Hola Amigos!

Finding enough good workers has always been a problem. Today, though, employers have reached a tipping point. Anyone needing more help is faced with a labor pool that’s almost exhausted.

“Many employers now find they can’t hire a sufficient number of capable people or they can’t get anyone at all,” reports Tom Maloney, a human resources educator specializing in the Hispanic workforce at Cornell University’s Department of Applied Economics and Management. The only solution for many, according to Maloney, is to look for workers from Mexico, as well as El Salvador, Guatemala and other Central American countries. Interest in Hispanic workers has only grown as they’ve proven themselves capable and enthusiastic.

“Hispanic workers have a positive attitude and a strong work ethic,” says Maloney. “Because their whole idea in coming to the United States is to get a job to support their families, they are highly motivated to perform well.”

There’s another reason for the new interest in Hispanics in the workforce: Employers need to better serve a changing consumer. With some 40 million residents accounting for 14 percent of the population, Latinos now comprise the largest and fastest growing minority group in the United States, according to the Washington, D.C.,-based Pew Hispanic Center. That’s a lot of shoppers.

“The nation is seeing a tremendous increase in the number of Hispanic consumers,” says Myelita Melton, president of Speakeasy Communications, a Mooresville, N.C.,-based training organization specializing in occupational Spanish programs. “Hispanics have $700 billion of disposal income, and that figure is expected to grow to $900 billion by 2007.” Further, because Latinos have birth rates twice as high as the average American they are expected to become an even larger consumer force.

Bottom line: Latinos, who now make up some 13 percent of the nation’s workforce, are expected to account for half the growth of the U.S. labor force between now and 2020, according to estimates from Pew.

Communication Challenges

No progress, though, comes without cost. In many cases organizations hiring more Hispanics are confronted with a new round of communications problems. “Taking steps to overcome the language barrier shows respect and helps your business function better,” advises Maloney. “A growing number of managers are learning some rudimentary Spanish, such as phrases useful in a work setting. Employers may need to hire Spanish interpreters to foster understanding during complex discussions.”

Communication, of course, is a two-way affair: Hispanic workers need to increase their mastery of English.

“Only 53 percent of Hispanics say they speak English well,” says Melton. “We need to concentrate on the others. They need our patience and encouragement to help create a safer and more dynamic workplace.” In many cases, says Melton, employers will invest in programs teaching VESL, or “Vocational English as a Second Language.” On-the-job language instruction need not be formal or time consuming.

“You don’t have to be a qualified instructor to teach something,” says Donna Poisl, a Gastonia, N.C.,-based author of guidebooks for immigrants. “You can start on an informal basis, during lunch breaks for example.” Poisl suggests that each day employees knowledgeable in English teach a few words to their Hispanic colleagues. Those knowledgeable in Spanish can reciprocate.

“A cooperative effort such as this is a great way to learn language,” she enthuses. “There’s so much you can do if you try.” Whatever your approach, patience is a virtue and necessity.

“I don’t think many people realize how difficult English is to learn as a second language,” says Melton. 

Speak Slowly

If it takes some time for many Hispanics to become comfortable with English, what can you do in the short term to assure your instructions are understood? Use short sentences, speak slowly and enunciate properly. All those things help the Hispanic individual keep up with your conversation.

“Put yourself in the other person’s position,” advises Poisl. “Then consider this: How would you like to be treated if you were not that knowledgeable about a language?” As you speak, stay alert for responses that indicate understanding or puzzlement. Don’t become irritated if you have to restate a sentence in different words.

Given this language barrier, it’s important to reinforce verbal instructions with visual cues. “To effectively train and develop Hispanic employees, demonstrate what you want them to do,” advises Carlos Conejo, president of Multicultural Associates, a Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based consulting organization specializing in the Hispanic workforce. “Then have the employees practice in front of you.”

That last part is important, Conejo stresses. “You want employees to make mistakes in front of you because you can turn the situation into a coaching session,” he says. That can anticipate performance and safety problems down the road. Following practice time, advises Conejo, allow the employees to give feedback.

“Hispanics are not accustomed to being asked opinions,” Conejo says. “Asking for input will create a dialog that increases trust.” 

Communicate Safety

The language barrier becomes particularly dangerous when it increases the risk of injury.

“Employers need to communicate good safety practices to employees who may not be proficient in English,” warns attorney Sara Goldsmith Schwartz, president of Schwartz Hannum, Andover, Mass., a law firm that defends business clients and non-profit organizations in employment-related litigation. Failure to provide adequate instruction can lead to fatalities and costly litigation for negligence if someone gets hurt on the job. Provide safety manuals in the employees’ native languages, advises Schwartz. “Hire an expert to assure the accurate translation of your safety manual.”

Not all employers have been successful in this risky area. “The injury rate is very high for Hispanic employees, and we suspect it has to do with the language barrier,” reports Conejo, who recommends employers assure workers can read and understand safety words encountered in signs such as “Danger, High Voltage” or “Keep Hands Away.”

“As an employer, you will be respected from square one because Hispanic workers come from a hierarchical society where authority is not questioned,” says Maloney. “Part of their cultural value system is to be very dedicated to pleasing the boss.” Respect for authority, though, is a two-edged sword. On the positive side, it means workers are eager to perform as directed. On the negative, they may fail to communicate critical information which they fear will upset the boss. “Many times workers will hesitate to be entirely forthcoming when they perceive doing so may result in their supervisor hearing something he or she doesn’t want to hear,” explains Maloney.

This communications failure results from experience in a Hispanic culture where workers are often terminated for events beyond their control. Fearing for their jobs, workers may continue to use a faulty tool, for example, rather than admit something broke on their watch. And they may fail to report injuries, since in their native lands — which often lack disability and health insurance — employees are often terminated and replaced following accidents.

Finally, Hispanic employees may try to please the boss by affirming non-existent knowledge of certain work procedures. That often results in performance issues. 

Appreciate The Culture

All these problems can be reduced if the manager takes pains to encourage two-way dialog. How?

“You can start by understanding that family is incredibly important to Hispanic workers,” suggests Maloney. “Indeed, a main reason why they come to the United States is to send money home to their families.”

Establish workplace policies and resources, then, that recognize and assist a family mentality. Provide easy and affordable access to long-distance phone calls home. Give phone cards as incentives and gifts and express personal interest by asking about the well-being of their relatives. Arrange for easy and affordable transmission of money home. These steps show you understand and support the Hispanic love for family. They go a long way toward building loyalty and assuring a smoothly functioning workforce. To return to our topic of safety, it’s worth adding that many Hispanic workers will often take unnecessary risks to get their tasks done quickly.

To avoid this, advises Melton, tie in the need for safe work practices with the individual’s love for family. He advises saying something like this: “Don’t do it this way, because it is not safe. Think about your family. We want to send you home in the same condition you came here.”

It’s possible for employers to reduce conflicts and improve performance as more Hispanic employees join the workforce. The secret lies in improving communication skills, placing more emphasis on safety and respecting different values. 

Leave a Reply

More From Finance/Operations...
Katherine Wolper

January 24, 2016

Ludvig Svensson Hires Katherine Wolper As West Coast Sales Manager

Wolper says she looks forward to listening to growers and understanding the concerns, obstacles, and opportunities they face.

Read More

January 20, 2016

Tips For Overcoming Challenges In Family Business From The Owners Of Costa Farms

Our industry is run by a collection of family businesses, and every one, no matter how big or small, has its share of management issues. But there are several differences between one that is run successfully as a business and one that allows family politics to distract from the organization’s goals. In this year’s State Of The Industry Survey, we noted that labor recruitment and succession are two areas where growers struggle. In talking with the owners of Costa Farms for this month’s cover story, I thought some of the values they have incorporated into the operation’s management structure really stood out as practices that other family businesses could use. The participatory management approach to business and team building is one that Tony Costa, the second-generation owner of Costa Farms, instilled in his children, Maria Costa-Smith and Jose Costa, and son-in-law, Joche Smith, the current owners of Costa Farms. In […]

Read More
I-9 Form

January 13, 2016

Proposed Changes To I-9 Form Important For Greenhouse Growers

AmericanHort’s Government Relations and Grassroots Representative Davi Bowen says growers need to become familiar with the new form and should be prepared to make comments if necessary.

Read More
Latest Stories
Katherine Wolper

January 24, 2016

Ludvig Svensson Hires Katherine Wolper As West Coast Sa…

Wolper says she looks forward to listening to growers and understanding the concerns, obstacles, and opportunities they face.

Read More

January 20, 2016

Tips For Overcoming Challenges In Family Business From …

Our industry is run by a collection of family businesses, and every one, no matter how big or small, has its share of management issues. But there are several differences between one that is run successfully as a business and one that allows family politics to distract from the organization’s goals. In this year’s State Of The Industry Survey, we noted that labor recruitment and succession are two areas where growers struggle. In talking with the owners of Costa Farms for this month’s cover story, I thought some of the values they have incorporated into the operation’s management structure really stood out as practices that other family businesses could use. The participatory management approach to business and team building is one that Tony Costa, the second-generation owner of Costa Farms, instilled in his children, Maria Costa-Smith and Jose Costa, and son-in-law, Joche Smith, the current owners of Costa Farms. In […]

Read More
I-9 Form

January 13, 2016

Proposed Changes To I-9 Form Important For Greenhouse G…

AmericanHort’s Government Relations and Grassroots Representative Davi Bowen says growers need to become familiar with the new form and should be prepared to make comments if necessary.

Read More

January 13, 2016

Wenke Greenhouses Buys Zylstra Greenhouses

Two Kalamazoo, MI-based greenhouses have merged after Wenke Greenhouses closed on Zylstra Greenhouses at the end of November. The additional property and facilities will allow Wenke Greenhouses to expand its young plant business, among other areas.

Read More

January 13, 2016

Costa Farms Wins With Its Emphasis On Team, Solutions, …

Based in Miami, FL, Costa Farms has gone global by focusing on strategy, systems, and vertical integration. See how the operation continues to expand through its emphasis on team, solutions, and growth.

Read More

January 11, 2016

New Transportation Funding Bill Is Good News For Floric…

According to AmericanHort, perhaps the biggest benefit of the new bill is what it doesn’t include: a proposed amendment that would have prohibited the use of federal funds for vegetative enhancements.

Read More

December 29, 2015

The Home Depot Says No To Neonics

The Home Depot plans to phase out neonicotinoids by 2018, according to a recent statement on the company’s website. The large home improvement retailer stated that its live goods suppliers have reduced the number of plants that they treat with neonicotinoids, and now more than 80% of all flowering plants sold at The Home Depot are not treated with neonicotinoids. The retailer said it will continue this decrease unless: Treatment is required by state or federal regulation, or Undisputed science proves that the use of neonicotinoids on live goods does not have a lethal or sub-lethal effect on pollinators Aside from these exceptions, the retailer has implemented a complete phase-out of neonicotinoid use on live goods by the end of 2018. Meanwhile, The Home Depot has required all of its live goods suppliers to label plants that have been treated with neonicotinoids. “The Home Depot is deeply engaged in understanding the […]

Read More
Gardeners of all ages enjoyed the annual plant sale at McCorkle Nurseries

December 22, 2015

Allan Armitage Explains Why People Will Always Want To …

We may believe that an appreciation for gardening and plants is rapidly draining away, but there is reason to hope.

Read More
Canadian Greenhouse Conference 2015

December 21, 2015

Presentations From Canadian Greenhouse Conference Avail…

Many of the talks that took place at this year’s Canadian Greenhouse Conference in Ontario focused on improving production efficiencies in the greenhouse.

Read More
Sanitation programs are essential to preventing and removing food safety concerns.

December 7, 2015

How The Finalized Produce Safety Rule Will Affect Green…

While the new rule from FDA has many exemptions that will likely apply to greenhouse growers, the reality is that buyers may still require strict adherence to food safety standards.

Read More
Smith Gardens Marysville outdoor field production

November 30, 2015

Why Smith Gardens’ Marysville, WA, Facility Is A Great …

Labor rates in Washington State are some of the highest in the nation, making competition for labor fierce. This is why Smith Gardens in Marysville, WA, wants to strengthen its reputation as a great place to work.

Read More
Great Lakes Expo

November 30, 2015

6 Reasons You Should Attend The Michigan Greenhouse Gro…

The Michigan Greenhouse Growers Expo, held Dec. 8-10 in conjunction with the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market Expo, will feature an expansive trade show and several educational sessions aimed at greenhouse growers.

Read More

November 25, 2015

Everything You Need To Know About the New England GROWS…

Held In Boston December 2-4, New England GROWS includes a comprehensive conference program, a trade show, and with six special programs that teach new skills and provide opportunities to network with colleagues.

Read More

November 20, 2015

Lessons Learned From The California Drought

For those of us who live in the areas of the country that experienced harsh winters and significant rain over the past three seasons, water has become a nuisance in some cases, rather than a blessing. I can’t count the number of times I have wished to be able to send the snow or the rain to the West Coast, tied up with a big red bow. But think about how we’d feel if we didn’t have the snow and the rain, and we were experiencing the same dry conditions that the residents of California, Oregon and Washington have. With fresh water supplies dwindling in regions of the world, and the resistance of residents in states like Michigan to share water from the Great Lakes, it’s likely that the next civil or world war could be fought over our most precious resource. California’s epic drought should cause everyone to look […]

Read More
Jill Calabro

November 3, 2015

AmericanHort Names New Research And Science Programs Di…

Jill Calabro will bring strategic direction and oversight to research funding by the Horticultural Research Institute, the research affiliate of AmericanHort.

Read More
SBI’s ANY Device Application allows growers to quickly determine availability-featuer

November 2, 2015

SBI Software’s Solutions Help Simplify Logistics For G…

The company focuses on helping growers improve their existing processes with solutions for site fulfillment, replenishment, inventory management and more.

Read More
Griffin Expo15 seminar

October 28, 2015

Griffin’s Hits Record Attendance With 2015 Expos,…

Griffin Greenhouse Supplies set new attendance records with its 2015 Expos. Its 2016 Expos are set for August 31 and September 1, 2016, in West Springfield, Mass., and September 21-22, 2016, in Lancaster, Penn.

Read More

October 28, 2015

Possum Run Greenhouses Taken Over By New Owners

Justin and Lynn Marotta have placed Possum Run Greenhouse and Gifts into the hands of new owners. John and Caroline Bletner, a newly married couple, took over the Bellville, Ohio, property October 2, according to an October 24 article in the Mansfield News Journal. The Marotta family has run Possum Run Greenhouse and Gifts for 41 years. When the Marottas announced in April the greenhouse operation was for sale, they said they were looking for an energetic couple to take the business to the next level, which is what they found in the Bletners, the article reports. The Bletners have hinted they’ll be “opening to a larger market” and that the retail side will “look different.” They’ll hold a grand re-opening the week of April 22, 2016. Staff are staying on board and the Bletners are maintaining many of the suppliers. The 200-plus varieties of fuchsias Justin brought to the greenhouse […]

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]