Strength in Diversity

Hispanics constitute the largest ethnic minority group in the United States. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, following a surge in population growth of 58 percent between 1990 and 2000, Hispanics now comprise 12.5 percent of the nation's total population. More than one in eight people in the United States are of Hispanic origin. And by all indications, these numbers will continue to grow. From 2000 to 2001, Hispanics accounted for more than half the country's population growth. Roughly 1.7 million Hispanics either immigrated to or were born in the United States in that year alone, helping that demographic's workforce to swell to nearly 15 million. The growth rate of the Hispanic workforce is four times that of the non-Hispanic workforce. And in the landscape industry alone, Hispanics represent more than one-fifth of the entire workforce, according to the American Immigration Law Foundation.

“This new labor force is replacing a workforce that is aging out,” says Bill Herrera Beardall, assistant director of facility operations for grounds management and fleet services at North Carolina State University (Raleigh, N.C.). “They are doing the jobs that the older population won't do any more — can't do any more.”

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And while the labor force of Hispanics continues to grow, so does the need for grounds maintenance workers. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), employment of grounds maintenance workers is expected to grow faster than average for all occupations through the year 2010, in response to increasing demand for groundskeeping and related services. Expected growth in the construction of commercial and industrial buildings, shopping malls, homes, highways and recreational facilities should contribute to demand for these workers. The upkeep and renovation of existing landscaping and grounds are constant sources of demand for grounds maintenance workers.

But despite the fact that Hispanics have grown with such momentum in the American workforce, managers have been slow to update their management styles. Management practices that suit non-Hispanic white and other employees do not necessarily work with Hispanic employees — not only because of the language barrier, but also due to cultural differences.

“There are some nuances in the way managers should deal with Hispanics that are, in general, different than Americans,” says Beardall, who is half American and half Panamanian (a Latin) and grew up in the Republic of Panama, where he lived for 20 years before coming to the United States. “Hispanics are a very diverse group from 20 different countries. Some of them are educated, some of them aren't; some of them speak English, and some don't. As a manager, you have to adjust for these things if you want to be effective.”

Beardall employs 82 people in his department, more than 50 of whom are on the grounds management crew and maintain more than 1,000 acres. They include Americans, Hondurans, Salvadorans, Colombians, Mexicans, Guatemalans, Panamanians, African-Americans and Asians. He attended American schools in the Canal zone, of Panama, but considers Spanish his native language. “It's the language I speak to myself in the mirror,” he says. His experience managing Hispanics, as well as his insight into their culture, has earned Beardall a spot on the Governor of North Carolina's Advisory Council for Hispanic and Latino Affairs.

While there are numerous things managers can be doing to better lead their Hispanic workers, Beardall says what it all boils down to is mutual respect. Unfortunately, despite the growing numbers of Hispanic workers and the demonstration of their work ethic and perseverance in America, stereotypes do still exist. Beardall believes that educating managers about Hispanic culture and what motivates them will help dispel the myths upon which the stereotypes are built and expose the path to a better management style.

COMING TO AMERICA

Early immigrants' motives for uprooting and heading to the United States centered around searching for religious freedom or to escape overbearing governments. Today, however, they come here in search of work. “The No. 1 reason they're coming to the United States now is for work,” says Beardall. “But there is still a number of Hispanics who also are fleeing oppressive regimes or police states. Some members of opposing political parties in Latin America have long memories. But mainly, these are people who are looking for a better way of life. Lots of them are bringing their families with them now. Whereas, in the past it was mainly men coming over and sending money home to their families, it is now a matter of them bringing their families over once they have their papers in order. They are establishing roots here.”

Beardall says it's critical for managers to learn what Hispanics value if they want to learn what motivates them. “They value education, family unity, a good work ethic and religious faith. If an employer understands this, it will aid in a more productive workforce.” Managers should also work to teach Hispanics about American culture. Beardall says proudly that in the five years he's been with NC State, the university has made enormous strides to incorporate its Hispanic workers into American culture. The result: “We've presented service recognitions awards to Hispanics who have been here for five years, 10 years even. It shows they are loyal and have found a home.”

BREAKING DOWN THE BARRIERS

Stereotypes focused on ethnic groups are prevalent even in this era of political correctness. For Hispanics, the stereotypes group them and label them all as undependable and illegal residents of the United States. And while there are estimates that report as many as eight million illegal Hispanic workers in the United States, there are another estimated seven million Hispanic workers who have their papers in order and are bona fide members of the U.S. workforce.

“The truth is that most of these people do have legal papers,” says Beardall. “Managers are responsible for hiring a legal workforce. They'll have a yearly turnover if their employees are not legal, because their worker will disappear when the Feds come in and say Social Security numbers don't match up. And there are ways to reduce your chances of that happening.” (See “Legal Aid,” at left.)

Another big misunderstanding regarding the legal/illegal worker issue is that people think Hispanics are working in the United States and not paying taxes. But, according to Beardall, even the illegal Hispanic workers are paying taxes. “Even under a false Social Security number, the money is still going to the government,” he says. And they're forking over quite a large amount of money to the U.S. government in sales tax, because while they do send money home, they also spend money here. And their buying power is substantial: $223 billion in 1990, expected to grow to $926 billion by 2007. This is 176 percent higher than the buying power of African Americans and 287 percent more than Asians in the United States, according to Beardall.

As for other stereotypes surrounding Hispanics, Beardall believes that part of the process of eliminating them is addressing them.

Stereotype: Hispanic laborers from different countries and cultures won't get along with each other.

“It's been our experience that they get along well,” says Beardall. “They may prefer their homeboys when hanging out in the lunchroom, but crews are pretty mixed of their own doing.” It's more an issue of being a hard worker and not a complainer, he adds. “It's no different than with (American) Northerners and Southerners.”

Stereotype: If your business means seasonal work, Hispanics won't come back after winter.

“My guys do,” Beardall says. “If you've treated them right and paid them on time, they'll be back. I have four men who go home every year for Christmas and they always come back. I tell them to call me to make sure I have enough work, and they do.” If you're worried about losing a worker due to a season market, Beardall suggests offering a small pay raise to show your appreciation for their loyalty. “Take them to lunch every once in a while. It's just a good management practice to build relationships, not just for Hispanics.”

Stereotype: Hispanic workers are always late to work and want to leave early.

“Managers should expect all workers to be on time with no exceptions,” says Beardall. “It's true that for events other than work, Hispanics aren't as conscientious of time as Americans. If I have to be at an event at 11 a.m., but I'm talking with you and it's important to you or to me, I will stay and talk as long as it takes. The present is more important to us,” he says. “But when it comes to work, we know we must be aware of what time it is.”

A LESSON IN LANGUAGE

Yes, we're in the United States and yes, our native language here is English. But if you're of the “You're-in-the-United-States-now-and-you'd-better-know-how-to-speak-English-or-I'm-not-going-to-hire-you” mentality, then you're going to lose out on a number of qualified workers, especially in the green industry. The truth is, many Hispanic workers — even those who have been here for years — don't know how to speak English. This could be due to the fact that English is a hard language to learn and some Hispanics can't read and write their own language, much less ours. But it's mainly because they don't have to learn English to function in the United States. The 2000 census shows Hispanics are more geographically concentrated than other groups, tending to gravitate to cities with a known Latino population. Local businesses adapt to the language needs of the city's residents, and English become less of a necessity, according to EC&M magazine's June 2003 article, “Lost in the Translation.”

As a manager, it's your responsibility to ensure that all your workers are completely trained. This means translating safety material into Spanish because language is the biggest obstacle in creating a safe workplace for Hispanics (see “Safety in Spanish,” page 21). Many of the countries from which Hispanics come don't have the safety measures we have here in the United States, and managers have to acclimate them.

“We translate everything we have and print it in Spanish,” says Beardall, “but it's also important to have hands-on training and video training that offers demonstration because many Hispanics from underdeveloped countries can't read or write Spanish.” So illustrations and pictures are an important part of safety warnings and training. “If you don't want people to get hurt, train them and show them what to do. It's a sign that you care.”

And you're not a bad manager for wanting your Hispanic employees to learn English. But you should supplement what they learn by learning some Spanish phrases yourself.

“Unfortunately, because many Hispanics don't have a lot of education, it's going to be difficult to learn another language,” Beardall says. “But the ESL (English as a Second Language) classes are really good for them.” Beardall recommends that employers encourage their Hispanic workers to learn English and about the American culture by rewarding them with leadership positions when they do. “Let them know that they have to be able to communicate if they want these positions, and these positions will mean more money. They nearly all want to move up and make more money,” he says. And keep in mind that just because some Hispanics have little formal education, it in no way is an indication of their intelligence. “Remember that many Hispanics are from rural areas that require them to be very creative and inventive. They are problem solvers and hard workers.”

Beardall encourages anyone who manages Hispanics to learn some Spanish — at the very least some phrases to help them communicate with workers. “Americans learning some Spanish is very appreciated by Hispanics,” he says. “Just the simple courtesy of telling them good morning in their own language will go a long way.”

BLENDING CULTURES

Sometimes the biggest obstacle in blending Hispanics into your workforce isn't the difference in language and has nothing to do with your management style or understanding of their culture. Sometimes it's simply a matter of old-fashioned resentment from Americans. Americans who see Hispanics as a segment of the population who came to “steal” jobs. Americans who believe that just because Hispanics are speaking Spanish, they're talking about them. Americans who have become jaded to the appeal of America and its opportunities for all people. But, unlike Spanish or English, you can't teach compassion.

“Unfortunately, this isn't an issue that will fall into place just because you want it to,” says Beardall. “Many times, your other workers will follow your lead and if you treat Hispanic workers fairly and don't show preferential treatment, they will, too. The bigger issue is getting your American workforce to understand that their Hispanic counterparts are trying to learn English because they want to be understood. They are making every effort to make their lives comfortable and learn all they can.”

Beardall believes this is less of a problem than it used to be, as evidenced by the increasing number of Hispanic supervisors in the workforce (see “Reader Poll,” page 10). Chances for supervisory positions have increased because perceptions have changed, he says. “Managers and co-workers are realizing that Hispanics have good work ethics and can be good leaders. It's smart to put them into leadership positions because this can motivate other Hispanic workers. It sends the message that if you work hard in this country, you can better yourself and your position.”

Beardall says he is proud to be part of an industry that has made positive strides in bridging, understanding and respecting the many cultures that are working together. “I think this industry has done a good job of recognizing that Hispanics of any country are proud of who they are, proud of their history. They strive to challenge themselves and to rise among their peers.”

Statistical research for this article was compiled by Erin Chapman, editorial assistant.

SAFETY IN SPANISH

While workplace fatalities for Anglo and African Americans have steadily declined in recent years, the opposite is true for Hispanics. Deaths among that demographic rose from 815 in 2000 to 891 in 2001, the most recent years for which the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) has figures.

Alarmed by that trend, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently began to investigate workplace fatalities more closely to see how often language was a factor. The resultant data shows that, for example, 61 percent of workplace deaths in Dallas in 2001 involved workers with a limited understanding of English. In response to the rising fatality rate among Hispanic workers, OSHA established the Hispanic Outreach Taskforce in late 2001 to address the issue and provide greater access to safety information for Spanish-speaking workers.

OSHA has also begun to translate all of its safety literature into Spanish, including “All About OSHA” and “OSHA to Serve You.” It has even created a Spanish version of its Web site. However, John Miles, a regional administrator of OSHA, admits that while this is an important gesture by OSHA, it may not be as effective as intended. Because while Hispanic immigrants may be able to speak their native language, that doesn't mean they can read it. He also acknowledges that very few of the workers for whom the information on the Web site is intended have access to computers or the Internet. Plus, literacy rates are notoriously low in Mexico, meaning that safety manuals written in Spanish aren't always effective. “You can't always just take an OSHA document and translate it from English to Spanish,” Miles says. “Some of these workers that come up from Mexico really don't understand Spanish very well, either. Many are only reading at a second-grade level.”

Source: “Lost in the Translation,” by Matthew Halverson, Electrical, Construction & Maintenance magazine, June 2003.

LEGAL AID

While employers can't be held liable for unknowingly hiring an illegal immigrant, the turnaround involved with hiring anyone who doesn't have legal papers can hurt your business. “When it's revealed that these guys don't have the right papers, they will disappear,” says Bill Beardall, assistant director of facility operations for grounds management and fleet services at North Carolina State University (Raleigh, N.C.). “And you're left needing to hire new workers, which usually means training new workers.” You can avoid the hassle of being left short-handed by knowing what to look for and not turning a blind eye when you're hiring — no matter how desperate you are to increase your workforce.

Labor laws require that every person who applies for a job with your company fill out an I-9 form and present you two forms of identification (usually a valid Social Security card and driver's license). Sounds simple enough, but it's not. Especially considering that these forms of identification can be purchased on the street . And while it can take more than a year for the Social Security Administration (SSA) and IRS to contact you about fraudulent papers, your undocumented worker will eventually be uncovered. By being more proactive, you can protect yourself against potentially hiring these workers. Beardall suggests contacting your local Social Security office, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) or the IRS for advice in spotting fake papers. “There are certain flags that can tip you off when you know what to look for,” says Beardall. For example, the letter “A” in names on false Social Security cards has a small pennant at the end of it, a dead give-away of a fake, according to Beardall. But what if there is no “A” in the name or you don't feel comfortable trying to decipher a fake? “Be up-front with those applying for work. Tell them they have to have ‘good’ papers and that you can spot fakes. Tell them that if their papers are not official, there are certain steps an employer is required to take,” says Beardall. “The ones with false papers will not come back or will tell you they will come back tomorrow and you'll never see them again.” Because even if Hispanics are in the United States under the H-2B or H-1B visa program that allows employers to apply for workers based on seasonal need, they are still required to have a Social Security card, says Beardall.

HISPANICS HIT HARD BY UNEMPLOYMENT

Unemployment rates have received top billing in thousands of newspapers and on news programs across the United States since September 11, when the U.S. economy started to spiral downward, dragging the job market with it. And while unemployment has taken its toll on U.S. workers across the board, it has hit minorities especially hard, resulting in the highest unemployment rate in nearly six years for Hispanic workers. Unemployment rates for Hispanics in the United States went from an all-time low of 5.7 percent in 2000 to 8.2 percent in May 2003, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor. Even in states such as Florida where Hispanics have, in the past, been unaffected by occasional dips in unemployment, they are now facing a job market where they are competing against more non-Hispanic whites for jobs. The result: the Hispanic unemployment rate continues to grow even as the overall number of unemployed drops. And even though the economy is showing the first signs of life in a few years, it's anyone's guess as to when it will be fully revitalized.

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