Magazine article Workforce Management

Powering Up a Hispanic Workforce

Magazine article Workforce Management

Powering Up a Hispanic Workforce

Article excerpt

A Florida energy company turns to local Latino talent as it grapples with an aging workforce. With Latin American immigrants a growing presence in the U.S. labor force, multicultural experts advise employers to start thinking about development programs that go well beyond basic English training.

OFFICIALS AT Florida Power & Light Co. preferred not to dally until national demographic trends eroded the core of their nuclear expertise: their employees. The median age of a nuclear energy worker had reached 48, according to data from the Nuclear Energy Institute, a Washington-based industry lobbying group. Up to 35 percent of existing employees nationally will qualify for retirement within the next five years.

Florida Power & Light had traditionally hired through several routes for its nuclear plant in South Florida, including recruiting former military personnel, says James Auld, industry and community training coordinator for the 11,000-employee company. Since those employees usually relocated from elsewhere, they were prone to later jump ship, fleeing Florida's hothouse climate or moving back closer to family.

So officials began to brainstorm several years ago about ways to better cultivate local talent. That meant reaching out to the predominantly Hispanic community living near the nuclear plant, which is about 25 miles south of Miami. The result: a partnership with nearby Miami Dade College that has already produced its first class of graduates, with more in the pipeline, and a growing waiting list.

Teaming up with a nearby community college is only one of various strategies that corporate employers in Florida and elsewhere are implementing to better train and support Hispanic employees, a demographic group that's poised to constitute a significant portion of the labor force's backbone.

Within the next decade, one out of every four new U.S. workers will have legally emigrated from Latin America, according to a recent analysis of federal data. Training programs, though, shouldn't be limited to English classes for entry-level employees, multicultural experts say. Initiatives also should incorporate math skills, computer basics and, as Hispanic employees are promoted into supervisory roles, additional training and mentorship efforts.

By 2016, 16.4 percent of U.S. workers will identify themselves as Hispanic, compared with 9.5 percent in 1996, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Companies ignore these trends - even amid the current economic downturn - at their own peril, says Mariita Arosemena Conley, who leads Hispanic Source, a Chicago-based firm specializing in Hispanic cultural awareness and diversity training.

After the recession lifts, "the landscape is going to be different," she says. "You will have baby boomers retiring. And that younger workforce - you can see it now at job fairs. You go to a job fair today and it's a sea of brown faces."

TRAINING AT THE GROUND FLOOR

Although no racial or ethnic group has been immune to the recession, job losses have hit Hispanic workers particularly hard, according to a Pew Hispanic Center analysis of Census Bureau data. By the fourth quarter of 2008, the unemployment rate had reached 9.5 percent among U.S.-born Hispanics and was 8 percent among foreignborn Hispanics, compared with 6.6 percent for the workforce overall. That rising unemployment rate coincided with the downturn in construction that began two years ago, says Rakesh Kochhar, the Pew center's associate director for research. "Since then, it's only picked up steam," he says.

But some Hispanic employees may ac- tually be in greater demand in the years to come, says Louis Nevaer, an economist who helped author the 2007 book HR and the New Hispanic Workforce. In some in- dustries outside construction and restau- rant work, companies are disproportionately laying off older workers, he says. As a result, managers will find themselves leading a noticeably different workforce in the years ahead, one with less institutional memory and younger workers who are more likely to be Hispanic, he says. …

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