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Home Depot seeks Spanish-speaking workers

/ Source: The Associated Press

The Home Depot Inc., the nation's largest home improvement store chain, is launching a partnership with four national Hispanic organizations to recruit more Spanish-speaking employees — a strategy that proponents say can help retailers find talented workers and boost sales at the same time.

Home Depot planned to launch the partnership formally on Tuesday in hopes it will find more job candidates, especially ones that speak both English and Spanish, for full-time and part-time positions.

Industry observers say the move — like the company's previous hiring partnerships with senior citizen and military groups — will help Atlanta-based Home Depot tap into a valuable customer niche. By 2008, the company says, Hispanics are expected to have roughly $1 trillion in annual purchasing power.

"Matching the profile of your associate work force with the profile of your targeted or existing customer is always been a practice that has helped retailers enhance the store experience," said Michael Brown, a retail specialist at consulting firm Kurt Salmon Associates.

Home Depot rival Lowe's Companies Inc., based in Mooresville, N.C., has worked with employment agencies in several states to help diversify its work force of 160,000 people. It also has worked with the military to hire soldiers looking to go into the private sector.

While Lowe's has not implemented any formal national hiring partnerships with the Hispanic community, it has tried to boost the number of Hispanic employees at stores in communities that are predominantly Hispanic. The 1,075-store chain has done that at stores in parts of South Florida, Texas and California.

"There is certainly a business advantage to having a work force that reflects the community," Lowe's spokeswoman Chris Ahearn said.

Valuable partnerships
Home Depot, with 1,890 stores and 325,000 employees, launched a hiring partnership in September with the departments of Defense, Labor and Veterans Affairs to recruit military job seekers. A year ago, it also announced a hiring partnership with the AARP to recruit seniors, then expanded that program in December when it said it would test a plan to mark retail products with a seal of approval for people 50 and over.

While the company would not release figures, it said those initiatives have helped its business efficiency and sales. The company said the move to recruit Hispanic employees seemed like a logical extension.

"Sales have increased substantially over the four years that we've really been at a lot of these things," said Dennis Donovan, Home Depot's executive vice president of human resources. "The performance information that we have is very positive. So, I don't think it's a big step to say there is some correlation here."

Besides boosting sales, the partnerships also help find talented workers.

"We know that effective leaders are the common denominator to our overall success," said Donovan. "We also know that talented associates are the customer service differentiator."

The company has not said how many seniors or Hispanics it planned to hire, nor would it release a breakdown by race or ethnicity of its current work force. As for the military partnership, it's projection for 2004 was to hire 15,000 military veterans.

In the latest Hispanic hiring initiative, Home Depot said interested candidates can complete an online application at any store, visit the company's Web site or go to one of the participating partner organization offices. The partners are the ASPIRA Association, Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, National Council of La Raza and SER-Jobs for Progress National.

More companies are realizing it makes good business sense to reach out to the Hispanic community, said Alfonso Martinez, president of the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility.

"The opportunity here is at three different levels, a talent level, a customer level and a brand level," Martinez said.

Home Depot shares fell 19 cents to close at $42.63 in Monday trading on the New York Stock Exchange, but are still near their 52-week high of $44.30 reached in November.