Changing Face of the American Workplace

Holly J. Culhane SPHR
May 1, 2009 — 1,832 views  
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Kern County, California, has always been keenly aware of the rich Hispanic influence in their community, from cultural fairs and popular Latino markets to a wide variety of Spanish-language radio/television stations, and newspapers.  So, it probably will come as no surprise to those in that Central California area that California has the largest Hispanic concentration of any state in the Union, with Texas a distant second ("Rising Clout" HR Magazine, September 2008).  Why is this significant?  Because, as the fastest growing population, the Hispanic community is also a key ingredient in the future of America's workforce. 

In the next 40 years the number of working-age Hispanics (ages 18 to 64) will double, increasing to an incredible 31 percent of the available workforce in the United States ("Say Hola! To the Majority Minority" HR Magazine, September 2008).  We are definitely seeing this trend already as the overall workforce is seen to be shrinking, yet the pool of prospective Latino employees is rising.  How does this change the face of human resources?  The transformation is subtle, yet significant. 

Javier Lozano, Human Resources Manager for the City of Bakersfield, located in the heart of Kern County, emphasizes, "It is important for any organization to understand not just their current employment issues but just as importantly their future employment issues. America's workforce continues to change in demographics, including age, race, gender and many other characteristics. With the growth of the Hispanic population, employers must also recognize the diversity among Hispanics. Although the majority of the Kern Latinos may come from Mexico, we also have people from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Costa Rica, and from many parts of Latin America and these cultures differ.

Workplace culture impacts the workplace and in-turn this culture impacts recruitment and retention, so employers should take steps to identify their future workforce needs and develop strategies that enhance recruitment and retention."

First of all, human resource professionals must recognize the need for "assisting language- and culturally-challenged Hispanics - a skill that many human resources leaders have simply never been trained for" ("Say Hola! To the Majority Minority" HR Magazine, September 2008).  Although the industry trains human resources professionals in "effective recruiting, retention, training, and development," this is focused primarily for the native English speaker.  Therefore, "materials are developed ethnocentrically."  For this reason, it may be necessary to adjust programs "to include language and cultural integration."

In addition to providing assistance with English language acquisition and cultural awareness, employers are recognizing other important attributes within this growing workforce.  For one thing, the overall Hispanic population is younger than that of other ethnicities in this country, with the median age being only 27.6 years.  (The rest of the population has a median age of 36.6 years.)  Additionally, family generally plays a central role in the Hispanic community resulting in a stable workforce that is often reluctant to relocate far from close kin.  As well, more so than some of the other ethnic communities, "Hispanics tend to be passionate about their culture and heritage" ("Say Hola! To the Majority Minority" HR Magazine, September 2008). 

Considering these characteristics, companies may want to explore additional family-oriented benefits such as child-care facilities or social activities geared to family inclusion.  It's important for organizations to actively recruit this growing workforce with strategies that are seen as inviting, and not exclusionary.  Providing culturally diverse art and other décor in the office can also provide a more comfortable work environment for employees with varied backgrounds.  In one particular bank branch in Kentucky that caters specifically to the Hispanic community, customers are treated to brightly colored walls in yellows and blues, Latin American artwork decorating the area, a play area for children, and television tuned to the local Latino programming.  ("Say Hola! To the Majority Minority" HR Magazine, September 2008)  This approach has been a resounding success and the bank plans to open additional similar branches.

Another huge benefit of courting Hispanic employees is the added benefit of having a bilingual workforce.  As the Hispanic community expands there is an ever-increasing need for Spanish speaking employees to serve Latino customers.  In fact, Hispanic professionals credit their ability to speak the language and understand the culture as a major advantage in the workplace.  In fact, some companies are now starting to offer an additional benefit to their "English-only" employees - Spanish language instruction.  Obviously, having bilingual skills is beneficial for all employees and many workers are exploring this avenue for professional development.

Research reveals the American Hispanic business community is "organized, funded, highly visible and business-focused." These facts make it extremely positive for the country's employers to reach out to the various community organizations spotlighting Hispanic professionals.  Offering education and mentoring programs, as well as language assistance, allows companies "to recruit and hire the best available talent, irrespective of language limitations."   ("Tips for Recruiting and Retaining Hispanic Workers" HR Magazine, September 2008). 

Employers in America, for the most part, are enthusiastically welcoming this exciting population of workers.  As America becomes increasingly diverse, our workplaces must also transform, offering opportunities to all qualified candidates and services to all customers, regardless of varied backgrounds and expectations.  And let's face it, reaching out with mentoring programs, recognizing family responsibilities and values, and encouraging life-long learning with acquisition of new languages sounds like a definite positive step for the American workplace!

Holly J. Culhane SPHR

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Identified the need for human resource and organizational assistance for small- and medium-sized business­es and formed Profes­sional Administra­tive Systems in 1987. Now known as P A S Associates, this firm combines specialists in the fields of human resources, labor and employment law, affirma­tive action, and substance abuse policies and education, providing an unsurpassed Human Resource Center.