BY BOB MIODONSKI of CONTRACTOR’s staff
SAVANNAH, GA. — As more foreign-born workers enter the construction industry, contractors should know how to recruit, hire and retain them as productive employees, consultant Bob Losyk told members of Quality Service Contractors Feb. 25 during their Power Meeting here.
“The workforce is currently growing by 1.5 million per year, or 1%,” Losyk told members of QSC, which is a subgroup of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors - National Association. “Half of this is due to immigration. This trend should continue through 2005.”
White, non-Hispanic employees make up 76% of the U.S. workforce today, he added. This will decrease to 68% in the next 10 years.
During the same period, minorities will make up one-third of the new entrants in the workforce. While the number of African-Americans in the workforce is expected to remain constant at 11%, the share of Asian-Americans will grow to 6% and the share of Hispanic-Americans will increase to 14%.
Contractors and other employers already have been dealing with a labor force that has changed dramatically in recent decades. Today, for example, employees whose spouses do not work outside the home comprise just 18% of the workforce. In the 1950s, being married and the sole breadwinner was a trait shared by 81% of the labor force, Losyk said.
Women now comprise 46% of the workforce. That number will reach 50% in five years, he noted. Almost two-thirds of married women with children younger than 6 years old are working outside the home.
Yet, dealing with foreign-born workers frequently presents specific concerns because of the cultural differences between their homeland and the United States. For example, the “gender equity” that has developed in this country may be an issue for some immigrants.
“Other cultures may not be used to working for female bosses,” Losyk noted.
They also may not be accustomed to the propensity of U.S. companies to forecast their future performance or of American workers to focus on the upward direction of their career path.
“Many cultures do not set goals,” Losyk said. “They tend to focus on the past more than on the future.”
Similarly, immigrants are less inclined to brag about their accomplishments during meetings with their bosses or in performance evaluations.
“The American saying is, ‘The squeaky wheel gets the grease,’” Losyk said. “The Latino saying is, ‘The duck with the loudest quack gets shot.’”
Supervisors must be sensitive to these differences so as not to misinterpret the behavior of their foreign-born workers. When they speak with one another on the job in their native language, he said, it most likely isn’t rudeness. It’s just easier for them and makes them feel more comfortable.
They may not, however, be comfortable with the idea of employee empowerment where they’re encouraged to tell their boss how they should do their job. And, they may have a problem with the boss who rolls up his sleeves and works along side them.
“They listen to the boss, who is supposed to tell them what to do,” Losyk said.
As a general rule, a supervisor should respect the culture of foreign-born workers and not try to change it. If he doesn’t understand something about a culture, he should ask them to explain it. The supervisor shouldn’t be afraid to discuss cultural differences at company meetings.
“When you try to change someone’s culture, they feel anger, resentment, confusion or sadness,” Losyk said.
As is the case with American-born workers, the No. 1 reason that immigrants leave their job is because of their boss or the person directly above them, he noted. Still, the actions of other employees are important too, and supervisors should tell them not to laugh at their foreign-born colleagues’ English or make fun of their accents.
Since communication is so important, supervisors should avoid using slang and acronyms. They should speak in a normal volume but slow down or repeat themselves as necessary. Using pictures, signs and symbols, or doing a demonstration, could be helpful in some situations.
When giving feedback to foreign-born employees, supervisors should be positive and courteous, not critical. They also should be very specific about what they want the employee to change, focusing on his actions, not his character.
Bosses should avoid words such as “boy” and phrases such as “you people.” They should never try to humiliate the employees or let them lose face.
“The fear of losing face is a tremendous issue in other cultures,” Losyk said.