by Carol O’Riordan
According to the 2010 Census, 16.7% of the population identify themselves as Hispanic or Latino, up from 12.5% in 2000. That’s 35.3 million Hispanic/Latinos in 2000 and 52 million in 2010, a 47.3% increase in 10 years. The population growth has not gone unnoticed; controversies swirl daily around border patrol, affirmative action, immigration, and most recently, President Obama’s “political gifts” to court the Hispanic/Latino vote in this year’s election.
But what opportunities does this demographic shift bring to us?
The feature article in this month’s issue of Utility Contractor, “Spanish Speaking Labor Offers Opportunities for Company Growth in New Areas,” hits directly on the importance of finding as many was as possible to work well in ever-changing environments. Conducting other kinds of group activities in multiple languages and with cultural sensitivity can go a long way to controlling costs and improving the bottom line, particularly important to protect our investment in training our workforces.
For example, this year we helped a client dealing with a serious internal dispute that was dividing its workforce. Bad feelings escalated within various shifts and work crews. The company was in danger of losing several key workers who performed well, and was concerned that departing employees might file EEO or other claims against the company. Customer relations were being impacted, and the company feared its reputation would take an undeserved hit in the eyes of the public.
We stepped in with bilingual staff. We identified the problem as having its roots in language barriers and cultural miscommunication: workers were offended by what they thought they were being told by other workers and supervisors; and supervisors had no idea that their method of communicating with some shifts was actually confusing and angering otherwise good employees.
We helped management organize and conduct “mixed” meetings conducted in English with simultaneous translation (here, Spanish; but it could as well have been Korean, or Chinese). Employees and supervisors were given an opportunity to ask questions and voice concerns in a respectful environment. Management outlined the company’s priorities, and explained how the company procedures protected the company’s customers, its operations, and, ultimately, protected everyone’s ability to earn a living.
We were involved in the “fix” for less than 2 weeks. The result: the company has had no further complaints, and per-shift productivity is up for all shifts and crews.