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Closing Language Gaps Can Be Life Saving for Diverse Worker Populations


Diversity in the construction industry has dramatically increased, according to data from The Center for Construction Research and Training. Nearly 70 percent of new construction jobs between 2012 and 2015 were filled by Latino workers. Accordingly, managers must be proactive about meeting the language needs of their rapidly changing workforce. To properly support this diverse population of workers, employers must ensure their employees have the resources needed to work effectively — and safely.

The importance of linguistic support for construction workers

Implementing a language strategy is an integral, yet often overlooked, aspect of this support. A recent study by Rosetta Stone revealed 90 percent of managers say their teams face language proficiency challenges, but only one-third are actually working with their HR departments to overcome these linguistic obstacles.

Quadrilingual language construction signIn the construction industry, the consequences of neglecting linguistic support for employees can be dire, as employee safety is dependent on properly communicating workplace safety procedures and protocols. For example, a recent report from AFL-CIO showed “the construction industry is the most deadly industry for Latino and immigrant workers, with 29 percent of all Latino fatalities and 26 percent of all immigrant fatalities occurring in this sector.” According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an estimated 25 percent of jobsite accidents can be attributed to language barriers.

Benefits of language training in construction

But the benefits of a language strategy are not just a matter of safety. A recent global survey of more than 900 businesses worldwide revealed implementing language training can increase employees’ confidence and productivity. Of the 1,185 respondents who work in the manufacturing, construction or automotive industries, 72 percent reported language training helped them perform better in their job. Additionally, 67 percent reported learning a new language has made them more confident in their work and 71 percent said because they were provided access to this training, they felt their company takes an interest in their professional and personal development.

DPR Construction, a national technical builder specializing in highly complex and sustainable projects and a member of multiple AGC chapters, was proactive about improving the safety and productivity of their workers. The company quickly saw remarkable results. In 2008, DPR enlisted the help of Rosetta Stone as part of a language learning initiative to help their employees learn and grow within the organization. The company encouraged field employees to sharpen their English language skills, which increased opportunity for advancement and promotion. Specifically, managers noticed their non-native English speaking employees were more confident and felt more comfortable communicating with their colleagues, which empowered them to participate in more small-group conversations.

While having one of the lowest safety incident ratings in the industry, DPR wanted to offer programs that could further promote increased safety. In 2008, the company had an incident rate of 1.44. Company results for 2015 show an incident rate of 1.14. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, DPR’s 2012 incident rate was 92 percent below the average for other nonresidential general contractors. “The short view on bilingualism at DPR Construction is the power it has to transform our business in everyday activities, particularly in the field with our focus on technically complex projects. The long view on bilingualism is that it will also be key in helping us transform our world and truly create injury-free environments,” says Robert Jackson, organizational development manager, DPR Construction.

Resources to help HR departments assess the impact of language skills on company safety

The implementation of a language strategy may seem daunting, but there are many free resources available to help HR departments partner with company leaders to assess how language skills will help improve both their safety and business strategies. The process can be streamlined into three steps:

1. Document linguistic and cultural competency skills that exist within your workforce, as well as diagnose those skills gaps
2. Map the necessary language and cultural communication skills to your organizational goals
3. Infuse global communication skill development into employee development plans

Be proactive in identifying language gaps in your organization. Oftentimes, these gaps go unnoticed until they have caused irreparable damage. A language strategy may not be the first thing that comes to mind when planning a safety plan or business strategy, but employers have quickly realized how indispensable it can be.

About The Author

Sheerin Vesin is the HR practice lead for Rosetta Stone’s Enterprise & Education Marketing Group where she leads research and thought leadership in global human capital trends for Rosetta Stone’s growing B2B segment.