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Cultural Diversity Tested Industry Flexibility

Diversity became an increasingly common topic as 2007 progressed. The number of Hispanic workers in the construction trades steadily rose and it is predicted that those numbers will continue to do so in 2008. HVAC contractors reported some communication gaps when working with other trades. It seemed that the increasing language barriers could create problems on jobsites across the United States, especially where safety is concerned. Signs, however, are pointing to the eventual decreasing of communication gaps as more immigrant populations become acculturated within the United States.

“In our local area, we’ve found that a large percentage of the drywall, framing, utility installation, etc., trade employees encountered at typical jobsites are Hispanic,” said Kelly Bryson, COO of Berg Mechanical, a division of Johnson Controls Inc., Shreveport, La. “Most crews have only a foreman who is bilingual; the other crew members generally have no English language skills.”

As a result, multilingual safety training has grown, becoming a driving force in the industry’s labor diversity right now, according to industry training providers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Website, www.osha.gov, contains multiple resources and materials in Spanish. These include English-Spanish dictionaries with trade-specific terms, fact cards, posters, bulletins, English as a Second Language (ESL) trainer information, eTools, and of course, compliance information. Hispanic influeneces aren’t the only new diversity circumstances that contractors are dealing with.

“In Southern California the Spanish and Asian influence is readily visible,” said George Rodriguez, president/CEO of ServTEC Air Conditioning Inc., Santa Fe Springs, Calif. “The white majority is rapidly dwindling down to a minority status, making Spanish and Chinese the influences to contend with. Learning and using those languages along with English will be necessary for a business entity to survive.”

Manufacturers made strides to reach the growing diverse market. This past year, Emerson Climate Technologies announced its support of Florida State University’s Center for Hispanic Marketing Communication, by offering a scholarship for select students pursuing careers in Hispanic Marketing Communication. Carrier and Bryant produced two to three product pieces in Spanish per brand.

“With the new products coming online in 2008, new Spanish versions will slowly become available,” said Patrick McMahon, Bryant’s market manager for South Florida.

McMahon said he offers technical training in Spanish. “Our customer assurance manager, a Spanish speaker, has translated the factory presentations. We also offer sales training in Spanish. Half the sales force speaks Spanish, so we can conduct sales training in Spanish.

“We have bilingual speakers at almost all locations,” he continued. “We could not communicate without this. Most non-English-speaking customers expect to speak in Spanish, but they read HVAC-related information in English.”

“Once again, we must adjust or die,” said Aaron York, owner of Aaron York’s Quality Air Conditioning & Heating Inc., Indianapolis. “Families today are not the traditional families we grew up with. There are many more nationalities with whom we must learn to work, communicate, sell, and service.”

According to York, Hispanics weren’t the only new customer base that contractors were working with on a daily basis this past year. “We must learn to handle same-sex life situations, mixed families, single-person homes, and foreigners who hardly speak English. Like it or not, agree or not, this is the way it is today. We change or we change our line of work.”
Publication Date: 12/24/2007

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