Solving the language gap in your construction business
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”George Bernard Shaw
It’s no big secret that the US construction industry has a language problem. A report from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) reveals that the construction industry has the widest language gap of any other US industry—only expected to widen.
More than half of all construction managers surveyed in this report stated the need for better language skills on their job sites over the next five years. Safety, productivity, and employee happiness all rely on clear, effective communication across every job site.
The writing is on the wall. For instance, Home Depot is investing $50 million into skills development for construction talent over the next decade. A Gallup poll reveals that almost half of millennials say they would leave their current job for one that offered relevant professional training.
Ensuring that the construction workforce attains the proper skills is driven by the reality that skills gaps like language proficiency present very real, complex business risks.
The three-fold impact of the construction industry’s language gap
1. Language gaps create job site safety issues.
Your employees are fighting the elements, performing dangerous jobs on surfaces above the ground, and operating hazardous equipment. Communicating safety protocol to an employee who speaks the same language is already a challenge.
When you add a language barrier, the risk goes way up. The unfortunate truth is that non-native speakers receive less language training, creating an added risk to new, Limited English Proficiency (LEP) employees.
A construction job site is a dangerous place to have a misunderstanding. Whether you’re hauling lumber across scaffolding or installing a window assembly in a skyscraper, communication is essential for employee safety.
2. Language barriers slow productivity.
Not only is it difficult to communicate safety policies across a language barrier, but it’s also a challenge to communicate job function essentials. In fact, more than half of all construction rework is caused by miscommunication.
Simply put, an hour of rework every day is an hour lost on your company’s project timeline, and those hours add up quickly in the form of lost revenue. So you need to move through your work with speed and precision. Nothing slows job site productivity down like grossly misunderstanding your day-to-day tasks on any given project.
3. High employee turnover.
21.5 percent. That’s the construction industry’s average turnover rate.
It’s higher than any industry in the US, and that should be concerning, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS). While this is critical, it’s also unsurprising.
Construction is difficult, physically taxing work with stringent deadlines, hazardous work environments, and high pressure. So keeping your employees engaged at work requires investing in their success. And construction employees are vocal about their frustration with a lack of employee development. In fact, 26% of construction employees say they are frustrated by the lack of skills they need to do their jobs better.
Make no mistake, ensuring your construction employees understand each other better will help improve the quality of their work and their overall happiness across your job sites.
How do you address a language gap within your construction business?
Identify the impact of language on your team.
In a previous post on the effects of free and cheap language training, we unpack the key elements of a language barrier:
- language diversity (the number of languages represented within your business)
- language penetration (are your employees comfortable engaging with peers who speak a different language?)
- language sophistication (your business’s language requirements for operational efficiency).
Since you can’t address problems you don’t understand, it’s essential to start by taking an inventory of how language impacts your team. Do you have bilingual needs across your job sites? Are your employees comfortable collaborating with non-English-speaking coworkers? What safety issues have arisen for your employees? Are you noticing increased safety incidents across your LEP employees?
Since there’s no one-size-fits-all template for identifying the impact, you will need to do some digging to ensure you’re correctly understanding your employees’ challenges.
Establish clear, realistic learning goals.
When learning a new language, it all starts with an assessment. At Rosetta Stone, we use academic-validated, CEFR-based assessments to help your employees start their language training journey off right.
Regardless of the assessment standard you use, this stage is critical for identifying language gaps across your business and giving you valuable information about each learner’s needs. By establishing a baseline, you are better able to set realistic proficiency goals for your entire organization.
Track and monitor progress.
A high-quality language training solution will give you access to actionable insights into each employee’s learning performance. This holistic view will enable you to make decisions on how to keep your learners more engaged. For instance, if you were able to see the common time frames in which your employees commonly learn, you could better create new policies around language learning without losing productivity time.
Rinse and repeat.
Moving your team closer to proficiency is not a set-it-and-forget-it approach. Every organization is different and you will need to be proactive in setting language policies, and in sourcing the right tools to help your team be more successful.