The Latino Workforce

The Latino population is the fastest-growing segment of society, yet it remains the most underrepresented in the IT workforce. It's a scenario that's unlikely to change if we keep looking offshore for talent.

Jorge Yacila, a 10-year veteran in Xerox Corp.'s information technology department, says being a Latino and an IT professional in the U.S. can be an advantage. In fact, his ethnicity is what brought him to Xerox in the first place. "In the business world, [Hispanics] have enough common ties with language and heritage that it keeps us all together. We have enough common goals, so we can grow together and go forward," Yacila says.

Although Yacila and many other individual Latinos working in IT have grown in their careers together, Hispanics in the U.S. aren't well-represented among IT workers.

A few companies seeking technical talent have developed specific programs aimed at Latinos. But if IT is going to take advantage of the fastest-growing segment of the country's population, more training and recruitment efforts need to be directed toward Hispanics.

Xerox established its Hispanic College Liaison Program specifically to bring Hispanic men and women into the company. Yacila, whose family hails from Peru, was the president of the student chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers at Polytechnic University in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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The Many Faces Of the Latino Workforce

Classifying individuals into a general group is always fraught with danger, especially given the cultural diversity among Latinos.

According to the U.S. Census, the Latino workforce (nonwhite Hispanic U.S. citizens) comprises the following nationalities:

• Mexican 65.2%

• Central/South American 14.3%

• Puerto Rican 9.6%

• Cuban 4.3%

• Other 6.6%

"Nobody has an affinity about being Latino," says Carlos Mendez, who was vice president of Internet services at CommerceRoute Inc. in Emeryville, Calif., before being promoted to vice president of business development. Mendez says that if he were recruiting a Cuban, he would go about it differently than if he were seeking to hire a Mexican. "There are cultural differences that should be taken into account," he says.

Ana Babcock, a systems manager at FPL, agrees. "The term Hispanic is like a box all the different cultures have been put into," she says, adding that Asians face the same problem.

But Hispanic IT professionals both accept the term and understand that a common language is the reason they get lumped into a broader category than their own individual backgrounds.

Richard Chabran, director of the Center for Virtual Research at the University of California, Riverside, says that dwelling on the differences could set back efforts to develop a broader interest in IT among Latinos. "We need to get a general message out," he says.

While acknowledging "significant cultural differences," Lourdes Sori, manager of infrastructure management at FPL, suggests that IT recruiters not get bogged down in cultural differences. "What matters the most is not demographics as much as the socioeconomics of the group," she says.

Recruiters should also take a broader approach to reaching students, according to Clara Chu, professor of information studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. But, Chu adds, it's critical that universities and large IT organizations get to students early in their educations.

Chu suggests visits to high schools and even elementary schools to talk about what IT is and what IT workers do that's exciting. She said initiating workplace visits and even developing shadow programs will win over many Hispanic children to an IT career path.

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Yacila had met regularly with Xerox representatives, who recruited heavily on the campus. They circulated his resume inside the company, and he was offered a job before graduation.

Yacila has done everything from helping develop computer-aided engineering applications for product designers to deploying databases for the company's Latin American sales division. Now he's working in Xerox's critical worldwide data center in Rochester, N.Y.

But Yacila acknowledges that he's a rarity in the profession. Latinos "don't get much exposure to technology," he says, and that hurts in drawing their interest. But, he adds, "we have a civil responsibility to reach out to individuals who might need assistance."

Labor Gap Relief

Expanding Latino interest in technology could go a long way toward addressing the shortfall in technical personnel. It could also dramatically reduce the need to import IT talent into this country.

Richard Chabran, director of the Center for Virtual Research at the University of California, Riverside, acknowledges that H-1B visas are necessary for bringing foreign workers to the U.S. now and are important for the economy. "But more importantly, it is in our national interest to train people here. Visas are a short-term solution," he says.

On the face of it, the need for these visas seems likely to remain for a long time, if IT is to depend solely on higher education to fill the technical talent gap.

The Computer Research Association's most recent Taulbee Survey - which tracks ethnicity among college students majoring in computer science - shows Hispanics near the bottom among ethnic groups enrolled in computer science or computer engineering course work. The Washington-based association says that only 1% to 2% of all students who receive these technical degrees are Hispanic. The annual poll also showed that only 1% of computer science faculties are Latinos.

This is a shocking disparity for a segment of the population that includes one of every nine U.S. citizens. According to the U.S. Census, there are more than 32 million Hispanic nonwhite members of society. The Latino population is growing at more than 35% per year, compared with the white majority, which is expanding at only 3% per year. By 2005, Latinos will pass African-Americans as the second-most-populous ethnic group, behind the white majority.

Despite their strength in numbers, according to Bob Pearlman, executive director of San Jose-based JointVenture: Silicon Valley Network's 21st Century Education Initiative, "Latinos are just not finding their way into the IT scene." He says the workforce gap costs Silicon Valley companies between $3 billion and $4 billion because they can't get people to work in IT.

To the credit of technical recruiters at some companies, they haven't shied away from seeking technical staff directly among Latinos, according to LatPro.com Inc., a Plantation, Fla.-based recruiter for Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking Americans. This year, IT-oriented jobs jumped to 33% of the positions offered through LatPro, compared with 20% last year.

Diverse Approaches

Lourdes Sori, manager of infrastructure management at Florida Power & Light Co. (FPL) in Juno Beach, Fla., defies the statistical norm.

Born in Cuba, Sori came to the U.S. as a child in the 1960s. She earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and then worked at Schaumburg, Ill.-based Motorola Inc. in wireless telecommunications engineering before getting her master's degree and moving to FPL's information management department.

Sori says IT departments that are seeking Hispanic employees need to foster an environment "where people are comfortable with all sorts of people. It's open communication, not just diversity, that counts."

Just more than 28% of FPL's 600 information management department staff are Hispanic, nearly matching the utility company's overall percentage of Hispanic employees, which is 29%.

Dennis Klinger, CIO at FPL, says his department doesn't do anything special to recruit Latinos. But once they are on board, he makes certain that they get mentors who are primarily based in their technical fields.

"But we try to find someone they can talk to," Klinger says. Often, that can be another Latino.

Xerox has taken an activist approach to recruiting minorities. In addition to the Hispanic College Liaison Program, the company has established internal caucus groups to represent demographic identities among its employees, including the Hispanic Association for Professional Advancement (HAPA).

The current president of Xerox's HAPA, Jeannete Arbulu, says, "It's very difficult to find Latinos in IT." Once they are hired at Xerox, however, they can use HAPA to identify mentors both inside and outside their departments to broaden their career opportunities within the company.

Arbulu, a U.S. citizen who was born in Ecuador, is working with a Latino mentor in Xerox's research and development group to deepen her technical knowledge. She says HAPA's primary goal is to develop Hispanic employees' knowledge for specific corporate business objectives. Given the company's policy to not sponsor H-1Bs, this puts significant pressure on its caucus groups to attract talent.

George Carranza, a manager at Xerox's office business unit, says the programs are a success, as far as he's concerned.

"My hiring at Xerox is a direct result of the efforts of HAPA," Carranza says, recalling the company's recruitment activities among technology-savvy Latino students at California State University, Fullerton.

Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

  
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