Padron of Felss Rotaform stacks and organizes metal
JKenny Yoo/Special to The
BERLIN — When it became increasingly difficult to fill
vacant positions at Felss Rotaform about a decade ago,
CEO David Gazzo knew he had to adopt a different hiring
approach in order to keep his machines running and to
fulfill orders. So he not only began to hire people with
no manufacturing experience, he brought in workers who
spoke little or no English.
A need to change
Gazzo said in
about 2006 or 2007 when unemployment was very low and Felss Rotaform
was in a growing mode, he struggled to find workers.
“At a certain
point, I considered at that time, all of the employees were
English-speaking only, and then at that time, I considered to hire
Latinos. I got a couple of resumes, and originally there was some
pushback between the other employees because of how are we going to
communicate, how are we going to do the training, everything is
going to get complicated. Well, at that time there weren’t too many
choices. The only other choice is to leave the machine down. That’s
not an option,” Gazzo said.
a bit of communication went through Gazzo, who is originally from
Spain, and an engineer who is from Mexico, with the Latinos who were
working on the production floor. But as their numbers grew at Felss
Rotaform, an assistant was hired with one of her main functions
being to facilitate communication. Now, all of the instructions,
policies and handbooks are in English and Spanish.
approximate 80 employees at Felss Rotaform, about half are Latino,
with a larger percentage of them on the production floor. In the
offices, of about 20 workers, four to five are Latino. Even with
hiring Latinos, Gazzo said usually about 10 to 15 percent of
positions remain open. To fulfill work contracts, employees work
overtime and on weekends. Felss Rotaform has grown about 20 percent
every year since about 2010.
Bringas of Felss Rotaform does a routine maintenance
check on the
swaging and press machine.
JKenny Yoo/Special to The
Integrating a second language into a workplace
When it comes to
conducting employee meetings, if the issue is simple, then the
meeting is conducted in English at Felss Rotaform. But if it’s more
complicated, such as regarding benefits or new policies, then the
group will be broken into two and the same meeting will be conducted
in Spanish and English.
“As the Latino
population grew, we hired some employees who spoke both languages
and today some of our most advanced technicians can speak dual
language so our amount of employees who can handle both languages is
big enough to be able to accommodate any new employee,” Gazzo said.
the manufacturing supervisor of the building products division for
IP Molding who speaks Spanish fluently, said it can be hard to
translate between the rank-and-file and management.
worked at several places, including IP Moulding, where he is tapped
to use his Spanish as a manager.
needs to be tasked with translating written materials, he said
terminology also needs to be learned. That he has often learned from
the Latino workers.
Spanish-speaking people have been super helpful,” he said. “It’s
rare for an American to speak reasonably good Spanish.”
said he has never had an issue resulting from a cultural difference.
“People who do
not speak English as a first language tend to adapt to our culture,”
he said, adding that there are some things that are handled
differently between the cultures, such as the amount of time
requested for funeral leave.
that any employer looking to hire more non-native English speakers
needs to resolve conflicts before they arise.
“You need to pay
a lot of attention to any potential sources of conflict, and we
don’t have them, but many times I sense that if some situations
don’t get stopped right away, they could escalate into something
else,” Gazzo said, giving the example of some Latinos telling jokes
in Spanish at lunch and a nearby non-Spanish speaker feeling
has a policy that if you can speak English then you should make an
effort to speak it when an English speaker is near or if you must
speak in Spanish, not to become too loud.
“One of the
values of our company is respect and that’s something that is very
important for both groups: to be respectful with others’ values and
cultural norms and language. I think that so far that we have had
very, very few incidents of any friction between both groups and my
intention is to keep it that way,” Gazzo said.
recommends that employers looking to hire beyond the native English
speakers conduct workshops or do education at the company of how the
changes will work and to stress that it’s important to have
consistent behavior between the different groups of workers, so no
one feels like a first- or second- class employee.
Rotaform, Gazzo said many of the Spanish-speaking employees are his
most valuable. One man who has lived in the United States for about
14 to 15 years still doesn’t speak English, “but you don’t need to
speak English to keep a machine running and he is able to keep
machines running like no other.”
hiring Latinos or workers who aren’t native English speakers could
help a company looking to grow.
“By opening the
workforce up to people of a different language and culture, they are
able to open themselves up to a much larger labor market pool,” he
said. “If you want to have more options to hire then you have to be
more flexible to hire people which English is not their first
has found that the Spanish-speaking workers are loyal and responsive
“It’s been an
eye-opener to see people who speak different languages can also
perform at a very high level if given the opportunity,” Gazzo said.