INVESTING IN TOMORROW’S LATINO WORKFORCE
A Commentary By Jim Estrada
Throughout our nation’s history, the work ethic is a characteristic many of us have come to appreciate. It is a trait that has been rewarded in almost every facet of our society – classrooms, playing fields and workplaces. It is a major factor in an individual’s potential to succeed in our society – one that is understood and exemplified by the fastest growing segment of Texas’ labor force: Latinos.
Numerous studies underscore the importance of Latino workers to the state’s economic health. In 2006, they represented 13.6 percent of the nation’s workforce, yet accounted for 36.7 percent of employment growth. From 2000 to 2010 Latinos had the highest U.S. workforce participation rate (68-to-70 percent) of any group 16 years of age and older. Based on this rate of participation they are expected to continue leading the nation in this category well into the 21st century. This is particularly true in Texas where they are now 12.2 million (37.6 percent) of the state’s population.
Latinos have driven much of the blue collar and vocational job growth, particularly in the construction industry where they have developed special skills and trustworthiness. Their expertise and attendant efficiencies in construction have resulted in increased profits for many industry entrepreneurs. A number of these tradesmen have been unauthorized workers; but their numbers are expected to decline in the next few years as the anti-immigration debate continues to heat-up. Many analysts feel undocumented workers – along with our nation’s current recession – will continue their declines and result in a void of journeymen craftsmen.
Who will replace these specialized workers?
By 2005, the Associated Press reported the nation was moving in the direction of its two most populous states: California and Texas, home to 50 percent of the U.S. Hispanic population that now exceeds 50 million. By the beginning of the new decade, Latinos had already reached a “tipping point” in numbers and percentages of population in key metropolitan areas, among them:
• Houston (2.06M/34.5%)
• Dallas/Ft. Worth (1.75M/25.9%)
• San Antonio (1.25M/54.6%)
• Brownsville/Harlingen/McAllen (1.15M/96.7%)
• El Paso [w/Las Cruces, NM] (.81M/85%)
• Austin (.27M/35.1%)
Latinos accounted for almost two thirds (65 percent) of the population growth in Texas from 2000 to 2010. State officials project that between 2000 and 2040, non-Hispanic whites (NHW) would increase by only four-to-12 percent, non-Hispanic blacks (NHB) by 40-to-70 percent and Latinos from between 180-to-350 percent, the latter becoming 50-to-60 percent of the Lone Star state’s population.
These numbers dictate that attention to the Latino community by private, public and nonprofit sectors cannot be limited solely to demographic growth or consumer buying power. They must also consider Latino culture and aspirations in their employment recruitment initiatives if they wish to effectively communicate to, engage with, and retain members of fastest growing consumer, student, taxpayer, voter and workforce segments in Texas.
If the construction industry is to meet the growth demands of the future, it must involve itself in the preparation of tomorrow’s workforce, which appears to be increasingly Latino. In the long term it will require collaboration with local and state educational institutions to ensure students and potential employees are taught basic workplace skills; in the near term, it will necessitate interaction with workforce development organizations that provide culturally relevant, specialized vocational education and remedial training in areas such as language and arithmetic literacy to those wishing to enter the building trades.
Historically, perceptions of – and attitudes towards – Latinos in Texas have been less than positive but have not dissuaded them from seeking employment, getting hired and making social and economic progress. Despite social barriers, low levels of education and increased competition for jobs, Latinos continue to be employed at higher rates than their non-Hispanics peers – while without much fanfare, entering the ranks of the middle class.
“Constructive Notice” is an obscure legal term meaning people are expected to have knowledge of an issue by virtue of the fact that it is part of the public record. It implies that someone cannot deny knowledge of facts about which they have a responsibility to inquire and learn. To that end, the construction industry has a vested interest in helping to develop a competent, well-trained workforce. Therefore, it behooves them to seek out mutually benefitting relationships with other businesses, corporations, educational institutions, government/public officials and industry associations who can help them attain a common goal: Texans helping Texans to succeed.
Jim Estrada is a principal in Estrada Communications Group in Austin, TX. The former TV news reporter and corporate executive specializes in Hispanic Marketing and Corporate-Community Relations. He attended San Diego State University, Boston College, and The Harvard School of Business. His essays can be viewed online at: http://jimestrada.posterous.com and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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