What Your Interns Saw.

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Over the last 15 years, I’ve worked with some memorable ones.

One walked off the 2nd floor of a home in production (he bounced and was miraculously unbroken).


I caught one sleeping in a closet of a model home.
I caught one doing his laundry in a model home.


One told me he “didn’t do filing” his first day on the job.
I fired one after 3 weeks on the job.


And several could have turned pro immediately.

They were that good. They were ready.



It’s May.
It’s officially intern season.


Three schools—Purdue, University of Wisconsin-Stout and Oklahoma State University—have partnered with Red Angle to provide their students with Safety Spanish skills.


When they arrive, they will be able to communicate the basics of job site safety en Español. From PPE to job site cleanliness to OSHA’s Focus 4, these students will be able to communicate to the Hispanic workforce on your job site.


Prior to our Safety Spanish kickoff, the students complete a brief survey so we can establish a baseline—to understand where the students are starting from.


One of the questions is this: Can you please describe a memorable experience involving an English/Spanish language barrier?

After working on your jobs last summer, here is what they said:


“Trying to speak to subcontractors about punch lists was brutal.”


“On a job site the concrete crew spoke little English. I was trying to tell them details about a project they would be working on for the day and it was still very difficult to inform them even with the translator I had with me.”


“Asking for pliers and getting a 2×4.”


“I told one of my spanish speaking subcontractors to do a particular work on the job site and he nodded and said ok. The work never got done because he had no idea what I said, but he agreed anyway.”


“We had a rebar crew on site at my internship last summer, and only the foreman spoke English.”


“An anchor bolt was installed at the wrong elevation due to a communication error between field engineer and a member of the craft team. It was caught before steel was set but had to be chipped out and re-grouted as a result.”


“Communication during safety orientation meetings is difficult without a translator to convey the safety requirements.”


“Trying to communicate effectively the spacing for rebar and correct work that was not put into place according to the plans and specs.”


“I was a mechanical installer on a residential construction job and I wanted the roofers to install the flashing for my gas heater. It was quite difficult to explain to them where and what I needed installed.”


“I worked for a concrete company. I had daily interaction with Spanish speaking individuals which attempted to teach me knew phrases.”


“I had to explain to the carpet layer where to pull up the carpet and pointing didn’t quite get the point across.”


“I was having problems with my roofing crew because they could not understand the urgency of the completion date. I also didn’t have any way to understand their daily completion because the workers could only speak terms in Español.”


“Telling workers to put on their safety harness and tie off. Either they were pretending not to know so they didn’t have to tie off or they didn’t understand what I said.”


“I was trying to tell a Spanish speaking worker he could not store his materials in a certain spot and he didn’t understand.”


“I was asking a laborer about his hearing protection and his reply was, “Que?” I ended up just bring up a bunch of ear plugs. I was hoping they would get the point when I
put them in my ears.”


“On the job site a majority of sub-contractors were Hispanic and tried to talk to me but I couldn’t understand them so I had to get someone who could translate for me.”


“Worker said something in Spanish and I didn’t know what he said and when he said it in English I couldn’t understand him. Still to this day I am not quite sure what he said.”


“Trying to tell framing crew to put on safety gear or tell Spanish speaking workers to lock up houses.”


“They were violating a few safety rules and I had to tell them they needed to fix it. It was hard to explain to them what they were doing wrong.”


“Nothing in particular. Just working with Spanish speakers was less efficient. More than half of the labors on site were Hispanic.”


“A laborer with an excavation company came inside the building on the job site and was looking for something. Eventually we figured out that he was looking for a piece of plywood and spray paint to cover and mark a hole out on the job site.”


What do your full-time employees see?
Unlike interns, these language challenges are not seasonal.
How much time is your team losing when the interns are not around?

How much risk is your team assuming with the language barrier?


It’s May.
It’s officially intern season.


If you are employing Boilermakers, Blue Devils, or Cowboys this summer, expect a little more out of them.
And then make sure they don’t fall off the second floor of your building.



Bradley Hartmann is founder and El Presidente at Red Angle (www.redanglespanish.com), a training and consulting firm bridging the English-Spanish language gap in the construction industry.    

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Categories: Jobsite Leadership

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