Tuesday, September 30, 2014
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Dorene Armstrong

Jobs prefer bilingual candidates at expense of qualified ones

Dorene Armstrong had worked as a medical assistant for 24 years before being terminated last August. Since then, she has been unable to find a job in that field for one simple reason.
She's not bilingual.

Just this week, she was turned down for a job where being able to speak Spanish was a prerequisite. It's happened more times than she can count and when she called the Labor Board, she claimed that it was discrimination

"I've called three different agencies twice a week and they always say we have something, but it's bilingual," Armstrong said. "This is the only field I've been in and I've never had any problems before."

It's another side of the many stories told during this economic recession. People who are qualified but not able to find work because they cannot speak Spanish to accommodate the growing number of Latinos in Los Angeles County.

According to a January 2008 report, 47.3% of the county population is Latino as opposed to Blacks composing 9.6%. The changing demographics has made employers struggle to deal with a growing language barrier between their customers.

Often caught in the middle are employees who had a long or steady career but after losing their jobs, they find it difficult to restart not because of their skill set, but their lack of Spanish.

Valerie Tolbert, a former co-worker of Armstrong's at the West Coast Medical Clinic in Inglewood, has been out of work for three months. Despite dropping off resumes four days a week, she too has been turned away because of the language barrier

"[With] most of the jobs that are posted--especially the big industries like health care partners or temp agencies--it's bilingual," Tolbert said, "It's hard to push a resume or cover letter because you're know they're going to reject you even though my skills are up to par."

Both Tolbert, who has been an assistant for 10 years, and Armstrong have found jobs that say being bilingual is preferred instead of required, only to be told otherwise when they submit their resume.

They also added that learning another language was never part of their program when they both started but as the times and demographics have changed, they are facing a new reality and difficulty of finding work

"I'm forced to learn another language in a state that I was born and raised in," Armstrong said, adding that the barrier was never a problem as when she worked with Spanish-speaking patients.

"I know how to communicate with people," she said.

Community colleges offer Spanish courses but that's little solace to many who feel like they shouldn't have to learn another language in their native country.

They are the ones left to wonder what they can do when the skill they have worked for is no longer enough to get hired.

"It shouldn't be the only criteria," Tolbert asked "It's frustrating, but I have to hang in there and continue [looking for employment]."

Category: Local


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