Breaking Down Language Barriers on Job Sites

four people in high visibility vests standing together smiling

Jessica Regnerus | August 8, 2022

One of Interstates’ core values is Family, and a big piece of living this value is providing opportunities for our people and valuing everyone’s safety. We see the growing population of primary-Spanish speakers, and we recognized a language barrier could potentially hinder the safety of our team members and become an obstacle between them and beneficial opportunities. Our teams that focus directly on development, training and diversity, equity, and inclusion were on the lookout to solve these challenges.

Taking the First Steps to Remove Obstacles

The first step in breaking down the language barrier on job sites started with construction leaders. About a year ago, some of our construction leaders signed on to try a basic, 6-week “Spanish for Construction” program that Red Angle, Inc. created. This program focused on common Spanish words and phrases used in construction. It has provided more opportunities for our field leaders to communicate with their Spanish-speaking team members as well as other contractors on-site.

The next step happened last fall when we were introduced to a program called Need2Say. They work with primary-Spanish-speaking construction workers who want to learn English. This program allows team members to work 1:1 with a tutor 1-2 times a week and assesses their skill level to tailor the program to fit their needs.

“The program is tailored to the individual needs of students, ESP (English for Specific Purposes), based on continuous assessments and their expressed needs.” Oscar Garcia, Founder, and CEO at Need2Say explained.

Garcia continued, “Classes are designed for specific communication and vocabulary in their work area... The specific everyday phrases that the worker needs to express in his different work environments.”

This program ensures that language barriers won’t become an obstacle to developing our people to their full potential. It also helps showcase Interstates’ core beliefs: providing opportunities for our people. These classes provide native English and Spanish speakers the chance to develop their roles at Interstates and other aspects of their lives.

Knowing English in the U.S. is not only valuable for their job but also impacts their personal lives, like interacting in the community, helping their children with homework, etc. Our goal isn’t to just give them opportunities that will help them at work but also help them outside of work.

Three Interstates team members in the Omaha area have utilized the Need2Say program over the past few months, and the outcome has been rewarding on multiple fronts. We are identifying other team members that will most benefit from English lessons. Additionally, we’ve had over 15 leaders start the Red Angle, Inc program and are excited to continue offering it to anyone interested.

Participants Seeing Progress

In April, Jessica Regnerus, an Executive Administrative Assistant for our Organizational Development Team, talked with some of our English-learning program participants to see if this program was helpful or if Interstates needed to take a different approach. They appreciated the opportunity, and all shared how these classes are helping them.

Marco Blanco is a journeyman that helps lead projects on-site, and he said, “…I can see where I am going with these English classes, and I know that it will help me a lot in achieving my work and personal goals.”

Before this program, Blanco already had some previous knowledge of the English language, so he has been working hard on perfecting his grammar and pronunciation. He has been a great help translating to others on-site that aren’t as proficient in English.

Marco Morales and Carlos Mendez are both working towards their journeyman’s license. Morales hopes these classes will help him take his test, and Blanco has been helping him study.

Mendez said, “…I have learned new things, and they are serving me both in life and at work.”

Regnerus was encouraged during her visit by their excitement about the program and continued learning. When Regnerus asked the crew how Dan Morris, one of their superintendents who is simultaneously learning Spanish through Red Angle, Inc., is doing, they laughed and said, “He could use a bit more practice.”

For Morris, being on board with these classes was not a hard decision. As soon as this opportunity came up for his crew members, he respected the time it took to participate in classes and ensured technology was never a roadblock. He continues to advocate for his crew by looking into options to help Morales and Mendez obtain their journeyman’s license and provide additional leadership opportunities for Blanco.

Growing the Program

Our next steps require our Craft Leaders and Safety Leaders to keep an ear out for any future crew members that may benefit from this training. This includes listening to site leadership and ensuring they are on board with our crew members taking these classes.

Candidate recommendations for this program are essential and require our Craft trainers and Safety Technicians to gauge a crew member’s understanding of the English language so far. Then, we see if they’re willing and eager to learn more.

Since it’s still early stages in the process, we try to make sure that there are individuals who can translate on-site until we can present this opportunity to more primary Spanish speakers. So far, we have had positive responses from site leadership wanting to provide these opportunities for their crew members.

We anticipate this program will aid in our journey towards a zero-injury culture and ensure we’re clearing the path for our people to meet their full potential. Taking down language barriers between leaders and crew members can resolve miscommunications quicker, enhance team cohesion and efficiency, and improve psych safety.

Garcia concluded, “[Need2Say’s] goal is to empower your Latino workers to know they can thrive and trust your job sites... Need2Say wants to bridge the communication gap at all levels... allowing [them] to communicate everyone’s needs and safety concerns.”

We’re excited to keep offering this opportunity to our primary-Spanish speakers as they continue growing in their careers and personal lives.