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Successfully managing a bilingual maintenance shop.

“If you show them something, they can do it,” he says. “Their skills are easier to learn by show and tell instead of books.”

Otherwise, letting poor communication rule the shop will only hurt the fleet’s bottom line, and possibly its employees. Stuart says it is up to the manager to get everyone working efficiently.

“The average weekly employee, you could have a week and a half’s worth of time to get a week of work, so your productivity would be less than desirable and would cost you money,” he says. “Safety can also be a factor—that’s where the energy has to be applied. The manager should spend 80 percent of his time on the shop floor. It will hurt the bottom line, but some of that may be offset in their levels of productivity.”


In the end, the key to communication lies with the manager. Stuart says shops with non-English speaking technicians should ideally have a bilingual manager, though it is easier said than done and won’t be cheap.

“Finding a manager is difficult,” he says. “Finding one that is bilingual is difficult. Finding one that has mechanical experience, people skills and the adrenaline rush to do that job is difficult. We’re going to have to pay a premium for people who are bilingual. We have to crank up our supervision and understand that the value of a sharp, mechanically inclined, people-managing bilingual supervisor is going to be worth more in the future than we want to accept. We have to spend a tremendous amount of energy finding bilingual supervisors and train them on the skills of managing people, (having) patience.”

For managers who can only speak English, learning Spanish is a good idea but may not be as practical, Stuart says.

“If the supervisor has the patience… usually there are more Spanish-speaking people than are bilingual than English-speakers that know Spanish,” he says. “If you can’t speak Spanish in the next 20 years, you are going to be handcuffed.”

Jose Rodriguez, bilingual corporate maintenance trainer for the Florida-based Gator Leasing, Inc., works with nine shops throughout Florida, including several in the Miami area with around 70 percent non-English-speaking technicians.

“(Being bilingual) is very important because of the language barrier—if you can’t speak Spanish when you’re down in that area, it’s very hard to communicate with the guys that are working,” he says.

For managers who are not bilingual, hands-on demonstrations and non-verbal communication are key in getting through language barriers, Rodriguez says.

“When you’re working on a vehicle, that’s a universal language,” he says. “Once you look at a technician who’s working on a truck, just by looking at the way he’s working, you know if he knows (what he’s doing) or if he would be a safety issue. You can throw books at them and they could probably understand half of it, but if you go hands-on, you’re 100 percent sure that they got it, especially when you show them what they need to do and then you let them do it.”

Training is the key, though, and Rodriguez says having a bilingual trainer is much better able to communicate and help improve a shop’s productivity and bottom line.

“If you have bilingual (workers) you need to have somebody who is able to train in either English or Spanish so you can get the point across, otherwise it’s very hard to get the information through,” he says.


John Hammel, Vice-president of Gator Leasing, Inc. says his company has been able to overcome the challenges of a bilingual workplace with training, thanks to people like Rodriguez. He says the company once hired “quite a few” workers who spoke no English who came over from Cuba in the 80s, and tried to help them to learn English, to mixed results.

“We worked really hard with them to try and bring them up to speed and offered them some classes at the local high school,” he says. “Some guys did OK with it, others just couldn’t get it.”

Not giving up, the company now has all shop forms in Spanish as well as English, to improve communication between the drivers, technicians, shop supervisors and the service manager.

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