Demand growing for Spanish-speakers
Special for The Arizona Republic
May. 29, 2005
Claire Bush

Hispanics will make up 51 percent of Arizona's population by 2025, according to demographic research by Arizona State University.

The influx of Spanish-speaking residents, coupled with a growing global economy, means that demand for bilingual employees has never been higher, career advisers say.

According to Phoenix College's custom training and Education Department director, Anna Lopez, Arizona employers who require Spanish-speaking workers are definitely on the rise, especially in health care and law. Lopez conducts Spanish-language classes tailored to specific workforce groups around the Valley.

Changing jargon

"In law enforcement, the jargon is always changing," Lopez said. "Police officers need to know street Spanish, whereas paralegals, attorneys and legal secretaries need to be familiar with Spanish legal terminology."

Spanish-speaking employees also are needed in the women's health field, according to Lopez.

"Hispanic women who are new to the United States are often apprehensive about medical procedures, especially during pregnancy, which is usually not supervised medically in Mexico. Prenatal care is a new experience for them, and often frightening," Lopez said. "Having a doctor, nurse or even a receptionist who can explain procedures and what to expect can make all the difference in the level of care provided to these patients."

Hospitals, nursing homes and doctor's offices statewide are requiring more bilingual workers, according to Cindy Lee, administrative director of Staffing Partners, a temporary-placement service for nursing personnel.

"Spanish-speaking health care employees are at a premium," Lee said.

"Bilingual workers, especially those who understand Hispanic culture, can communicate much more easily with patients," Lee said.

Ronni Anderson of Staff One Search, an administrative and management placement firm in Phoenix, fills job orders from employers who are willing to pay a higher hourly wage for bilingual employees.

"Across the board, we're seeing an increased demand for Spanish speakers," Anderson said, adding that construction companies are now requesting more bilingual employees. "Many workers in the construction industry are Hispanic, and if we can find a project manager or office administrator who speaks Spanish, they can keep the lines of communication open."

In a construction office or job site, an employee who speaks Spanish can act as interpreter between management and labor, she said.

"Eliminating the language barrier solves problems before they begin," she said.

"We've just joined the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, in order to tap into the Spanish-speaking market for our employees who are bilingual."

Learn basic Spanish

Sheila Lehker of Right Management Consultants, an organizational consulting firm, said that senior-level executives who are seeking jobs might do well to consider picking up some basic Spanish.

"It will definitely give them an edge," Lehker said. "Employers who are looking at two candidates who have equal skillsets and backgrounds will choose the one who is bilingual."

Employers today "are becoming increasingly global," according to Lehker. "Technology, including the Internet, has given companies much more exposure on a worldwide basis."

Even a minimal knowledge of a second language can be helpful, whether an employee is seeking to change jobs or maximize his or her present position, Lehker added.

"Busy executives who don't have time to take a foreign-language class can listen to audio tapes or CDs in the car," she said.

Employees proficient in languages other than Spanish are also in demand. Since Sept. 11, 2001, government agencies are seeking workers who can speak Middle Eastern languages, and an increase of residents into Arizona from the Far East has boosted demand for employees who can speak Asian languages.

Higher salaries

Besides being more employable, bilingual employees command higher salaries as well. According to, a joint survey commissioned by the Florida Department of Education and the University of Miami showed that bilingual, Spanish-speaking employees earned $7,000 more per year than co-workers who spoke only English.

Not all second-language skills are verbal. American Sign Language interpreters are also needed by Arizona's deaf community, according to Helen Young, owner of Freelance Interpreting Service. Certified sign language interpreters charge $40 to $60 per hour to interpret for hearing-impaired individuals in courts, hospitals, nursing homes and schools.