The construction industry is diverse. In 2020, 30% of construction workers were Hispanic, a large amount considering Hispanic workers make up only 17.6% of the total workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But with that diversity also comes one of the largest language barriers. A report shows the construction industry has the largest gap between skilled workers who speak a language other than English and the number of managers that can communicate with them. The gap is only expected to widen in the coming years. Construction companies need to take steps now to figure out how to effectively communicate with their non-English-speaking employees, specifically their Spanish-speaking employees. If they don’t, communication issues could arise that affect safety and make staffing even more difficult. 


Connect with non-English-speaking workers with training, using “migrant-friendly” English and having HR software that’s available in other languages. 

Offer Training 

Training managers to speak languages other than English, like Spanish, seems like a great idea. Yet the key to training is not to make managers or supervisors fluent in another language, but to break down some language barriers. For example, ClickSafety offers an online training session called “Communicating with Spanish-Speaking Workers for Construction” that doesn’t intend to teach Spanish as a foreign language but highlights common communication pitfalls. The training teaches work phrases and topics used by OSHA safety and health regulations for construction. The focus on teaching these specific phrases helps supervisors effectively communicate while mitigating risk. The result of the training helps participants learn to work better with Spanish-speaking employees to help maintain safe working environment.  

Construction companies that use training to focus on bridging gaps, instead of expecting full fluency, can improve communication and make their work environments safer quickly. And the training goes both ways. Simple online training sessions can teach non-English-speaking workers useful phrases they can use on the job. 

Use “Migrant-Friendly” English 

Communication is at the forefront of safety on a jobsite. Aside from warning workers about potential risks and hazards, site orientation and toolbox talks set the stage for a safe working environment. Using migrant-friendly English during orientation and toolbox talks is a way to break down barriers. 

Migrant-friendly English avoids verbs such as “take out” and “blow up” and replaces them with “remove” and “explode,” as Latin-based words are more common to a wide range of languages, especially Spanish, according to an article in Construction Executive. In fact, a version of the word “explode” exists in 17 different European languages. Migrant-friendly English avoids contractions such as can’t and don’t, using cannot and do not instead. It’s also 30% slower than native-speaker speech and composed of short sentences. 

Migrant-friendly English can be used to: 

  • Adopt a best practice language system at work that’s used in safety information and instruction. 
  • Teach English terms for construction hazards to migrant workers.  

And adopting migrant-friendly English is something that can be also done quickly to communicate at work.   

Implement HR Software that Offers Translations 

Effectively communicating with your employees goes beyond speaking. The tools they use every day on the job should be available in their language as well. HR software, like an applicant tracking system, learning management system and time tracking, needs to be available in Spanish and in French for companies in Canada. Using software that can communicate in their native language with your employees can keep you compliant and your workers engaged and informed. 

For example, a time tracking app tracks the number of hours your employees work, ensuring compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act. But what’s more, apps like ExakTime, also ask employees if they received meal breaks or were hurt on the job, allowing companies to get ahead of workers compensation claims or labor violations. It can also be used to send ad hoc or scheduled messages that can be automatically translated into Spanish or French. Being able to connect with all workers, no matter if they speak Spanish or French, helps ensure compliance is being met. 

Bilingual workers are a great resource for construction companies, especially in a time of labor shortages. Taking steps to reach them in their own language can not only make your job sites safer but can also aid in compliance via recruiting, onboarding and training software that speaks their language. Providing work materials in their first language will help non-English-speaking workers feel like part of your company and keep them safe on the job site. 

Download the ExakTime Mobile App datasheet to learn more about how ExakTime can benefit every member of your staff. 

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