An employee’s experience with Spanish lessons through a Boise language school has caught the eye of Washington Trust Bank, which is now encouraging more workers to enroll.

Alex Westfall, vice president at Washington Trust’s downtown Boise branch, enrolled in Spanish lessons through CR Languages in Boise for personal reasons. But after going to the manager of his branch, Brian Gonzalez, for help with his homework, the two wondered if more employees shouldn’t take the lessons.

Now, five employees from the downtown branch are more than 10 weeks into a 16-week Spanish course and more Washington Trust employees are planning to enroll in August.

“For me personally it was just another tool for my tool belt so I would know the basic social etiquette — how to say hi and how are you doing,” Westfall said. “I think any time you go out of your way to make your customers feel more comfortable it shows you care.”

Gonzalez said the bank is responding to strong growth in Idaho’s Hispanic population.

Hispanics accounted for 31 percent of Idaho’s growth between 2010 and 2014. In that time, the Hispanic population grew by 12 percent to about 200,000 residents while the rest of the state’s population grew by 3 percent, according to the University of Idaho’s McClure Center for Public Policy.

In response to the growth in Idaho’s Hispanic population, many Idaho businesses are trying to hire more Hispanic workers, and also Spanish-speaking workers in general.

“People feel more comfortable making financial decisions if they can have them explained in their native language,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez and Westfall found four other Washington Trust employees who were interested in learning Spanish and prepared a report for Washington Trust’s HR department using personal experiences and information from the

Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs to detail why the branch needed to add Spanish speakers. The bank agreed to pay the $3,150 bill for Westfall and the four other employees to take the class.

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