Business Monday

CEO Roundtable: Are Spanish skills necessary to succeed in the workplace?

ADES
ADES

The question: Miami is one of the most bilingual cities in the country. But some local education experts say many graduates of Miami-Dade public schools aren’t learning to read and write Spanish at the high level necessary to conduct business. Do you find locals have the Spanish skills needed to succeed in the workplace? Or do you hire native Spanish speakers if you need to do business with Latin America?

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Unfortunately, I do not have experience to comment on this question!

Daniel Ades, managing partner, Kawa Capital Management

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In the communications business, we need not only exceptional verbal but also written Spanish skills, and there is definitely a gap in talent able to deliver at this required level.

Christine Barney, CEO, RBB Communications

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I grew up in a bilingual home, speaking English and Spanish, and learned to read and write Spanish, as well. This is not the trend today. Many graduate students from bilingual homes in South Florida, though they may speak fluent Spanish, are not learning enough to the level to be able to write a business letter in Spanish — something that is required if they plan to work for a company that deals with Latin America.

Richard Behar, founder and CEO, Capitol Clothing Corp.

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I think that in the United States we need to speak English, and Spanish is important as a second language. I try to hire the best person for the job and if a job requires Spanish, we figure it out by working in teams. It's important to keep Spanish in the schools and to encourage the local community and the kids, many of whom have a Hispanic heritage, not to lose their language skills and continue adding to them. As Miami becomes even more global, we need to embrace a multilingual culture.

Alice Cervera Lamadrid, managing partner, Cervera Real Estate

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Every child in Miami starting in pre-K should be in a bilingual immersion program as a standard of English and Spanish with a choice of a third language (Arabic, French, Russian, German, Portuguese, or Chinese/Mandarin). Language development is necessary for businesses and as we grow into an increasing global economy. Miami should take the first step to lead the nation, as we lead in diversity and new business growth already. Spanish natives also need to learn Spanish grammar just as English natives need English class.

Pandwe Gibson, executive director, EcoTech Visions

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I have not encountered this as a problem, but I do see school graduates lacking proper English and general communications skills.

Julie Grimes, managing partner, Hilton Bentley Hotel

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I agree with the district. I would love to see a more robust foreign language program in our schools.

Felecia Hatcher, co-founder of Feverish Gourmet Pops

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I do not believe that our students are learning to read and write Spanish at a business level in our public schools. However, I don’t expect them to be teaching it at that level, but rather, I believe it is at the college and university level that we can and should have those expectations. Before placing any candidate in a position that requires a foreign language, we test for proficiency and level of expertise. Many people say that they are bilingual when what they really mean is that they are conversational in a language. That is fine for some positions but certainly NOT for all. Before sending someone to do business in Latin America, we would definitely test for Spanish and English oral and written skills.

Ann Machado, founder and president, Creative Staffing

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We find local Spanish speakers have sufficient, even excellent, Spanish-language skills.

Victor Mendelson, co-president, HEICO

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We don’t do direct business in Latin America, but it’s still critical that we have bilingual team members. We find the level of education in our public schools to continue to improve year after year and have not experienced any hiring issues.

Nitin Motwani, managing principal, Miami Worldcenter Associates

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I often recruit talent that speak multiple languages, especially Spanish, to communicate with our guests. If our schools aren't able to properly teach languages, we'll make sure our staff is trained. We do this with management training as well. I'm a big proponent of continuing education of all kinds. You never stop learning.

Abe Ng, founder and CEO of Sushi Maki

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I think it is rare to have a sophisticated level of fluency to conduct business without having lived in a country that primarily speaks the language.

Todd Oretsky, co-founder, Pipeline Brickell

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I realize that much of this debate in Miami centers on Spanish, but knowing two or more languages is a must for today’s successful leaders. In this region, Spanish is important, but so is Portuguese, French and even Mandarin. Our workforce at Miami-Dade is reflective of our community and our need to encourage multilingualism and global citizenship.

Eduardo Padrón, president, Miami Dade College

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It’s never been a problem for me to find and hire bilingual employees when needed, but I recognize that this is an important issue. As the mother of a daughter in the Miami-Dade public school system, I definitely think more can be done to ensure that local kids graduate with the skills needed to communicate effectively — in English and Spanish — in the business world.

Joanna Schwartz, CEO and co-founder, EarlyShares

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This has not been problem for us. Our Dade County staff is proficient in both English and Spanish.

Dave Seleski, president and CEO, Stonegate Bank

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I believe locals have the prerequisite skills, but they certainly can be enhanced. Corporate Miami also needs to facilitate the appropriate skills enhancement resources for worthy employees. For the business we have done with those from Latin and South America, our Spanish-speaking professionals have done very well.

Darryl K. Sharpton, president and CEO, The Sharpton Group

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Language skills are a great asset everywhere in customer service industries and especially in Miami, with our diverse population and great international links. We encourage language skills, see it as an asset in an applicant and specify bilingual skills for front-of-house staff. It's more than just the language; it's also understanding different cultures and making everyone feel welcome, so it's more a frame of mind than a skill level. I think Miami is exceptional in the range and quality of people's language skills and openness to diversity.

Gillian Thomas, president and CEO, Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science

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The public school system is capped enough that children are only receiving a half-hour for lunch. We want to provide the best opportunities and learning experience for our youth, but as our youth continues to grow and identify a path of what they want to do in life, I believe they should take that initiative. If they want to be in the international-business world, they should pursue different languages and skills that will help them grow in their chosen career.

Paco Velez, CEO, Feeding South Florida

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Our employees interact with more than 18 countries on a daily basis; our expansion abroad shows us that our employees are communicating at a highly effective level in the languages necessary. Technology has rapidly changed the way we communicate with each other. With so many modes of communication available — email, text, social media, etc. — knowing which method to use and how to make specific adjustments is challenging and can often be a source of misunderstanding if you’re not careful.

Alina Villasante, founder, Peace Love World clothing

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From my experience, whether locals have the Spanish skills needed to conduct business with Latin America depends on their background, then education. Those raised in Spanish-speaking households typically do (background), while non-Hispanics or third-generation Hispanics typically cannot do so effectively without proper training.

Marlon Williams, founder and CEO, Fenero

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If a company does a significant amount of business in Latin American countries, it makes sense to staff up with mostly bilingual employees. For our company, high-level written and oral communication skills in English are more critical to conducting business in South Florida. For us, the ability to conduct business in Spanish is more of a bonus than a necessity. We’d like to see Miami-Dade public schools produce more-proficient English readers and writers, first and foremost. Excellent communication skills in English are still the foundation for doing business in South Florida and the rest of the country.

John Wood, president, Amicon Construction

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