides online lessons. In 2022, more than 1,200 migrant workers signed up for distance learning. Even without signing up, workers can still access more than 300 online videos and learn right at home. In April 2022, the labor ministry launched a talent retention program for migrant workers. Drawing on the experience of non-profits, the ministry now offers its own online courses.

Su Yu-kuo
Labor ministry’s Workforce Development Agency official
Actually these migrant workers are quite young. They are extremely tech savvy and good at the internet. Due to the nature of their work, they very much welcome online learning, which isn’t restricted to a given time or location.

Through continuing education, the Ministry of Labor hopes to retain migrant workers to stem the national labor shortage. But for the One-Forty non-profit, another goal is to equip migrant workers with secondary skills, which they can use should they choose to go home. The NGO recently launched courses in computer skills and entrepreneurship, to make students more employable in their home countries.

Kevin Chen
One-Forty founder
Every year, more than 100,000 migrant workers go back to Southeast Asia after working in Taiwan. When they go back, they tell people: “Taiwan is a fantastic place” and “When I was in Taiwan, people really helped me out.” They encourage more people to come to Taiwan. That’s the way to make Taiwan a more attractive destination for workers as our society continues to age and industries start to need more labor.

Amid the global race for talent, Taiwan must make itself a great place to live and work. Only then is there a chance at retaining foreign labor, to power industrial growth and to keep Taiwan’s old-age care system afloat.

For more Taiwan news, tune in:
Sun to Fri at 9:30 pm on Channel 152
Tue to Sat at 1 am on Channel 53

我是移工 我想上學!







[[印尼籍移工 Tiny]]


[[台北護理大學長期照護系教授 陳正芬]]

[[淡江大學全球政治經濟學系助理教授 何景榮]]


[[印尼籍移工 Tiny]]

[[雇主 蔡茂岳]]


[[印尼籍移工 Nana]]

[[印尼籍移工 Endang]]


[[印尼籍移工 Tiny]]


[[陳凱翔 One-Forty創辦人]]


[[台北護理大學長期照護系教授 陳正芬]]

[[失智症工作坊專案負責人 黃妤婷]]


[[One-Forty創辦人 陳凱翔]]


[[勞動部勞動力發展署跨國勞動力管理組組長 蘇裕國]]


[[One-Forty創辦人 陳凱翔]]



Related News

New births in February hit new low despite this year being auspicious Year of the Dragon


President Tsai attends event for Chinese medicine practitioners where she is praised


Wushu coach Wu Chi-hsuan becomes first Taiwan YouTuber to hit 10 million subscribers