Ricardo González, president and CEO of Bilingual America (www.bilingualamerica.com), an organization offering Spanish and cultural training programs, discusses how to hire and train Hispanic workers.
REPLACEMENT CONTRACTOR: Why is work in the construction industry attractive to Hispanic immigrants?
RICARDO GONZÁLEZ: Lack of education and economic need drive people into industries dominated by manual labor. It's what's available and what many Latinos are good at.
RC: How can non-Hispanic contractors engage their services?
RG: They must understand the culture and communicate in the language. They should speak Spanish. Some people argue that Hispanics should learn English, but they're not hiring you, you're hiring them. It's the leader's job to communicate. If you don't want to communicate with them, don't hire them.
RC: What should contractors do to build relationships with Hispanic employees?
RG: Win their trust. This takes time. You do it by gaining their friendship, by relating to them in areas important to them, and by being a person of your word. Do these things and you'll have loyalty and little turnover.
RC: Is it enough to teach some crewmembers English and make them supervisors?
RG: No. They need language skills and leadership skills. Leadership skills are typically not skills that Latinos have been trained to develop.
RC: Some companies offer English and Spanish classes to their workers. Is this a good idea?
RG: Only if it's strategic. The English-speakers learning Spanish should be those in direct contact with Latinos, and they should be in a serious Spanish learning program, not in a group. The Latinos studying English should be people who are, or will be, in leadership positions.
RC: In a recent seminar you mentioned that the accident rate for Hispanic construction workers is eight times the industry average. Why?
RG: Several factors. First, lack of safety training. You hire a new employee and safety training is either nonexistent or is done by someone in English and translated into Spanish. Second, Hispanic roofers tend to be the newer employees, and newer employees get hurt more often. Third, many Latinos take far too many risks on the job. Fourth, when employers are pushing production at the expense of safety, more accidents are going to happen.
RC: How do you spot potential leaders among Hispanic workers?
RG: Check their background. If they've graduated from high school or have a higher education, they'll carry their diploma with them. The other factor is temperament. Leadership is not a title; it's the influence you exert. Are people already following them? That's the proof of a leader.