As one of the nation’s largest financial services institutions, Wells Fargo relies on its customer service as a means of staying ahead of the competition. But one of its most basic customer service needs – Spanish-speaking employees – is proving frustratingly elusive.
“We’re always looking for Spanish-speaking team members, and we have a difficult time,” said Don Melendez, the bank’s Idaho regional president. “We need maybe 15 to 20 percent more team members who speak Spanish. And in some cases I have entire branches that it would be preferable that everybody spoke Spanish.”
For construction companies, Idaho’s large Hispanic population represents a source of skilled and unskilled labor at a time when projects are stalled because the companies can’t find enough workers. For companies like Idaho Power that do business all over the state, hiring Hispanics and other minorities is a goal because the company wants its workforce to look like the people it is serving.
“We believe that having a diverse, qualified workforce makes us a better company, that having diversity of all types whether it’s the things you normally think about around race or religion, people who think differently or who come at problems differently,” said Sarah Griffin, human resources manager at Idaho Power. “You have the most success as a company when you have people who can effectively come together with different opinions and come to a better solution.”
Idaho’s Hispanic population was 200,000 in 2014, and it’s growing. They make up about 12 percent of Idaho’s population, and 18 percent of the students in public k-12 schools, according to the University of Idaho’s McLure Center for Public Policy Research.
There is little data on where Hispanics work in Idaho; most local companies don’t keep records on the ethnic background of their workers. But employers have started saying clearly over the last few years that they would like to see more Hispanic workers among their employees, because they want their workforce to reflect their customer base, and because they simply need more workers.
The two-year-old University of Idaho Latino Advisory Council set out to address this among other issues. Melendez and Griffin are members. The council wants to hear from business leaders, said Mike Satz, the executive officer for the university in Boise.
“We need to know what the industries need,” Satz said. “Then we can set up a system to pipeline them to the right resources, whether it’s a certificate or associate’s degree, whether it’s going on to a four-year degree.”
The Idaho National Laboratories, which employs 3,900 workers and 350 interns in eastern Idaho, is taking a systematic approach to diversifying its workforce, said Juan Alvarez, the INL’s chief operating officer. Alvarez is chairman of the Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs, which provides a liaison between state agencies and the Hispanic community.
The INL works with schools, starting with junior high, to get students from underrepresented groups interested in STEM fields and to tell them about job opportunities at the INL.
“If we want to recruit more Hispanics into the professional fields at the INL, I cannot expect to do that tomorrow,” Alvarez said. “I have to start investing today in the pipeline.”
Establishing trust by sending company representatives into the Hispanic community is crucial, Alvarez said.
“Go to a school, or a PTA meeting, or the church or rec center or something akin to that, to where they can know who you are, and know what you are there for, and create this trust factor,” Melendez said.
Although Wells Fargo advertises widely for associates, “our advertisements are not in Spanish, our recruiters don’t speak Spanish, and that may be one of the reasons we’re not as successful,” Melendez said.
Wells Fargo doesn’t pay bilingual employees more for their language skills. Melendez said one of his Boise bankers studied French in order to better communicate with the Somali customers at his Boise branch. Wells Fargo also needs speakers of Russian, Serbo-Croatian, and other languages. Paying bilingual workers more would be expensive and complex, Melendez said.
“If you pay someone for their language ability, you’re going to have to test that,” he said. “What level are you going to pay somebody to speak a foreign language in? I don’t think we could ever come to some comfortable decision on that.”
To find more Hispanic workers, Alvarez suggested businesses become involved in the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. INL also offers paid internships to high school students to introduce them to the facility and has other educational programs that target minorities.
Another effective place to advertise job openings is Spanish-language radio, said J.J. Saldana, community resource development specialist at the Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs.
“A lot of businesses have the radio on all the time,” he said.
Griffin, of Idaho Power, said her department is well represented at job fairs that target minorities of all sorts. Idaho Power, which has 2,000 employees, posts job openings with organizations that target minority groups, and is active in educational programs starting in elementary school. She said it’s also important to talk to parents about the benefits of higher education and a career.
“That might not result in getting us a candidate today, but they are going to think of us five years down the road,” she said.
Griffin recently heard from the Mexican consulate that it was looking for sponsors for events they’re doing in 2017 to educate the community about Latino culture.
“I’ve got that before our corporate communication council to look at,” she said. “Wherever we can get involved and show support and talk to people, I think that can make a difference.”