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Engaging Nontraditional Manufacturing Talent: Non-English Speakers

Article written by Chris Cunningham, PhD, UC Foundation Professor of Psychology, Amira Moreno ,Lead Working Group Facilitator & Graduate Assistant, Industrial and Organizational Psychology Department ,and Spencer Paulson, Graduate Assistant, Industrial and Organizational Psychology Department, both from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Continuing this series of blog posts, another talent group that often experiences a significant barrier to entry in the manufacturing industry is non-English speakers. This classification is applied to any individual who is not sufficiently proficient in their understanding or use of the English language to communicate effectively in a work setting. Language-related limitations are becoming less of an employment-limiting factor as new and advanced technology enables real-time translation and other forms of multi- or inter-lingual communication. This is a major reason why now is the time for the manufacturing industry to increase its active recruitment of talent from this population. Subject matter experts (SMEs) in manufacturing workforce management came together at the Smart Factory Institute’s Smart Workforce Conference to discuss this topic; all participants in this working group were at one time themselves classified as non-English speakers or have significant experience working with non-English speakers. For details on this event and the methods used to gather the information summarized in this post, please check out the first post in this series.

What is the manufacturing industry doing well to reach this talent group?

The SMEs in this working group identified some existing methods used by manufacturing organizations to better recruit and accommodate members of this talent group. Large investments into the development and integration of diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in many organizations are starting to gain traction. Such programs emphasize not only the inclusion of non-English speakers into existing work-related structures and systems, but often include diversity sensitivity and accommodative training that educates existing employees on how and why there is a need to engage new employees who may have different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. From a more practical perspective, working group members noted increasing use of workplace instructions presented in all or most of the different languages spoken throughout a given manufacturing facility. As noted above, the ability to accommodate non-English speakers with translated instructions and feedback is improving with Industry 4.0 technology advancements. These types of improvements within the manufacturing industry are helping to further attract and retain non-English speaking workers.

What is the manufacturing industry not doing well to accommodate this talent group?

While successful methods for accommodating this talent group were identified, this working group also noted that the manufacturing industry is still lacking in its ability to attract and effectively integrate members of this population into their workforce for multiple reasons. Even with the technology advancements noted above, language barriers persist in many human-to-human interactions, especially in the recruitment and hiring process and in team-based interactions. As a result, non-English workers have greater difficulty connecting with their team members and understanding the context of the work required of them. Another ongoing barrier to engaging this population are restrictions on accepting education or work experience from countries outside the U.S. By not accepting either foreign education or experiences, manufacturing organizations are missing out on a large subset of experienced potential employees. This working group identified one other major area of concern, that many company-specific diversity, equity, and inclusion programs are not optimally designed or implemented with best-practice strategies for engaging the overall organization. Without whole-organization involvement in such efforts, the benefits of these programs are severely limited.

What can the manufacturing industry do better to attract and retain this type of talent?

The main strategy identified by this working group to better accommodate non-English speakers is to ensure these individuals have access to the resources they need to manage the application and on-boarding process, and then to see evidence of representation among longer-tenured employees. Facilitating entry and illustrating the opportunities for longer-term career development can help to engage members of this population. For many manufacturing organizations, changes are needed to attraction and selection practices and processes to be more welcoming for non-English participants. A tangible example of this is to provide application portals in common alternative languages and including recruiters/talent acquisition managers who speak applicants' native languages in the interview process.

Post-hire, non-English speaking candidates can be paired with mentors who speak the same language and with examples of long-tenured and leadership-level employees who may have similar cultural and language-related backgrounds. Creating and sustaining mentorship programs that pair existing non-English speaking employees with new hires who also do not speak English provides necessary resources that employees need to thrive and flourish in the organization. Additionally, putting non-English workers in leadership or managerial positions signals an organizational commitment to help non-English workers grow and advance in their professional careers. To support effective performance of job task functions, organizations are also encouraged to continue investing in technology that can eliminate or provide workarounds for language barriers. Providing multiple language options for machinery and operating procedure instructions, and other general signage throughout manufacturing facilities, will help non-English speakers to safely perform up to their potential.

In the search for talent, there is often a stigma or fear that recruiting and hiring non-English speaking candidates will create more problems or challenges than it will solve. This is far from the truth for manufacturing organizations that take steps to engage and work with members of this talent population. With new Industry 4.0 technologies and the growing need for talent, accommodating this talent group is easier and more necessary than ever before.

This report highlights the importance of diverse talent in the manufacturing industry and suggests strategies for manufacturers to recruit and retain underrepresented groups such as immigrants. Learn more about this, and other, non-traditional talent groups, and how manufacturers can retain them by downloading our report, The New Collar Worker Requirements.

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