Our business has been supported by Latin labor for as long as I can remember, and that’s a long time. Many of the Latinos I’ve worked with have become dear friends and trusted colleagues. I’m sure one of the reasons for this is I’ve tried to understand my friends and their cultures.
Start with the Latin work ethic. All you must know is their backstories and how hard they toiled to get to the United States to earn a living to understand how dedicated they are.
As a superintendent in Miami during the 1980s, I saw people float across the Gulf of Mexico from Central America and Cuba, desperate to get to the United States. When I worked in golf course maintenance in Texas, helicopters with immigration officers landed on the course to round up my workers. It’s gut-wrenching to watch, but it taught me about the perseverance of the culture.
Courses throughout the country are facing a significant shortage of workers. I believe we should embrace Latin labor more now than ever. But if you’re going to do so, do yourself — and them — a favor and come to understand their needs, culture and language.
In researching this column, I asked a number of my Latin friends what we can do to make them feel welcome and comfortable. First and foremost, I was told that we should be aware of what the Latin individual is looking for in employment — and in life.
Like everyone else, they want a job that pays fairly for the work done. Also, like everyone else, they want to be treated like human beings. That means being curious and attentive about who they are. Ask about their backgrounds and whether they have experience, on a golf course or in areas that are related, like agriculture, landscaping and construction.
It also means providing a welcoming workspace. Act like “el maestro” — the teacher — rather than “el jefe,” or the boss. Bosses simply put workers out on the course doing the same tasks day after day with no chance to learn, improve and get ahead. Teachers are interested in their workers’ welfare, their lives and their opportunities.
Start with communication. Learn Spanish. And not just “Como te llamas?” or “Cinco de Mayo.” Learn as much grammar as you can, as well as some slang and the differences in dialects. And listen closely: You’ll quickly pick up the difference between formal speech and jargon, which may help you identify the more accomplished or skilled people.
I made language education a two-way street. I said, “When you speak to me, speak only in Spanish so I can learn. When I speak to you, I will speak in English so you can learn.” Saying “cómo se dice” (how do you say?) goes a long way in acquiring a better vocabulary, as well as earn trust.
If you have a jobs or assignment board, present the information in English and Spanish. Do the same with equipment manuals, job descriptions and course standards. Superintendents who’ve made a diligent effort to speak with their staff in their native tongue have been rewarded with a workforce that’s dependable, dedicated and stayed for decades.
Do all you can to learn the different Latin cultures, which vary from country to country. But some lessons are universal, starting with not raising your voice to Latin staff. This rarely works well with anyone but is particularly true in the Latin culture where embarrassing someone — especially publicly — will cause you to lose their respect and never regain it. If you need to make a point and don’t have the language skills to do so, find a trusted, bilingual staff member who can explain on your behalf the importance of what you’re saying.
Latins are hard workers and proud of what they do. Watch closely and many of them will impress you with their skills and leadership qualities. Offer to help them get more training and education. The rewards that come back to you will go far beyond the golf course.
Jobs are valuable to this labor pool, and they can recruit for you. It shouldn’t be hard to identify “el/la lider” (leader) who can enlist new workers or supervise fellow crew members.
Become familiar with the cultural needs and tastes of the Latin people. If there are televisions in the break area, tune them to “el partido de futbol,” Telemundo or one of the other Spanish stations.
Latins pay close attention to job benefits as they feel strongly about providing for their families. If your course provides benefits — no matter how small — be consistent across the staff. Also be consistent with pay, offering a fair, competitive hourly rate to everyone. If you’re unfair with pay, word will spread like wildfire and you’ll lose your workforce.
Learn which holidays and traditions are important and talk with your team before setting schedules. For example, Latins celebrate Christmas on December 24, also known as Nochebuena, which is a bigger deal to them than Christmas Day. Don’t take it for granted that your Latin staff can be there, especially when you won’t be. They’ll have family plans just like you have family plans.
Observing and respecting their culture will win their loyalty and will be repaid over time.
All Latins are a proud people who can contribute to your efforts. Golf represents an opportunity to earn a steady living. Embracing and welcoming the Latin population will help them and you. For many, working on a golf course is an important step toward a better life. Remember, we are all human beings (el ser humanos). ¡Gracias mis amigos!