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Uber teaming up with Rosetta Stone to offer free language courses to drivers

The company is funding education and career-building programs to address a nationwide driver shortage

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Uber is teaming up with popular language service Rosetta Stone to provide free classes to drivers and couriers, the company announced Thursday.

The deal is being extended to drivers and delivery workers in select markets where Uber operates. Rosetta’s digital language learning programs, which cover 24 languages, will be fully integrated into the Uber app used by its workers. And the company is working with Rosetta on developing language skills directly related to their work as ride-share drivers and delivery workers.

Drivers have previously been able to take English-language courses as part of Uber Pro, the company’s rewards program for drivers. The new language services are part of a broader effort by the ride-hailing company to improve relations with its drivers, as well as offer incentives to sign on to the platform amid a nationwide shortage of Uber drivers.

In many cities, a majority of the people who drive for Uber are immigrants. In London, 82 percent of drivers are immigrants, while the number in New York City is 90 percent. Uber says it wants to give its workers the ability to learn a new language on the job, which could help them secure more full-time employment.

To further help drivers in finding a new job, Uber is offering letters that describe the work they’ve done while working for the company. The letter, which will be on Uber’s letterhead, will include details such as when they first signed up to use the app, the number of trips or deliveries they’ve done, their average customer rating, and top feedback.

But naturally, Uber would prefer people stay logged on to its app, and the company is offering cash payments as an added bonus. Earlier this year, the company said it would spend $250 million on a “stimulus” for drivers in the hopes of luring COVID-wary workers back to the platform.

Language services are certainly one piece of this effort; Uber’s head of driver operations told The Wall Street Journal recently the company would fund education and career-building programs for drivers in an effort to address the shortage of workers.

Uber drivers are independent contractors who lack many of the benefits and protections of salaried employment. The company argues this gives drivers the flexibility to work at their leisure and be their own boss, but some drivers feel as if they’re at the mercy of Uber’s algorithm. US-based drivers seeking to be reclassified as employees have been stymied by the courts and at the ballot box, but some are still seeking better protections.