Understanding cultural diversity can give you a competitive advantage in today's swine industry.

Hispanics make up about 15% of the United States population, according to recent census data, which accounts for about 45 million Hispanic people. By 2050, that number is predicted to more than double.

Pork producers are tapping into this emerging workforce, relates Orlando Gil, director of recruiting at Hawkeye Sow Centers, a division of Kerber Companies in Emmetsburg, IA. Approximately 20% of the company's 170 employees are Hispanic.

Gil, who immigrated to the United States from Venezuela in 1977 and has worked in the swine industry for the past 14 years, offers several strategies for building successful working relationships with Hispanic employees:

  1. Not all Hispanics are the same

    The word Hispanic is a broad term to include people living in the United States whose families descended from Spanish-speaking countries. There are differences in ethnicity and culture among Hispanic people, just as there are differences between people of European descent. Education levels and skills vary as well.

  2. Establish clear communications

    “Some Hispanics have a good understanding of the English language, and some do not,” Gil says. Having bilingual workers and providing translated, written documents can help explain production procedures and practices. This is particularly important where safety is concerned.

    Bear in mind that Hispanics sometimes say, “yes,” even if instructions are unclear. “We want to please you and do the best we can. Sometimes we are afraid to say, ‘we just do not understand,’” Gil explains. Have workers demonstrate tasks or speak with bilingual employees to confirm messages are understood, he suggests.

    Likewise, don't assume that a person speaks Spanish just because they are Hispanic. “If you say, ‘Hola, como estás?’ to a second- or third-generation person, they may look at you like, ‘what are you saying? Talk to me in English!’” Gil says.

  3. Money is a huge motivator

    Naturally, it is your responsibility to provide equitable pay to all employees based on jobs and skills. But don't be afraid to provide incentives for value-added skills.

    A person who is bilingual may be more valuable than one who is not, he says. “If you pay those people more, there will be more people who want to be bilingual.”

    Work ethic among most Hispanics is strong, he adds. Hispanic people often want to work as many hours as possible and sometimes ask to forego vacation time in order to earn extra money.

  4. Help employees get involved in your organization and community

    “Minimize segregation,” Gil suggests. “Many times you'll walk into a lunch room and see a Hispanic side and a Caucasian side.” He recommends setting up company activities and becoming involved in community events to help employees get to know each other and break down cultural barriers.

    “We have formed a Spanish Lunch Club at our main office that is open to the community to share a little of our language and culture,” he explains.

    Some Hispanics may be reluctant to merge into American culture. “Many Hispanics are culturally on-hold,” Gil says. “They may not want to assimilate because they are thinking, ‘maybe I'll go back.’” He suggests helping new employees in accessing services such as banking, medical care, shopping and housing to help them integrate into the community.

  5. Consider the impact on all managers and staff

    It is important to realize that not all employees are comfortable when first working with people of different languages or cultures. “No one likes change, and it takes time to adapt to a new environment. Formal cultural diversity awareness training may help staff to adjust,” Gil says. In addition, there are several English-Spanish training programs available through the National Pork Board (www.pork.org).

  6. Establish a good reputation

    Hispanics rely heavily on what they hear about employers from other Hispanics. “Word of mouth is very important,” Gil says. “If you want to tap into this labor market, try to become the employer of choice by helping Hispanics integrate and eventually assimilate into your organization and your community.”

  7. Check social security numbers

    Employers can check the work status of new hires online by comparing information from an employee's I-9 form against Social Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security databases. E-Verify is free and voluntary. Visit http://www.dhs.gov/ximgtn/programs/.

For additional information, contact Gil at: ogil@kerbermilling.com.