Spanish 101 for the Dow Smith Team

Jake Wolf leads Dow Smith Company employees in Spanish lessons.

Jake Wolf leads Dow Smith Company employees in Spanish lessons.

Out of all industries in the U.S., construction has the highest percentage of employment that is Hispanic or Latino. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, nearly 30 percent of construction workers in America are Hispanic or Latino.  This can make communication difficult on job sites and during discussions about projects. 

Dow Smith Company is working on a solution.

Starting in the summer of 2019, more than a dozen Dow Smith team members and even some of their spouses have been participating in a 12-week Spanish class. Originally recommended by superintendent Erik House, the class meets every Monday afternoon. It focuses on key phrases and commands.

Company President Dow Smith said the class fits with the company’s purpose, mission and values.

“There is such a large percentage of the workforce on our construction sites where Spanish is the first language and we can do a much more effective job in communication, specifically with regard to housekeeping and safety, if we can talk to everyone in a way that they understand,” Smith said. “The number of Hispanic workers in the construction industry is growing and is going to continue to grow. We want to be part of the trends and changes.”

The Hispanic population of America is now more than 57 million, according U.S. Census data. That means the United States now has more Spanish speakers than Spain.

Jake Wolf, who teaches the class, started by teaching the Spanish words for tools such as hammers (martillos), nails (clavos), hardhat (casco) and drills (taladros). Then he moved on to the Spanish words for key people on a job site – manager (gerente), supervisor (supervisor or supervisora), painter (pintor or pintora) and electrician (electricista). In the third week, he taught verbs. And now, Dow Smith employees are able to construct sentences that are helpful in conversations with Hispanic workers. 

Wolf said it has been a lot like preparing someone who is going to visit a foreign country. There isn’t time to learn every word in the language, but knowing often-used phrases will make the experience more fulfilling. The great thing, Wolf said, is that the group gets to use the words and phrases immediately because they’re heading right back out to job sites.

“They have a lot of concerns about their job, making sure everyone is doing the right thing and being safe,” Wolf said. “They want to be able to communicate that.”

Wolf believes the class will give Dow Smith Company a competitive edge in the marketplace.

“To pull their supervisors out of the field and put them in a class once a week is going to benefit them in the long run,” Wolf said. “They’ll take the time to learn and they’ll be better for it. I think it gives them an advantage.”