The country is enjoying one of the most sustained periods of economic prosperity in years. With the unemployment rate at less than four percent, this is the lowest it's been in nearly 50 years. And that presents a conundrum for employers: there are now more job openings than job seekers, which is certainly a boon for workers but it makes those looking to hire have to explore ways to find and keep the best workers. And this is especially true for Hispanic-owned businesses, one of the fastest-growing sectors of the U.S. economy, contributing more than $700 million annually.
Twenty five percent of new businesses in the entire country are owned by Latinos, and they face several more obstacles than their non-Hispanic peers when they look for workers.
An annual study of Latino businesses by the Stanford University Graduate School of Business finds that a greater number of Hispanic-owned businesses take on more personal financial risk compared to businesses owned by whites, Asian Americans, and African Americans. Additionally, a lower percentage of these Hispanic firms are able to secure bank loans from traditional sources compared to other groups.
Almost half of Latino-owned businesses were started during the past six years and many have relied on credit cards, personal savings or loans from friends and family to get started. They also tend to have fewer employees than their non-Hispanic counterparts. It seems that trying to snag precious employees is a bit of an uphill battle, but it's not impossible.
Tackling the competition
"Our biggest challenge is competing against other businesses in the area. We have to stay competitive with surrounding businesses and I'll lose some employees to places where they'll work more hours and make more money," says Raúl Rodríguez, manager of one of seven bakeries and cafeterias offering traditional Mexican food and pastries that his family has owned for 37 years in several communities in central California.
His La Plaza Bakery has some 140 employees, and Rodríguez says a key strategy in hiring and retaining quality employees in a highly competitive market is to focus on local, and that doesn't cost his business a penny. "The cost of living is skyrocketing around here and employees are looking to cut costs as much as possible.
They may make more money elsewhere but if they live nearby and come to work for us, it balances out because there is little or no commuting, so no wear and tear on the car and little or no gas." Rodríguez adds that one of the best perks that his business offers its employees is the food. "They eat for free here."
Going beyond the usual with perks
Perks are becoming increasingly essential in this tight job market and it's something that Latino-owned businesses can take advantage of without necessarily breaking the bank, says Melisa Díaz, a consultant in Washington, D.C. Melisa, who has extensive business experience and currently owns her own business, adds, "Sure, salary is important, but we're seeing a greater number of potential employees who are demanding, and getting, those fringe benefits beyond healthcare and vacation, for instance."
Some of these perks include:
- A flexible schedule that puts aside the usual 9-5 hours.
- A compressed work week, such as working more hours on a couple of days to get a Monday or Friday off.
- Telework/Telecommuting that allows employees to avoid commuting costs.
- Transportation subsidy, such as a gas card or public transportation stipend. In some cases, cities chip in to help pay for this.
"These are all good measures that businesses can undertake for a better quality of life for their employees. A flexible schedule is very popular among Latinos. Many Latinos are also the primary caregivers in their families and having the flexibility to take care of things during 'normal' business hours is important. The last thing you need is to fight with your boss about that."
For Lea Márquez Peterson, owner of a public relations firm in Tucson, Arizona, and past president of that city's Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, it's also important to provide a positive work environment by being a good boss. "Latino-owned businesses tend to be smaller and may not have the higher salaries and benefits but there is data out there that says people quit a job because they dislike the boss," she says. "If you are an employer that provides a great ambiance and work culture, you are more likely to retain your employees. You're going to leave if the boss is not kind and not flexible and/or not working with you."