With an increasing number of companies seeking to expand abroad, the language abilities of employees are becoming a critical issue for businesses large and small. In fact, it’s of such importance that some businesses are trying to overcome the language skills gap in the UK by investing in language training for existing staff.
Yet despite businesses working harder than ever to hire bilingual employees and promoting language learning internally, a third of respondents to a recent survey said fewer than one-in-ten of their employees were bilingual.
The value of language skills
Language skills do much more than simply allowing employees to communicate with customers and clients in other parts of the world, although clearly that’s a significant benefit for businesses. Language skills also boost an individual’s ability to empathise with those in other cultures. This improves cultural understanding, which plays an essential role in international business.
However, linguistic dexterity is not just a benefit when working with those outside the business. Internally, it can also help to improve team strength when dealing with colleagues in other parts of the world and can change the way the company is perceived by those inside the business and across the marketplace as a whole.
The language gap in the UK
One of the biggest obstacles for UK businesses to overcome is the lack of language skills and cultural knowledge at a domestic level. As well as impacting performance in the export market, a lack of language skills can present legal risks to companies expanding abroad, with regulatory issues and cultural misunderstandings potentially the result.
Research by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills back in 2013 found that the deficit in language skills is costing the UK economy around £48bn a year, equivalent to 3.5 percent of GDP. A recent report by the British Chamber of Commerce found that 62 percent of non-exporting businesses saw their lack of language skills as one of the main barriers to the export market.
So what can British businesses do?
There are changes UK businesses can make to their recruitment processes to promote the recruitment of bilingual workers. But the problem is more complicated than that. Companies do not only want employees with language skills. They also look for well-rounded individuals with employability skills such as teamwork and resilience, as well as tech and digital knowledge and job-specific qualifications.
When you combine all these attributes, it’s clear just how tough it can be to find candidates with the professional and language skills businesses need. The result is that only 2 percent of companies are satisfied with the language skills of their workforce.
The role of internal language training
As the Brexit negotiations continue, it’s still unclear how UK businesses will be able to source workers with the language skills they need in the future. If it becomes more difficult to hire workers from abroad, this will exacerbate the problem.
One step some businesses are taking to overcome this uncertainty is to offer language training to existing employees. Businesses in sectors such as hospitality, travel and customer service are finding this approach to be of particular value.
Those that do offer language training in-house have found that participating employees exhibit greater confidence, improved performance and increased engagement in their work. Research has shown they may also experience a boost to their intellectual capabilities.
Start your search
At Linguistica Recruitment, we help businesses across the South Coast hire talented bilingual employees. Call 02392 987 765 and start your search today.