From construction sites to manufacturing plants, America's blue-collar workforce stands as a testament to diversity. Yet behind the scenes, the idea of multi-culturalism often is scorned as nothing more than a tribute to political correctness.

Smart employers, however, are learning that cultural sensitivity has much deeper meaning than previously thought. By truly understanding and respecting the literacy, cultural and language differences of their workers, companies stand to gain financially while creating a safer work environment for employees.

Perhaps most importantly, by tailoring training programs to fit the needs of individual employees, companies decrease injury rates, increase workforce productivity, promote loyalty and lower insurance expenses.

Breaking The Language, Cultural And Literacy Barriers

Businesses have come to accept the simple truth that worker training pays big dividends. But when faced with the task of providing classes for functionally illiterate or non-English-speaking workers, even the most committed employers sometimes shrink from the responsibility to train.

These workers, however, often are the ones who most desperately need training. That is why the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) launched a 2002 campaign to better protect non-English-speaking workers, who are considered to be at high risk of on-the-job injury. OSHA recognized that more than 10 million Americans speak little or no English, and one in five Americans does not speak English at home.

In the Hispanic population for example, numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the fatality rate for Hispanic employees climbed by more than 11 percent in 2000, while deaths for all other groups declined. OSHA attributed this increase, at least in part, to the language barrier.

Aside from the gruesome statistics on injuries and death, poor training for non-English-speaking workers also results in low productivity, high turnover and other expenses for their employers.

While some employers recognize these statistics on non-English-speaking workers, almost none fully understand the importance of cultural differences in the workplace. A large portion of America's non-skilled and semi-skilled labor has immigrated from Mexico and other countries. They bring with them a set of beliefs regarding work ethic, family and company loyalty, among others. Only by understanding and reacting positively to these beliefs can an employer maximize the productivity of workers from other cultures.

Another challenge lies in training semi-literate workers, many of whom speak English as their first language. These workers lack the learning style and reading abilities that many employers assume they have.

For these businesses, the answer may lie in a kinesthetic method of worker training. This method combines the obvious benefits of teaching workers in their first languages with the improved results of a hands-on, practice-makes-perfect approach. Plus, this culturally intensive training includes sessions for supervisors and managers, helping them to understand and respect their employees.

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