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  • Author or Editor: Alejandra Acuna x
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Hispanics are becoming the main source of labor in many productive- and service-oriented businesses in the United States, and the nursery industry is one example. Employers invest much time and money into employees, making the employees their biggest investment. However, the educational needs of Hispanic employees have not been adequately addressed, and no formal educational program for Hispanic workers in the nursery industry has been implemented and tested in Ohio. This project has two objectives: 1) measure the impact of a bilingual educational program containing instruction in horticulture and instruction in life skills to a Hispanic workforce, and 2) investigate which type of training is more essential to the stabilization of the Hispanic family unit, technical horticultural training, or training in life-skills. Eight nurseries throughout Ohio were selected to participate in this project. At each of the nurseries, an average group size of 15 employees was trained. Only half of this number participated in the social skills lessons to determine differences between the group who received social skills lessons and the group who did not. Three horticultural topics were selected: basic plant structure and development, pruning, and nutrition. Forty-minute lessons in Spanish with key concepts in English were prepared with the topics mentioned. Three social skills topics were selected: meeting your and your family's needs in the United States, social support in your community, and communication. In order to measure the impact of a bilingual educational program, two tests (The Rosenberg Selfeteem and Index of Family Relationship) were applied before and after the program was performed. A course evaluation was completed by each of the participants after the program was completed.

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In 1998, the wholesale nursery industry represented the largest sector in horticultural sales in the United States and 11% of the total value of U.S. agricultural production. The majority of jobs available in the nursery industry are labor intensive. In Ohio, 60% of the nursery workforce is composed of Hispanic laborers. A survey conducted in 2000 targeting Hispanic nursery workers in Oregon and Ohio revealed a great need for basic technical information in their native language. In order to address this issue in Ohio, a Spanish language nursery tour was developed in 2002 and offered annually thereafter. Conducted entirely in Spanish, the tour focuses on basic technical information in the area of field and container production. Tours take place at commercial nursery sites in the Lake County region of Ohio. Demonstrations at the nurseries have highlighted such practices as planting, pruning, and irrigation. Interest in disseminating more technical information in Spanish to the Hispanic workforce has developed as a result of these tours. In Jan. 2005, supervisors of Hispanic nursery workers were surveyed at the Central Environmental Nursery Trade Show (“CENTS”) in Columbus, Ohio, to determine the level of interest in technical education programs for Hispanic employees (65%) and what programs were needed (Safety 16%, Pruning 14%, and English 13%). A multi-state survey in English and Spanish will be conducted over the next two years (2005 and 2006). The goal of this project is to better understand the backgrounds and technical needs of the workers in seven states filling predominantly manual labor positions, in order to help stabilize and engage the workforce through education.

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The U.S. nursery and landscape industry generates 1.9 million jobs and had an annual payroll of greater than $3 billion in 2002, yet little is known about nursery and landscape workers. This lack of information is even more pressing considering that labor generally accounts for greater than 40% of production costs and 31% of gross sales. Labor shortages, immigration reform, and legal status of employees are widely reported as the industry's most critical issues. We hypothesized that relevant data regarding the nursery industry workforce may raise an appreciation of the industry's diversity, increase political power and public awareness, and help stakeholders evaluate policy decisions and plan corrective strategies in a more informed manner. A total of 4466 self-administered questionnaires were sent in 2006, attempting to reach 30 nurseries in each of nine states with 1561 returned (35% response rate). Hispanics constituted 70% of the average nursery workforce, including general laborers (76%), crew leaders (61%), and sales/managers (others) (21%). Across firms, labor retention was less than 51% after 5 years and only 22% of employees understood English, raising questions regarding availability and access to training. Sixty percent of nursery employees had not received work-related training, although 81% of men and 72% of women were interested, and an association between training and employee retention existed. The highest rated training topic of interest was English/Spanish (respective of Spanish/English primary language respondents). There was a positive correlation between developing fluency and worker turnover, making the laborer attrition rate even more unfavorable for employers who not only lost employees with acquired experience, but also with acquired English skills.

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