Bilingual workers in high demand

Businesses adapt to changing work force demographics

By Mike Hoeft Gannett Wisconsin Newspapers

It's common to see signs now at area businesses saying "Hablamos Espanol."
More local companies are hiring bilingual staff to accommodate the influx of new residents who speak Spanish, Hmong and other languages.
But it goes beyond that. As the nation's demographics further evolve, companies also have to have bilingual employees to tap new markets.
Thriven Financial for Lutherans in Appleton, for example, has bilingual employees and outsources to a service that has access to an international pool of translators.
"It makes sense for us to outsource that service," said Stacy Eckes-Borys, spokeswoman for Thrivent, regarding the outsourcing of translation services. She said there have been instances where Thrivent's call center has taken calls from individuals who were fluent in Spanish or an Asian dialect but not in English.
"We even had an instance where someone who called in and spoke Hungarian," Eckes-Borys said.
She said as the Lutheran church expands its ministry, it will become more crucial for Thrivent to hire bilingual employees. Thrivent has a Spanish-speaking financial advisor based in Sheboygan and is on the look out for more.
"Our recruiters are working to find qualified candidates who are bilingual," Eckes-Borys said. "It certainly is a growing need, especially as the Lutheran ministry branches out."
Adalia Jansen, owner of United Translators, said there is a growing demand for verbal interpretation and written translations.
Since its beginning five years ago, United Translators has grown to serve 100 clients. It employs 10 full-time people in its offices in Green Bay and Appleton. About 150 people are on call who speak 50 languages.
Clients include schools, medical and legal offices and local governments and social services agencies, she said.
Tri Star Mortgage in Green Bay has three loan officers — Roselle Sanchez, Tanya Sushkova and Kia Vang — who speak Spanish, Russian, Ukrainian, Hmong and Laotian.
"We have an active plan to market to everyone," said Tri Star co-owner Tom Driscoll. "It's not as simple as translating. You need someone who knows what they're talking about."
Recka & Joannes Law Office has three employees — attorney Blia Vang and paralegals Charity Xiong and Victoria Adriana Talavera de Ruhl — to help clients who have difficulty speaking English.
"It's more than overcoming a language barrier, but a cultural barrier," said Vang, who received her law degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2005. Staff members work with clients to explain the rules and options under the American legal system.
Xiong, a 1999 Green Bay Preble High School graduate, is among the first generation to grow up speaking English and Hmong. Hmong people want the same opportunities as others, she said.
"I've been translating for my mom since I was 12. This is our way of giving back to the community," Xiong said. She earned a paralegal degree from Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in 2002 and plans to pursue a law degree.
Talavera said employees need an educational background in addition to bilingual skills to be valuable in the workplace. She joined Recka & Joannes in 1997 and has degrees in business administration and finance from her native Mexico.
Mike Hoeft writes for the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Business Editor Larry Avila contributed to this story.

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