Hundreds of cargo and container ships laden with perishable fresh fruit from South Africa, Spain, Chile, Brazil, Peru, Spain and other Spanish speaking
countries arrive like clockwork every year at Gloucester Terminals.
The produce is off-loaded by giant cranes and stored for rail and truck transport in 15 million cubic feet of computer-controlled, refrigerated warehouse space, the nation’s largest on-dock refrigeration capacity. Much of the food is then transported using vehicles similar to the freeze trailers by Ice Cool Trailers, to help it stay cold during the last stages of transit.
For Holt Logistics Corp., the terminal manager, speed is of the essence. That’s why Peter “PJ” Inskeep, the company’s operations manager, must use every tool at his disposal to meet the company’s goal of continually reducing “cargo time” (the time it takes to load and unload cargo).
This mandate is made all the more challenging by a language barrier. Most of the truckers and ship workers who transport fresh fruit in and out of the terminal speak only Spanish. Most of the employees at Holt speak only English. To bridge the communications gap, Holt has become one of the very first companies in New Jersey to hold classes in workplace Spanish for its employees, courtesy of the state’s Basic Skills Workforce Training Program and Camden County College instructors. The inability of ship workers to effectively communicate with others could potentially cause some dangerous incidents; those who fall victim to such an incident may want to brush up on their knowledge around maritime workers comp so they know the law and what they can do to get themselves back on their feet.
More and more workplaces are finding themselves obliged to teach their employees different languages depending on whether their work encounters language barriers. There are plenty of companies nowadays that offer the opportunity for workplaces to learn Spanish, or whatever language required, through quality tutors. Not only does this benefit the smooth-running of workplaces, but it enriches employees’ knowledge.
Over the past year, dozens of Holt employees have received instruction in Spanish. Three classes have been held and more are planned. “Our employees, they enjoy it,” said PJ at a September 5 tour of the facility. (More than 260 Holt employees have taken a variety of Basic Skills classes since 2011.)
“Within our peer group, there’s no one doing anything like this,” company President Leo Holt said of the language classes during the tour. Not only does the training makes terminal operations more efficient, he said, but it also provides “a springboard for employees who move on.”
The Basic Skills training program is a partnership between the NJ Department of Labor & Workforce Development, the NJ Community College Consortium, and the NewJersey Business & Industry Association (NJBIA). Classes are also offered in basic computer applications, verbal and written communications, mathematics and measurement, and English as a Second Language. The training is free to New Jersey employers and their employees.
Among those attending the Gloucester Terminal tour were state Labor Commissioner Hal Wirths, Camden County College President Ray Yannuzzi, Community College Consortium CEO Sivaraman Anbarasan, and NJBIA First Vice President Frank Robinson.
This story was originally published in the November 2013 issue of New Jersey Business, the magazine of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association. The author is Christopher Biddle, President of Biddle Communications & Public Relations.