How Multilingual Warehouses Support Diverse Workforce

Multi-language instructions recognize and support the success of a diverse workforce, breaking down barriers and creating a better, more attractive work environment.

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The United States has always been and continues to grow as a mix of different cultures, languages, and even dialects. In the United States, the number of people who spoke a language other than English at home nearly tripled from 23.1 million (about one in 10) to 67.8 million (about one in five) over three recent decades, according to the Census Bureau. Approximately 430 languages are spoken or signed by the U.S. population. 

The realities of language in the warehouse

Although 21.7% of U.S. residents report that they speak a language other than English at home, only 8.2% speak English less than "very well." However, the problem is that the English they understand might not be the language of the warehouse, which has its own special lingo and acronyms. Naturally, people whose first language is not English may struggle with specific occupational terms in the fast-paced environment of a warehouse, having a negative impact on their ability to do their jobs. As a result, these workers might be initially overlooked because employers see language proficiency as a prerequisite for performing well.

In some jobs, being good at the local language is crucial for safety. When safety issues come up, being able to warn co-workers or understand instructions is critical, especially when dealing with heavy and fast moving machinery. Companies can help by investing in language training that focuses on industry-specific words to open up more opportunities for these workers, but some companies might hesitate because it takes time, effort and expense to train and communicate with them.

Voice technology can build a multilingual advantage

Voice recognition software has been a proven solution in the warehousing industry for more than 25 years, and its continuing evolution and advancements provide more accessibility to users who struggle with English or may want to blend their native language with the working language. For example, some dual-speech recognition software can support at least 34 languages, notably English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Mandarin etc.

The distinctive use of two simultaneous speech engines guarantees peak speech recognition, even for users with strong accents or speech difficulties. Workers can mix languages as they please, making their job easier and less stressful. For example, a worker may feel more confident in using the Spanish word for “tote” as they may struggle with the English translation, but feel comfortable working in English for the rest of their shift. Leading voice technology can provide the opportunity for the worker to retrain the word speech engine for their user device in order to complete work in this way.

User-defined training is a trend that workers are welcoming. This means tech that enables workers and devices that can help train you, while you can “train” them through machine learning. Some voice-directed systems allow workers to regulate playback speeds to their own preferences, capabilities and comfort level. To complement the language advantages, some multi-modal systems also can include images for hard to pick items.

With some voice recognition systems, warehouses can implement a nearly instantaneous; no training necessary enrollment process that delivers initial voice samples to create a user voice model. The benefit here is two-fold, allowing the system to begin learning a user’s voice while introducing the user to the system and accompanying equipment. Examining the numbers, say 20 minutes is saved in beginner training. For a warehouse with 24 workers, every 20-minute time savings equals one 8-hour work day.

Language choice helps attract and retain workers

With tight labor markets for warehouse workers, using voice-directed technology can became a competitive advantage when trying to hire new workers. As part of their scope of work, one company included four languages: English, Arabic, Spanish and French. The request actually came from the organization’s human resources department in order to target specific demographics within the geographic area where their building was located. Part of that reasoning was to promote to specific ethnic groups that could work in an environment using their preferred language. In the fierce competition for workers, targeting specific communities and neighborhoods to support the workforce through language is one more unique way to attract potential workers.

Moving forward, having multi-language instructions in warehouses isn't just a possible choice; it's a must to support the diverse U.S. workforce. It aligns with principles like diversity, equality, and inclusivity (DEI) and gives a boost in hiring and keeping workers. By investing in language learning and creating an inclusive workplace, companies not only bridge the language gap but also show they value their employees' cultural backgrounds. Multi-language instructions recognize and support the success of a diverse workforce, breaking down barriers and creating a better, more attractive work environment.