Originally published: 06.01.07 by Theo Etzel
The country's growing Hispanic population can provide enthusiastic, skilled employees if companies properly address challenges.
Growing a company to serve an expanding area or market is a challenge considering the industry's employment pool. Conditioned Air faced this when we began expanding some 12 years ago from 27 people to the current staff of 120. It took about 10 years to get there. But just as the general population make-up changed during those 10 years, so did the ethnic mix of our employees. It takes great people to make a great company. We have found that iverse backgrounds bring a rich mix of talents, attitudes, and opportunities to serve multiple markets within our greater metropolitan market.
This concept is not new. The United States was founded, built, and served by many who came from other countries and cultures. Our employee population is a reflection of the changing ethnic mix in southwest Florida and many other parts of the country. Above all, the person — regardless of their birthplace and native language — must be the best for the position available. Positive attitude, a willingness to learn, and perseverance are attributes we look for in all our employees.
Southwest Florida is now home to many people relocated from other countries. A large portion of this influx has come from South America, Mexico, and Cuba. (We often hear and use the term "Latino" or "Hispanic" to refer to Spanish-speaking people. While there are definitive distinctions in these terms based on origins, the connotation of the word "Hispanic" in the United States is someone from a Spanish-speaking country, be it Spain or one of the Central American or South American countries.)
It was an intentional decision for us to grow our company. To do so, we needed to reach out to a broad range of people to fill positions as they became available. The growing Hispanic population in our area was a natural fit. We took for granted some things that needed extra attention.
For example, a language barrier needed to be addressed. Being able to speak, read, and write English (for those of you from Britain, I realize that I don't really speak the King's English) is very important to fit into our society. Our customers demand that our employees speak English. And there are safety concerns for following instructions. And so, the ability to speak the common language of our country and company is mandatory. We encourage and help any employee to get into a literacy program, often staffed and run by volunteers.
We support the programs financially because they make such a positive impact on our employees and the community. The employees gain self confidence; and opportunities for advancement and further education become available after learning English.
Documented Versus Undocumented Status
You have probably heard of this headline topic regarding immigrants: documented versus undocumented status as an employee. I take this issue very seriously. We run full background checks on everyone applying for employment at Conditioned Air regardless of ethnicity. This is routine with us, and for many reasons is smart to do in all cases. We even run authenticity checks for Social Security numbers and are quick to inform the applicant if there is a problem with the number because identity fraud is on the rise. Also, there is a moral obligation on the part of any employer to do the right thing; not only for the country but for the potential employee.
As a society, we have come a long way from using indentured servants to outlawing that practice. An employer that can hold deportation over the head of an undocumented worker is creating an indentured-servant situation unacceptable by today's standards. Employers have the obligation to minimize the exposure of hiring undocumented immigrants. Even if the employer is collecting all appropriate taxes, the undocumented employee will never get benefit of, say, Social Security, because it will never be paid out. Making a sincere, legitimate effort to perform a meaningful background check is the proper way to approach this issue.
Doing the minimum the government demands is not enough. Going beyond the minimum helps to ensure proper documentation on all employees.
Conditioned Air conducts a background check by:
- Making sure an employee has signed the back of the employment application, signifying that he or she has consented to having a background check done.
- Copying an applicant's driver's license and Social Security card.
- Logging on to Web site www.employment.screennow.com, one of many companies that provide employee-screening services. (ScreenNow, created and maintained by ChoicePoint, is an online pre-employment screening service used by HR professionals and hiring managers. All business practices are FCRA (Federal Credit Reporting Act) compliant.
- Checking for sexual-predator offenses, Social Security verification, motor vehicle records, and national criminal files. We input personal information such as name, address, Social Security number, birth date, and driver's license number.
- We receive a response on most of the information immediately. Sexual-predator offenses can take up to 24 hours.
- The report verifies that the Social Security number has been validated as being issued in whatever state it was issued in and matches to the applicant's name; indicates whether any records of state sexual- offender cases have been found; gives current driving record; and tells you of any criminal activity the applicant has on a criminal record.
- Any indiscretions are given to the COO, and he talks with the departmental manager regarding those specific issues.
- We will not hire someone due to offenses reported in their motor-vehicle record, sexual-predator files, or for any other criminal activity. If the Social Security number cannot be validated or verified, we notify the employee, and it is up to them to handle the situation. With the increase in identity theft, this has proven valuable.
Sponsoring Employees For Citizenship
Helping a foreign-born person attain citizenship by sponsoring that person is another way a company can help the employee and at the same time gain a valuable worker for the company. A few years ago one of our dispatchers, Mary, got her citizenship here after emigrating from Ireland. It was an exciting day, and one we celebrated with her.
While we did not sponsor Mary (she's still with us today), we did sponsor Gerardo Velez from Colombia. We know him as Gerry. Gerry Velez came to Conditioned Air from Medellin, Colombia. He was employed by the nationally owned utility company as a technician. At 27, Gerry left his fiancé, Liliana, in Medellin and came to the United States in order to improve the quality of his life and prepare a home for Liliana.
Gerry came to Naples because his older brother lived here. Gerry began working in area restaurants, moving from dishwasher to line cook, to prep cook, to waiter. He contacted the Literacy Council of Bonita Springs for help in learning English. Judy Walker, a volunteer tutor with the council, worked with Gerry for two years, two evenings per week, until he had mastered the entire Laubach Way to Learning English series.
In May of 1996, Gerry began work with Conditioned Air as a trainee because he had no previous experience in HVAC. For three years he took classes at the vocational school in Fort Myers, Fla. He graduated and became a senior technician. At the same time, he earned his GED.
Gerry loves his job, his customers, and his co-workers. He explains his feelings this way: "Everyday is different, and I learn something new all the time. I am a positive person, and I feel good about the work I do. I plan on staying with Conditioned Air until I retire." Gerry also is a member of RSES and one of our most complimented technicians. His drive to overcome obstacles and constantly improve his skills is a motivator for others.
If you want to sponsor an alien worker, you and the alien worker have a multi-step process to go through.
- Obtain an approved Labor Certification Application from the U.S. Department of Labor.
- File an Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker.
- Wait for approval for your petition, and prove your employer — employee relationship and the alien worker's qualifications match. Once that is proven, the alien worker gets a place in line among others waiting. Once his or her place in line is reached, he or she might be able to apply to immigrate.
- The waiting time to immigrate depends on the number of alien workers wanting to immigrate.
- For more information, visit www.uscis.gov.
Today we employ many people that came to this country looking for a better life. They fill many positions from the field to supervisory to administrative. The ability to speak fluently in at least two languages is a big plus in the marketplace in which we operate.
Conditioned Air would not be the company it is today without the dedication and hard work from all our employees but especially our foreign-born employees who have overcome many hurdles that I, for one, sometimes take for granted. Our diverse employee base makes our company a richer fabric of people and traditions. We have many backgrounds coming together to make the single face of Conditioned Air. We don't allow cultures to collide here; rather, they meld together to create the culture of our company and keep us true to our mission.
Emerson Scholarship Supports Hispanic Marketing Studies
Emerson Climate Technologies is offering a scholarship at Florida State University's Center for Hispanic Marketing Communication for select students pursuing careers in this field. With Emerson's input, Florida State faculty will choose one recipient of the scholarship per semester for six semesters. Emerson's total donation is $15,000.
Tom Bettcher, business unit leader of Emerson Climate Technologies presented the donation to Felipe Korzenny, Ph.D., director of the Center for Hispanic Marketing Communication at Florida State University, in April at a summit for executives. At the event, Korzenny spoke about the trends of U.S. Hispanic population growth, and more specifically, opportunities for marketing to the growing Latino business community. The summit brought in business leaders from across the hvacr industry, including contractors, wholesalers, original equipment manufacturers, and major retail end-users.
"We're serving an increasing number of Latino customers, so it's important that we bolster our labor force with workers who really understand this market," said Larry Taylor, president of AirRite Air Conditioning Co., Inc. in Ft. Worth, Texas. "I'm happy to see Emerson Climate Technologies taking the lead to ensure that our industry has a pool of new talent, so that we can take advantage of the growth opportunities this population represents."
Theo Etzel is the CEO of Naples, Fla.-based Conditioned Air. He is a seasoned business executive and passionate entrepreneur who believes in providing the highest level of customer care, services and products to his clients. For additional information, visit www.conditionedair.com.