Editor’s Note: “Precaster’s Perspective” offers a precast concrete manufacturer’s point of view on an issue of concern to the industry. Precast Inc. magazine welcomes reader comments. Please forward comments and/or suggestions for future topics to the editor at [email protected], or simply comment below at the end of this post.
Francisco Sanchez is plant manager for Mickelson & Ray Inc. in Phoenix and has been involved in the precast industry for 21 years. Sanchez is manager of El Rey Concrete Ready Mix and general manager of Ray cemetery products in Hermosillo, Mexico.
Larry Gielenfeldt is vice president of operations for U.S. Concrete Precast Group Northern California and has held a variety of positions in the construction industry. For the past 16 years he has been involved in precast, nine of which have been with his current company.
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, one in 10 Americans speaks Spanish at home and as the primary language. Almost 20 percent of all construction workers are Hispanic, according to the National Concrete Pavement Technology Center. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that while overall construction fatalities have decreased, Hispanic deaths in construction have disproportionately increased. NPCA’s technical consultant Sue McCraven invited Larry Gielenfeldt of U.S. Concrete Precast Group in Northern California, and Francisco Sanchez of Michelson & Ray Inc. in Phoenix to provide their viewpoints on the current concerns for the Spanish-speaking workforce.
Q. What percentage of your facility workforce uses Spanish as their primary language?
A. Sanchez: 100 percent of our workforce speaks Spanish as their primary language.
A. Gielenfeldt: About 75 percent of our workforce speaks Spanish as a first or second language, with 40 percent speaking very little or no English. In some cases, they speak just enough English to do their job functions, with details having to be given to them by a supervisor who is bilingual and speaks Spanish.
Q. How many of your supervisors speak both English and Spanish fluently?
A. Gielenfeldt: We have four supervisors who speak English and Spanish.
A. Sanchez: Our group leaders and our delivery drivers speak both English and Spanish.
Q. How do you train your non-English speaking workers? How do you communicate safety regulations to them?
A. Gielenfeldt: We translate instructions into Spanish. Our tailgate and monthly safety meetings are conducted in English and Spanish.
A. Sanchez: We conduct training and communicate safety regulations in Spanish. We depend on our bilingual employees to ensure that all employees understand management directives.
Q. Do you use bilingual signage in your facility?
A. Sanchez: Yes.
A. Gielenfeldt: We post signage in Spanish and English as needed.
Q. What programs have you tried to encourage your Spanish speaking workers to learn English? Have you encouraged your English-speaking workers to learn Spanish? Have you hired bilingual supervisory employees?
A. Gielenfeldt: We make available the opportunity for those who wish to learn English to attend the local high school adult program to work on their English language skills. We do not have a formal program to teach Spanish to English speaking workers, although many have learned numerous work-related terms in Spanish to communicate with their workmates. We have not hired any bilingual supervisors; the ones we have were promoted from our current group of workers.
A. Sanchez: If an employee is interested in learning English, we will pay for the English class and adjust an employee’s schedule if necessary in order for them to attend class. Many of our employees have learned English on their own, because they realize it is important to understand English to get ahead.
Q. What do you see as the major issues involving non-English-speaking workers in your precast facility and in the construction industry as a whole? Of these issues, which is of paramount concern to you and why?
A. Sanchez: The main concern is the ability of our employees to communicate clearly when in the field. Though our employees speak English, we stress to them to contact the office immediately if they are ever confused or unclear about what is being said. Another concern is the ability to read in English; while a worker may be able to speak English, it cannot be assumed they can read in English.
A. Gielenfeldt: Though most speak enough English to get by, others do not, making communication difficult and very time consuming. Communication is the key to a successful business, and if we cannot communicate with each employee, it causes many issues.
Q. Do you require any of your English speaking workers to learn Spanish? If so, what methods are they using to learn a new language? How successful or unsuccessful are these methods?
A. Sanchez: Since our workforce is Spanish speaking, we don’t have the need for employees to learn Spanish. Our general manager is able to communicate with our workforce in Spanish, but when I meet with him, we speak English.
A. Gielenfeldt: We do not require our English speaking workers to learn Spanish.