Cultural and Language Barriers

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Cultural and Language Barriers
In the Workplace
Third in a Series of Workforce Development Board Position Papers on Barriers to Successful Employment in Charlotte-Mecklenburg
February, 2002
Barriers to Successful Employment in Charlotte-Mecklenburg
Cultural and Language Barriers in the Workplace
Position of the Workforce Development Board:
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Workforce Development Board (WDB) recognizes that foreign-born workers are increasingly becoming a vital part of the community and the local workforce. The influx of immigrants into the community has provided an opportunity for employers to fill positions, particularly in the construction, service and manufacturing industries. While many foreign-born workers have assimilated into the workforce, others are more challenged to overcome cultural and language barriers that exist.

The WDB believes that it is in the best interest of employers to better understand and help bridge the cultural and language divide as more foreign-born workers stream into the workforce. Being proactive in helping break down these barriers can:

Reduce costly, on-the-job accidents caused by workers not fully understanding safety rules or operational procedures;
Improve employers’ ability to recruit, hire and retain workers; and Increase workers’ productivity.
To help employers better understand language and cultural barriers in the workplace and what they can do to help their workers overcome them, the WDB has developed this position paper as part of a series of papers on barriers to successful employment in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. It provides an overview of: 1) The demographic shifts in the workforce;

2) Common language and cultural barriers;
3) Ways in which employers can help bridge the language and cultural divide; and 4) Examples of local companies that have implemented business practices that address language and cultural barriers in the workplace.

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Barriers to Successful Employment in Charlotte-Mecklenburg
2
Cultural and Language Barriers in the Workplace
Prepared by Carol Morris, Planning Consultant,
for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Workforce Development Board
Introduction
Like other metropolitan areas around the country, Charlotte-Mecklenburg has experienced significant increases in foreign-born residents and workers over the last decade. In 1990, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that approximately 3.5% of Mecklenburg County’s population was foreign-born, or around 18,000 people. While official 2000 Census data on the foreign-born population will not be released until late 2002, preliminary Census information reveals a 162% increase in Mecklenburg County’s Asian population between 1990 and 2000 and a 570% increase in the Hispanic/Latino population. Together, these two population segments accounted for more than one-quarter (28.2%) of the county’s overall population growth during the decade. Immigrants from other regions of the world are also rising in number, further diversifying Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s population. According to the 2000 Census, approximately 21,000 non- Hispanic or Asian immigrants were living in Mecklenburg County in 2000. Charlotte- Mecklenburg Schools reports that over 84 languages are now spoken within the international student population.

The Census Bureau projects we will continue to see increases in our foreign-born population over the next several decades, particularly Hispanic/Latino residents. The number of new Hispanic residents is expected to increase at a rate of 10 million people every 10 years nationwide. According to the Bureau, the western states will likely see the largest increases, followed by south and southeastern states. (North Carolina currently ranks 9th among all states in the number of Mexican-born residents.)

The influx of immigrants into Charlotte-Mecklenburg and the region has created an opportunity for local employers to help fill gaps in the labor market, particularly in the service, manufacturing and...
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