Employment of minorities will play a crucial role in catapulting the United States back to the forefront of the global business community in the 21st century, according to one speaker at the annual Minorities Conference at the University of Utah Friday.

But another speaker fears that, in Utah at least, minorities will continue to be hampered as they try to establish careers."Since early American history days, we have been a dominant force in the world, militarily, educationally and economically. . . . Today, we have lost that footing," said Bernette Murphy, business liaison representative of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah.

About 50 professionals gathered for the conference Friday, sponsored by the Center for Public Policy and Administration at the University of Utah.

The U.S. population is growing more slowly, and the average age of the work force is rising, he said. Minorities will comprise a larger share of new entrants to the work force going into the year 2000.

Murphy, who is black, suggests that successful companies will be those that treat employees and prospective employees "in the same way the companies view customers." They will also treat all employees - regardless of race - as candidates for advancement. And they will embrace cultural diversity and "transform it into productivity."

"Companies that implement these strategies will find themselves with the competitive edge needed to be successful in this global economy," Murphy said. "Education, training, experience and simple American community pride will catapult us into the 21st century prepared to rise to the top."

Orlando Rivera, president of the Institute for Human Resource Development at the U., said being Hispanic has convinced him that overcoming employment barriers is not an easy job.

"What's really expected of us in this society is to become like everybody else. If you don't assimilate, don't expect much," he said. "We are expected to be part of this society, but there are so many barriers we never get there."

His experience, he said, is that too many minority members are not valued, and that won't change easily. "In supporting affirmative action, we're not looking for special treatment, we're looking for elimination of the buddy system. We seek justice, opportunity and respect."

Language barriers and discriminatory practices also hamper minorities, Rivera said. Colleges are not attracting enough minority members. "Our kids don't feel they belong in the schools," he said, and admission tests may screen out members of minorities, particularly those who speak English as a second language.

"Overall, it's a good system and we want to be a part of it. But we need to accept people without the expectation you have to leave each other's culture behind in order to participate."