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Amid an ongoing labor shortage, hiring managers need to be creative when looking for new employees. Today, managers often need to be willing to broaden their search and break down all barriers—including language—to find prospective workers.

While hiring employees who speak another language may seem difficult, managers willing to spend a little extra time leveraging available resources can successfully integrate non-English speaking employees into their workforce.

“It’s a limited labor force, so we have to think a little differently,” explains Pat Hudson, the vice president of sales and marketing for Leadpoint Business Services of Phoenix. “The most qualified for the job doesn’t have to do with the language. It has to do with their experience, their attention to detail, their focus and their ability to get the job done. We encourage people to pay less attention to the language.”

Spanish is the most prevalent second language spoken in material recovery facilities (MRFs) and other waste management sites, but other languages, such as French and Burmese, have a notable presence as well.

Regardless of the number of languages spoken in a facility, managers can integrate their workforce by emphasizing effective communication.

Market research

Before posting a job opening, it’s important to understand the demographics of the surrounding area. This helps inform which populations to target as well as make business decisions pertaining to the interview process, work schedules and other variables that may be affected by cultural differences.

“What I found is king is making sure that when you go into [a demographic pool], you understand the folks that are applying for these jobs, you understand how they apply, how they work, their flexibility … and you tweak your way of doing business a little bit,” Hudson says. “The labor shortage and the labor problems don’t go away completely, but they’re mitigated. And being able to address the bilingual issue is part of understanding your market, understanding what you’re going to face and building strategies around that.”

A wealth of resources exist to not just identify the demographics of available workers in an area but also target those workers and integrate them into the workforce.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has a database filled with detailed national labor force data. In addition, the U.S. Department of Labor sponsors the CareerOneStop Business Center, an online resource that helps build workforce profiles in specific areas, connect employers with local resources and more.

The most qualified for the job doesn’t have to do with the language. It has to do with their experience, their attention to detail, their focus and their ability to get the job done.” –Pat Hudson, VP of sales and marketing, Leadpoint Business Services

BLS’ website says the following workforce profiles are available at the state and local levels:

  • Employment by occupation.
  • Employment projections.
  • Employment concentration and regional specialization by occupation type.
  • Wage information.
  • Unemployment rates.
  • Top industries.
  • Education and training programs, including the number of recent graduates by program.
  • Local area profiles, including information such as population, income, education, housing, commuting and other data.

(For more information on locating these resources, please see “Employees for hire.”)

While scouring the internet can be a tremendous source of useful data, sometimes jumping on the phone or putting feet to the pavement can be the easiest way to get streamlined information, Hudson says.

“When you’re starting a program up, you want to make sure you tap into the resources available in the community,” Hudson says. “It just takes a little bit of effort on your part to get a huge payoff.”

Nearly 2,400 American Job Centers exist nationwide and can help employers connect with skilled workers looking for employment. Additionally, many nonprofit organizations exist specifically to help immigrants or people who are English language learners (ELL) find jobs.

Beyond resources dedicated to connecting employers with potential candidates, employers may find success speaking with people who work at community centers or churches.

“If you work with those folks and you work with the community, you can find people who want to go to work, and what’s kept them from working in other places is that language barrier,” Hudson says. “It’s limited their ability to get work, and it’s not their fault. It’s because the companies haven’t changed. If companies want to go out there and find the workforce, they’re out there.”

Perfecting communication

Connecting with resources in the community may also help companies locate translators, which is crucial when onboarding employees who speak another language.

Hudson says having managers who speak other languages can be helpful but isn’t a necessity. Instead, having a translator present during key points of communication—such as during the interview and onboarding process, when filling out paperwork, and while training—can be just as effective.

If employees are working with agencies such as refugee resettlement organizations, they may have a translator available to them at no cost. Otherwise, employers may have to pay a fee to have one present. The cost, though, is well worth it, Hudson says.

“Part of your checklist is to take time and make sure everything will translate. That goes into a quality of life issue,” Hudson says. He adds that when things aren’t fully translated, “people [can] get frustrated. You’re contributing to the turnover issue by not making sure you address your full population.”

Beyond a quality of life issue, unclear communication can be a safety issue as well. That’s why translators need to be present to make sure rules are clear and that employees fully understand what’s expected of them before starting work. Hudson suggests outlining things such as company rules, exclusion areas and lockout/tagout procedures to both the employee and the translator.

In addition, all signage should be properly translated to represent all languages spoken at the facility.

Integration and ongoing management

While it may be tempting to train employees separately based on the languages they speak, Hudson says it’s key to train all employees at the same time so they feel part of a team.

“You want to integrate everyone and make the full team aware that this diversity is a strength,” Hudson says.

Training employees together promotes a culture of inclusion in a facility, which is critical in retaining employees.

Hudson says he rarely sees pushback from employees when managers take initiative to purposely diversify the workforce. Instead, they follow the manager’s lead, which is why setting a strong example from the top down is important in employee retention on all sides.

“There’re a lot of old-school managers that feel like they have to have a 25-year-old male doing this job because nobody else wants to, and that’s just not true,” Hudson says. “In fact, the most successful sites are those that have diversity, so we need to do whatever we can to change that cultural bias.”

The author is the assistant editor for Waste Today magazine and can be reached at tcottom@gie.net.