The following BBC article, “Foreign languages ‘shortfall’ for business”, features a survey carried out by the Confederation of British Industry,. For me, the main points that stood out were:
1) The UK's education system has failed to produce language skills to meet employers’ growing demands
2) Two-thirds of surveyed firms prefer workers with language skills
The first point has widely been acknowledged. You can only point to the number of overseas workers who have filled vacancies requiring a second language. However, employers should recognise that there is a lead time of up to 15 years, between investment in language education and when these benefits will be realised in the workplace.
On the second point, I am encouraged to see the high percentage of employers who value language skills. Remember in my previous article, employers were crying out for “technical, oral communication or literacy skills”. It seems almost too obvious that language learning encompasses and develops all these skills through listening and speaking, reading and writing. Languages should therefore be taken as seriously as English, Maths and Science in the curriculum.
I am more upbeat than the CBI’s assessment about the future of language learning. There are already encouraging signs in the increased number of students taking languages at GCSE level. In addition, the compulsory age to learn a foreign language has reduced from 11 to 7 and this should also have a positive effect in the future.
But for now, employers cannot afford to wait another 10-15 years to tap into future talents. The opportunities in emerging markets are happening NOW and if employers want to capitalise, they will have to invest more NOW in language training for their staff.