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English Proficiency: What Employers Need
for their Spanish Speaking Workforce
Final Draft Report
June 25, 2005
U.S. Department of Labor
The United States-Mexico Cultural and Educational Foundation
Harrison Maldonado Associates, Inc. (HMA)
The Bulow Group, Inc.
Under the direction of:
Al Zapanta, President & CEO
U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce
Yvonne Garcia, Vice President
This report was prepared for the United States Department of Labor, Employment and Training
Administration under contract # ES-13011-00003-30. The analysis and opinions are those of
the authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Department of Labor.
Immigrant workers are becoming an increasingly integral part of America's workforce.
According to a recent report by Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies, new
immigrants made up nearly half of the overall growth in the nation's workforce during the 1990s.
Hispanics represent a growing segment of the immigrant population and of the U.S. workforce.
Fifty-six percent of all new immigrants entering the workforce between 2000 and 2004 were
Hispanic. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Hispanic workforce is projected to
grow 2.9 percent annually between 2002 and 2012, totaling approximately 24 million by 2012.
While some Hispanics are recent immigrants to the United States and entering the workforce,
others have been long standing workforce participants. In either case, Hispanics face some
challenges in the workforce including: more than two in five Hispanics aged 25 and older have
not graduated from high school, creating a need for basic and occupational skills; two in five
Hispanics are foreign born, which presents language and cultural barriers; and Hispanics are
more likely to live in poverty.
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) recognizes the needs of the growing Hispanic
worker population, and has responded by establishing a Hispanic Worker Initiative. The
initiative helps Hispanic workers take advantage of job opportunities in high-growth sectors of
the economy. One of the key components of the initiative is identifying the employment barriers
that Hispanic workers face, especially those who are limited-English proficient (LEP). English
proficiency is a key factor for Hispanics employment success and advancement.
As part of DOL's strategy to improve the employment outcomes of Hispanic workers,
DOL commissioned HMA and the U.S. Mexico Chamber of Commerce to conduct a study of
employers of Hispanic LEP workers. The purpose of this study is to determine the level of
English proficiency employers require of their Hispanic workforce to remain competitive in the
global economy. The study focused on four key areas: recruitment, training, advancement, and
retention. The results of the study will provide DOL an employer perspective regarding the
types of workforce development programs that are needed to assist Hispanics obtain language,
basic and occupational skills needed to succeed in the workplace. This report identifies
promising practices and recommends strategies for implementing programs that will help
businesses meet the needs of their Hispanic LEP workers and increase overall productivity.
The study consisted of a series of focus groups with business participants, executive
interviews with business and/or industry leaders, executive roundtables utilizing established
business networks, and a survey of small and medium-sized manufacturers in two border
states, Arizona and New Mexico. The main component of the study was a series of employer
focus groups. At the request of the U.S.-Mexico Cultural and Educational Foundation, the U.S.-
Mexico Chamber of Commerce utilized its network of chapters to convene five focus groups in
communities with large Hispanic populations and diverse high-growth industries. Focus groups
were conducted in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on August 16, 2004; Houston, Texas on September 9,
2004; Dallas, Texas on September 29, 2004; Chicago, Illinois on October 21, 2004; and Irvine,
California on December 7, 2004.
The study team took advantage of opportunities to hold executive roundtable
discussions with established business networks that followed a focus group format. These
occurred in DePere, Wisconsin on August 18, 2004 and Ft. Worth, Texas on February 2, 2005.
One-on-one interviews with executives of two large manufacturing companies were conducted
to yield greater depth of information. Participants were Tyson Foods, Inc. in Springdale,
Arkansas on November 17, 2004 and February 2, 2005, and QuadGraphics in Sussex,
Wisconsin on January 27, 2005. A web-based survey of small and medium manufacturers in
Arizona and New Mexico was conducted during September/October, 2004, to gauge Spanish
requirements for training and workforce development by small and medium manufacturers.
Participating employers represented eight high-growth sectors of the economy, such as
manufacturing, transportation, health care, information technology, construction, hospitality,
biotechnology, and energy. A total of 161 employers participated in the study.
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