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Including a Multilingual Frontline Workforce


Muriel Clauson

In the December+January Anthill Community Series, we delved into ways to effectively include speakers of other languages in workplaces and programs. Anthill's CEO, Muriel Clauson Closs, PhD, and the Anthill Research Team led by Young Jae Kim, PhD, and Fatima Esam Osman, guided the discussion, exploring strategies that organizations can apply today to better support a multilingual workforce.

The main question was: How can individuals from different language backgrounds thrive in predominantly English-speaking environments? The focus was on creating an environment where individuals feel they can be successful, from onboarding to daily tasks, training, and transportation.

To ensure these individuals can be successful requires a thoughtful approach. Based on survey responses and focus groups with a multilingual workforce sample, we outlined five recommendation to enhance the experience and success of multilingual team members:

  • Get Feedback: Make it possible for individuals to share unique perspectives and insights. Ask them what makes it challenging to be successful at your organization. Allow them to answer in their preferred language and privately with translation tools.
  • Recognize Value: Appreciate the contributions of your multilingual workforce, acknowledging that many speakers of other languages have credentials from their home country that they don’t get to use in their current role.
  • Ensure Safety: Prioritizing a safe and comfortable workspace, recognizing that this workforce is more likely to face less safe working conditions and less access to safety training due to language barriers.
  • Offer Help: Providing assistance in navigating day-to-day challenges that are made harder due to language barriers, like changing a shift or asking where to go on the first day.
  • Enable Growth: Establishing avenues for professional development within the organization including ways to learn key skills in a preferred language or to learn English on the job.

Participants walked away with four key strategies to better reach and include a multilingual workforce:

  • Help People Find You: The survey research demonstrated the most common place speakers of other languages look for career opportunities are Religious Centers, Fire/Police Stations, Community Centers, Refugee Resettlement Agencies, and Goodwill/Salvation Army Centers.
  • Remove Barriers: Ask your workforce or program participants about the challenges they face to be a part of your organization. Examples shared in the discussion, such as the schedule of public transit conflicting with start times, are often things we have simple solutions for if we know what needs solving.
  • Make it Easy to Get Help: Whether you do it in a simple or more robust way, look for opportunities to translate any complex material that you can like eligibility requirements or benefits enrollment. Technology is an incredible tool to bridge language barriers.
  • Offer Career Advancement: Invest in developing both job skills and language skills. Speakers of other languages are more likely to be underemployed than their peers and reported development opportunities as a main reason they would choose an employer or program.

Thank you to everyone who joined the December+January Anthill Community Series. As a reminder our next series will take place in February with the topic “The Economic Case for Including a Multilingual Workforce.” We look forward to seeing you there!


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