Talking the talk: Wilson sees need for bilingual employees

CONYERS - Rockdale County government is in the midst of a customer service initiative, complete with professional classes for every employee. But one elected official wants to make sure language differences are not overlooked in the customer service overhaul.

"It's reality. We have a lot of bilingual patrons," Clerk of Courts Ruth Wilson said. "It would make it easier for us to provide good customer service if I had people who spoke the language."

Wilson brought up the need to bring on more Spanish-speaking employees before the Board of Commissioners during the budget meetings Sept. 28 and 29 and pushed for it to become a preferred skill in job announcements.

"We want to do a good job, a responsible job, with communicating with all segments of the community," Wilson told the commissioners.

About half of the people who come in for passports are foreign-born, Wilson estimated on Wednesday, and half of those are Spanish-speaking. The highest concentration of communication snags is in passports, according to Wilson, but the issue is across the board.

The staff does the best it can to help those with limited English skills at the counter. But with the "tedious and very exact" document procedures, explained Wilson, it can be frustrating for both parties.

And the challenge is a daily one.

"Every day we're servicing people who are foreign-born," Wilson said.

Keiko Humphries is president of locally based Humphries Consulting Inc., which was recently hired by the county to assist in finding a new Human Resources director. Humphries pointed out that recruitment is probably less than 25 percent of her business.

But she said she has noticed, overall, a growing interest and increased need from employers for bilingual employees.

"It's becoming really a requirement to do business," Humphries said. "I think what we're seeing as a trend is more employers see it as a favorable attribute in candidates or prospective employees."

Specifically, Humphries explained the varying demographics of the Rockdale County community have contributed to the increased trend. And she would agree more bilingual employees may be needed.

"You think about all those services that the county provides, it certainly makes sense from a service standpoint," Humphries said.

Any job field that is somehow affiliated with the service industry would gain from having bilingual employees, according to Humphries.

"I would say I see it a lot in companies, in positions where there's a good bit of public interface," Humphries said.

Humphries said she has seen a definite improvement in the openness toward learning other languages.

"Our school systems are becoming much more in tune with encouraging students to take more than the minimal requirement of language," Humphries said.

Wilson explained the Clerk of Courts office has very specific requirements when hiring.

"It's more important that the person be qualified to perform the work," Wilson said. But if the new hire is bilingual, "that would be wonderful."