Having a Spanish-Speaking Organization Means Changing the Rules of HR

Mar 22, 2005

By Terry J. Soto, About Marketing Solutions, Inc.


With the ever-increasing need to employ Spanish-speakers, HR departments are being challenged in a variety of areas. For starters, it is not easy to find Hispanics who are fluent in both Spanish and English, who have the educational background, and who also have experience in banking, retailing, health care, or food service. Realizing this, employers are adapting their hiring criteria to address language as the priority rather than experience, education or English proficiency.

Employers in supermarkets, restaurants, and many other service related industries are willing to give up English fluency and job experience in order to employ first generation Spanish speakers who can attract, interface and make their customers feel at home in their establishments.

For many companies, this means reaching out to community organizations to find job candidates rather than the traditional want ad in the paper. They may be needed to conduct job interviews in Spanish and to assess the candidate’s communications.

New hires must be provided with bilingual training sessions and training materials, including videos, must be translated. In addition, many employers have identified communication breakdowns between their Spanish and English speakers so they find that they need their English-speaking employees to learn Spanish to improve communication. Lastly, employers are helping their Spanish-speaking employees learn English by hosting English as a Second Language (ESL) classes on site or paying for their employees to attend ESL classes at local high schools, often ensuring flexible schedules so that employees can attend.

Several companies are in business to support employers with language and training. One such company has developed a new set of easy-to-use tools for employees and managers who do not speak the same language. They are called CommuniCards and they are bi-lingual, laminated, passport-size guides. The cards fold out accordion-style to show illustrations of tasks and tools that may be specifically customized to different workplace environments.

Moderator’s Comment: How is your company, or others you’re familiar with, adapting operationally to a Spanish-speaking workforce? How do you perceive
the need to adapt operational processes to address these market needs?

Terry J. Soto – Moderator

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2 Comments on "Having a Spanish-Speaking Organization Means Changing the Rules of HR"

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Al McClain
Al McClain
15 years 11 months ago

Obviously, speaking a second language benefits everyone – employees and customers. For years, my wife worked in a department store across from a Marriott Hotel with a large percentage of international guests. She was at a distinct advantage in that she speaks French, and was able to pick up a lot of Spanish just in talking with customers.
Retailers, who have trouble attracting top notch employees, could offer a twice a week course in whatever language is most pertinent to particular stores. Employees would be better able to converse with customers, and it could be a nice educational perk for underpaid retail associates. To the issue of transactions taking more time in other languages, if associates are on commission, they’ll rack up more sales the more languages they speak.

Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
15 years 11 months ago
It’s an important topic. Working with clients in a number of retail industries, including fast food, banking, home lending, and department stores, the reality of hiring and training a bilingual workforce is very much a part of our day-to-day reality. It is a complex subject. Aside from the fact that truly bilingual employees are hard to find (they either skew more heavily toward English or toward Spanish), there are realities about bilingualism in the workplace that are still being sorted out. For example, doing business transactions in Spanish, and from a Latino-specific cultural standpoint, often takes longer than a transaction handled in English and with non-Latinos or the very assimilated. As a result, employees that are compensated in relation to transactions often feel penalized or less compensated because they are able to handle bilingual-bicultural communication. Instead of their bilingualism being an added skill and bringing them added compensation, it often becomes an obstacle of sorts. Another issue that is being dealt with is the connection of advertising with staffing and service protocols. I can remember… Read more »

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