Language Barrier

For many shops, finding and keeping good automotive service personnel is high on their list of needs. Many shops are finding that at least a part of their solution for replacements is coming from the growing Hispanic population.

According to Census Bureau data, Hispanics are the largest minority group in the United States. Now exceeding 38 million, Hispanics comprise approximately 13 percent of the total US population, and are the fastest growing segment of the population. Hispanics on average are younger than other population groups and are contributing significantly to the workforce.

In the automotive repair and maintenance sector, Hispanics make up 18 percent of all automotive technicians ( BLS 2004 Household Data Annual Averages). This percentage has been on a steady increase for several years. Since much of this growth comes from individuals who have immigrated to the US, the lack of English communication skills is a major handicap, for both the technicians and their employers.

Recent census records indicate that of all US Hispanics in the 18-64 year old age group, 29 percent reported that they speak English either "not well" or "not at all" (2000 Census). If you apply that 29 percent to the number of Hispanics in the automotive service sector (estimated at 216,000), you'd find that nearly 63,000 working technicians are linguistically isolated. Many of these Hispanic technicians must rely heavily on co-workers to bridge the language gap. It's a significant problem; enough so that several organizations have special initiatives to help these technicians along.

Recognizing that learning a new language does not happen overnight, the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence ( ASE) has initiated a multi-faceted Hispanic Outreach Program. This program is intended to build bridges for linguistically isolated technicians that allow some degree of access to professional certification and training while they continue to develop their English skills.

With the help of a grant from the US Department of Labor, ASE is now offering four of its automobile technician certification exams in a parallel English/Spanish format. The exams chosen for this option are those most often taken by first-time test takers and are most often requested by employers. They include A1-Engine Repair, A4-Suspension and Steering, A5-Brakes, and A6-Electrical/Electronic Systems. Tests from other series such as Medium/Heavy Truck, and Collision Repair and Refinish, may be added in the future as additional funding is identified.

Another activity supported under the DOL grant is a series of Hispanic Outreach town hall style meetings to be conducted across the country. These events serve to provide Hispanic technicians with career information and access to local resources. Invitees include technicians, business owners, DOL Workforce Office staff, training providers, school representatives, and local and national media.

ASE has also been working closely with the Automotive Training Managers Council to develop a training resource list of training providers and training materials that are available in Spanish. Another resource that will be available by year's end is an updated English/Spanish glossary of technical terms. This is important for technicians, trainers and publishers alike because of the wide variation in Spanish from country to country.

Of course the best long-term solution is very obvious, but not simple to achieve: technicians need to be able to communicate in English. Service information is in English, most update training is in English--the US is an English speaking country. What's the problem? As stated before, learning a new language is not something that happens overnight. Many technicians find themselves to be the primary source of income and must work long hours or multiple jobs to support the family. It's no surprise that their children typically master the language more quickly than they do. Often, the child becomes the unofficial translator for the parents. The good news is that most local school systems offer adult classes in "English for Speakers of Other Languages." Many church and civic groups also offer this type of training. The resources and opportunities will of course vary around the country. But in the end, it is up to the Hispanic technician, and those who want to benefit from this growing resource of automotive technicians, to put the forth effort.

For the Spanish version of Language Barrier, Click Here.

To learn more about ASE's Hispanic outreach program, please contact JD Sampedro, ASE Diversity Marketing Manager at jd@asecert.org

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