By Howard Bernstein, President of the Keystone Contractors Association
As the construction industry struggles to find workers, like every other industry, contractors are considering all options. A growing bright spot in Pennsylvania’s workforce development efforts has become our Hispanic brothers and sisters. Yes, language is a barrier for our Spanish speakers, but it is not the only barrier.
Having grown up in the southwest, in Arizona, Hispanics were the backbone of many industries where I lived. Spanish was heard often and many of my friends were bilingual, growing up in homes with Spanish and English spoken regularly. Many of my friends were second or third-generation Americans and although our skin color was different, they were every bit as “American” as I was.
Imagine someone suggesting that because you speak English, you understand cultures and traditions in countries where English is the dominant language. Crossing the country from Arizona to Pennsylvania was a culture shock. That in no way suggests that the traditions, culture, and people in Pennsylvania are bad or wrong but even within Pennsylvania, the differences from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and all the diverse towns in between define and create this amazing American experiment.
As many of our grandparents or great-grandparents did previously, the dream of opportunity in America continues to inspire many and we need to continue our outreach to those wishing to work hard and help drive our industry forward. Hard work and long days were welcomed to be able to experience this “American Dream” that many of us now take for granted.
I think we can help our workforce grow bright spots in achieving that American Dream. Perhaps as employers, we can make efforts to learn a few words in Spanish each week or offer English classes in our communities to those interested in promoting a greater partnership. Learning a new language can be a daunting task, and I assure you that anyone who lives in a country where they do not speak the dominant language would love to learn it. Would it be that difficult to hire someone who is bilingual to help build these bridges? There are differences in language and culture, but also so many commonalities that we should embrace. Take pride in what you do. Understand that you are part of something larger than yourself. At the end of the day, spend time with the people you love. We are human and bleed and mourn in the same way.
Thanks for your support of the KCA.