While many of you are being told that the changing labor pool will force you into learning how to deal with "diversity" -- the new buzzword for workers who aren't white, male, and English-speaking -- Herb Prokscha has built a diverse work force by choice. Owner of La Romagnola, a $5-million pasta maker based in Winter Park, Fla., Prokscha has hired two-thirds of his 30 production workers through the Catholic Refugee Service in Orlando. The employees are Vietnamese, Puerto Rican, Romanian, and Bulgarian.
In one sense, of course, those workers are actually a homogeneous lot: they're all refugees. But their cultural differences make La Romagnola a good case study on how to handle --
Language barriers. On a day-to-day basis, this problem may not be as difficult as it sounds. After an initial interview, in which the job and the company's benefits are explained -- with the help of a translator, if necessary -- Peter Fuchs, La Romagnola's production manager, trains new employees by demonstration.
Natural ethnic groupings within a company. New hires at La Romagnola start at the least desirable jobs and move into other areas as they develop new skills. Recognize that immigrants, especially if they don't speak English well, may gravitate toward others in their same ethnic group. The advantage: a strong sense of teamwork develops.
Changing performance. Language barriers are a huge obstacle here. Don't hesitate to call for help. La Romagnola asks one of the Catholic Refugee Service's translators to come in for special sessions with employees. Fuchs also enlists help from the unofficial team leader -- usually the employee who speaks the most English.
Raising awareness. Seek out opportunities to promote understanding of different cultures. Because most of La Romagnola's work force is not from the United States, says Prokscha, employees are already sensitive to cultural differences. Rather than publishing an employee newsletter or inviting speakers to raise awareness of cultural variety, Prokscha tries to meet individual needs, such as helping employees schedule their work hours around English classes.
Among the free services provided by the Catholic Refugee Service are preemployment orientation, screening, on-site translation and training, and follow-up. To find the Catholic Social Services agency closest to you, call the United States Catholic Conference (212-614-1250 ). -- Ellyn E. Spragins