How powerless do you feel when you cannot read or understand what goes on around you?

Surely this will not come as news to you, but recruiting and keeping skilled labor continues to be one of the greatest challenges for the roofing industry. Over the past decade there has been a continuing shift to a Hispanic workforce - not just in border states or in large cities, but everywhere in this country.

In a business where profits go to those who can produce the work, and in an economy poised for growth, would this not be a good time to learn how to speak and understand Spanish? Roofing contractors who can speak and understand the language may find themselves with a very interesting edge.

Why bother? This editorial was written in Spanish for our print edition, to illustrate the point. Knowledge, as you know, is power. How powerless do you feel when you cannot read or understand what goes on around you? Now consider how a roofer or potential roofer who speaks little or no English feels.

What happens frequently is that the non-English speaking roofers find themselves subservient to other English-speaking Hispanics who, in essence, are in direct control of the training and work assignments they ultimately receive. Unfortunately this may not be one of your trusted supervisory personnel, but just someone in a position to take advantage of you and/or the non-English speaking workers.

How would it change your workers' perspective if you were speaking with them directly in their own language? In my estimation, with the knowledge of their language, the power shifts in your direction. Not only that, the level of trust between you and your workers is elevated considerably. The fact that you honor their native language makes a statement, especially to potential roofers.

For your business to succeed, you need reliable, well-trained crews. For workers who migrate to this country to succeed, they need to learn a trade and they need to learn our language. Roofing contractors are in a unique position to profit from this partnership. You can greatly enhance your prospects by meeting these workers "where they are" as opposed to just "working around" the language barriers.

If you are in a position to take advantage of this opportunity, set a course to learn at least some basic conversational Spanish. You can take a course in Spanish at your local community or technical college. You can do a Web search or travel to your local library and find a wide variety of learning resources. Set your key people up with some learning tools as well. You may even want to make a company-wide effort and invite some of your English-speaking Hispanic employees to teach. And while you are at it, set up your Spanish-speaking people with some English lessons. Their growth in your firm and in their life in this country will benefit from that as well.

Do these things and your roofing company will become known as a great place to work. In an emerging economy, that may translate into pure gold.