Zachry npa 2024 hero

Creating belonging and employee engagement through Spanish language training

  • Many companies struggle to engage their Spanish speaking employees. This leads to underutilized talent.
  • The solution has been an academic approach to teaching language skills. This results in people who know vocabulary words and can pass tests, but still can’t use the language on the job.
  • We created an innovative solution – an internal language training program and immersion retreat. Creating a culture of belonging where people feel psychologically safe enough to start practicing functional Spanish gives them a greater chance to succeed.

This case study represents one of the submissions for i4cp's 2024 Next Practice Awards, winners will be honored at the i4cp 2024 Next Practices Now Conference. You can also view other Next Practice Award case studies.

Business Challenge

Many companies struggle to engage their Spanish speaking workforce, leading to lost opportunities to attract and engage talent. At Zachry Corporation (Zachry Construction, Capitol Aggregates, and Zachry Hospitality) two-thirds of our employees are Hispanic. We conducted over (180) face-to-face interviews with employees (foremen) asking about future ambitions. Many reported the desire to be promoted but named language as the barrier to their progression.

Leadership on our jobsites have consistently expressed the desire to have better engagement with our Spanish speaking teammates. We’ve tried a host of external programs, language learning apps, and brought in professors to teach language skills. The results are lackluster. After all the investment, many people don’t have Spanish skills that are functional in the workplace. This leads to frustration and shoulder shrugging resignation-they just stop trying.

Safety is embedded into our culture. One of the obvious challenges is ensuring that all our employees have a clear understanding of hazards and have access to everything they need to work safely. When Spanish speaking employees don’t get the message in a format they understand or can be warned of danger in a timely fashion, the workplace is unsafe.

Solution – Scope & Innovation

We wanted to create a culture where Zachry teammates feel comfortable practicing their language skills. We found the number one reason people fail to have functional language skills is feeling embarrassed, and as a result they do not practice their skills. (How many people do you know who have spent years studying Spanish, but can’t even order food at a Mexican restaurant?)

We created an internal program called “FUNctional Spanish” and uploaded 40 instructional videos onto our LMS platform. Participants work with a language partner through four levels to complete four functional tasks related to their work. The culminating task is having a basic conversation with a native speaker. We invited the top performers from the course to attend an intense language immersion retreat at our company ranch. [See video]. The immersion environment gives participants the confidence to practice their skills in a judgement free environment and catapults them far beyond what traditional language programs have been able to achieve.

We started language training with the Spanish language, as a way for our leaders to set the example of trying to learn Spanish and develop empathy for the challenges English language learners face.

We have seen greater awareness, adoption, and interest in the program. Due to the success in our construction company, our other two companies are adopting the program into their operations.

Results & Impact

  • Over 100 participants have completed the first task in the “FUNctional Spanish” program.
  • 20 employees participated in the first language immersion retreat.
  • (180+) “Stay interviews” determined language was a significant barrier for Foreman promotions to Superintendent.
    • We hosted two “Foreman retreats” with several Spanish speaking employees – as a result, we’re seeing promotions and promotion readiness.
  • Our international humanitarian project will now be “dual-purpose” = service and language immersion opportunity in Paraguay, South America.
  • Two AGC conference presentations – highlighting our customized “La Loteria” game, a traditional game of chance cherished by many Hispanic cultures, that we use as a learning and cultural awareness tool.
  • La Loteria has become part of our annual Company Picnic (3000+ attendees). Raising awareness and increasing a sense of belonging.


  • Number of participants enrolled in the FUNctional Spanish program.
  • Certified FUNctional Spanish Champions (Those who have completed the program)
  • Number of certified FUNctional Spanish trainers
  • Number of Job site adopters (When a jobsite has 10+ “Champions.”)
  • Promotion ready employees
  • Impact on demographics (leadership positions)


We are making “FUNctional Spanish” an integral part of our training, belonging, and DE&I efforts. Our three companies will be utilizing the program to achieve our goals and live out our “every person matters” core value. Over the past four years we’ve learned that being motivated to learn gets people into Spanish language programs, but they fizzle out when they don’t see immediate and tangible results. Expensive programs have not moved the needle – and in some cases it make people more hesitant to use Spanish – for fear of looking bad or making mistakes.

Language partners have been the number one determinate of those who complete the whole program. Everyone that finished had a partner. Those going alone struggle the most. Those that do it in a group find the most success. Our overarching theory is that if the whole company adopts the “FUNctional Spanish” program, we’ll see companywide culture change. If the construction industry adopts this idea, we’re confident we’ll see industry culture change.

Our plan going forward:

  • We are training and appointing certified “FUNctional Spanish trainers” at each jobsite in 2024.
  • Language immersion/humanitarian work with a partner in Paraguay
  • Access to video training will be made available to all employees – not just those with access to the LMS system.
  • The English version of FUNctional Spanish rolls out early 2024.
  • The English language immersion at the company ranch (Apr. 2024)