Employment

Research to support the business case for languages

Business case for languages

author British Academy, British Academy (November 2017)

Key messages on language skills:

  • Skills of critical analysis, problem solving, negotiation and communication, speaking other languages and understanding other cultures have intrinsic value with huge benefits for society, contributing to social cohesion at home and the UK’s prosperity and security abroad.
  • We live in an increasingly diverse, multicultural society. In an increasingly global labour market and with more mobility in the workforce, the world is more interconnected than ever. Language skills, intercultural understanding, global awareness and an international mind set will be crucial for the future of the UK economy, society and for UK security and diplomacy.
  • AHSS graduates are already equipped with many of the skills required to thrive in a global context. These skills are not just limited to language and area studies graduates, but are found in many AHSS disciplines, including for example in history and geography, along with the broader skills of communication, diplomacy, negotiation and empathy which are shared across AHSS disciplines.
  • British Academy recommends that Government, universities and learned societies work together to realise the potential and added-value of AHSS as a context in which language, digital and data skills can be developed to ensure that the UK has the skills needed for productivity and growth in the 21st century

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author British Council, British Council (2017)

Key messages on language skills:

  • Language competence is far more than just another tool in the box; it is a prerequisite and a facilitator for the development of a wide spectrum of other skills and attributes.
  • Without language skills, the UK loses out through the restricted ability to communicate internationally.
  • Without language skills, the UK loses out through the closing down of opportunities for overseas work experience, a lack of international business sense, a failure to appreciate that other cultures have different ways of doing things and a potential tendency to overestimate the global importance of British culture.
  • Other languages are needed not only for success in the global economy but to build trust, deepen international influence and cultural relationships, and to keep our country safe.
  • The capacity of our country’s population to engage internationally will be central to strengthening successful economic, political, cultural and people-to-people relationships in Europe and globally in years to come.

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author Skills Development Scotland, (2016)

Key messages on language skills:

  • Industry consultations highlighted the requirement for further work in ensuring staff have the experience to deliver a high quality visitor experience, including a need to promote tourism as a career option to those studying languages.
  • Through increased internationalisation, Scotland will attract growing numbers of visitors from new or emerging markets. It is important that businesses and destinations understand and respond to their visitors’ customs and expectations, while also looking to enhance the foreign language skills of their workforce.

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author OCR and Think Global, (July 2016)

Key messages on language skills:

  • There is a substantial skills gap in relation to foreign language skills at a time when the UK Government is trying to build more effective relationships with rapidly-developing parts of the world.
  • Overall, 28% of employers are affected by employees’ lack of foreign language skills, with that number rising to 35% percent in large and service-based companies; and to over half of all employers in Scotland. If Britain is to maintain and build a meaningful position on the world stage, this finding should ring alarm bells.

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    author CBI, CBI (July 2015)

    Key messages on language skills:
    • The proportion of businesses saying they have a need for foreign language skills among their employees has risen sharply (to 77%). The ability to communicate with other people in their own language can play a valuable part in forming relationships, building mutual understanding and trust, and developing the networks on which business opportunities depend.
    • The vast majority of businesses do not require a high level of foreign language fluency as an essential core competence of their operations. However, conversational fluency in another language helps in the conduct of business and can assist staff in their careers.
    • Over two in five employers see foreign language ability as beneficial to the business although not a recruitment requirement, while more than one in three finds it helpful in building relations with overseas suppliers, customers and other contacts. 
    • Around one in four UK employers says language skills assist staff mobility within the organisation, facilitating international working. 
    • Almost two thirds of UK employers are not satisfied with school/college leavers’ foreign language employability skills and over half perceive shortfalls in international cultural awareness among school and college leavers. 
    • French and German are the leading languages in demand by firms, but those geared to business in China and the Spanish-speaking New World are increasingly seen as useful.

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    author British Council / SCDI, (June 2014)

    Key messages on language skills:

    • Language skills were cited by young people as one of the top barriers to working and studying abroad.
    • 28% of employers agree or strongly agree that an ability to speak at least one other language is important to the employment opportunities of young people. 45% of young people share this view.
    • 80% of young people said they had learnt a language to a level where a simple conversation could be held.
    • While young people felt that they were given the opportunity to acquire some language skills at school, many believe that languages could be taught in different ways and that this would both improve standards and encourage more people to learn foreign languages.

    Quotes from business on language skills:

    • 'We need young people to understand a globalised marketplace and then develop the language skills because if they are interested and realise the inner value, this will drive them forward.' CEO, Oil and Gas Industry
    • 'Scottish businesses are not placing enough emphasis on the benefits of language skills in the workplace [...] As a manufacturer, we are competing with multi-lingual German and Italian engineers and until we, as a nation, are on an equal footing in regard to engineering and language skills, Scotland will rarely be first choice.' MD, Manufacturing Business

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    author James Foreman-Peck, Cardiff Business School (May 2014)

    Key messages on language skills

    • Poor language skills in businesses are holding back the UK’s trade performance. Because of poor language skills, trade by UK companies in 2006 was lower than it might otherwise have been in Brazil, Russia, India, China as well as with France, Germany and Japan.
    • Language skills make firms more able to communicate in the same language as potential trade partners, which makes a firm more likely to be an exporter.
    • Language skills make firms more aware of the barriers created by cultural factors.
    • Language skill deficiencies and lack of awareness of the importance of these skills has a significant negative influence on export intensity. Firms with greater understanding of language and culture are better able to identify and exploit sales opportunities in that market and can achieve higher export sales.

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    author British Academy, British Academy (February 2014)

    Prospering Wisely aims to kick-start a national conversation about the place of humanities and social science research in our society. It argues that we need to think about the nature of 'prosperity' in much broader terms than its usual purely financial definition.

    Key messages on language skills:

    • More than three-quarters of the UK economy is now in services, which flourish by employing people with knowledge and skills from the humanities and social sciences, including speaking other languages.
    • Foreign language skills play a crucial role in opening up many overseas markets.
    • Foreign language skills open up cross-national and cross-cultural discourse, including diplomacy and international security.
    • As research itself becomes an ever more international enterprise, the importance of language skills is increasingly evident.
    • We need more people who can supplement their specialist knowledge in a particular professional, scientific or other disciplinary area with an understanding of other languages.

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    author Mary Fischer, (June 2013)

    In the context of recent surveys of business and employer attitudes to the economy’s need for language skills, this study aims to contribute to the debate by investigating the attitudes to foreign language skills in the Scottish Financial Sector. Interviews were conducted with representatives of recruitment agencies and with four managers in investment management companies headquartered in Scotland. The results show, paradoxically, that although language skills are considered essential in this sector, companies tend not to acknowledge this explicitly and do not recruit on this basis. The latent need for skilled linguists is largely met by recruiting foreign nationals who offer both language skills and a global mind-set. It is suggested that these practices will have longer term consequences for the competitiveness of British graduates in the global economy.

    Keywords: language skills, financial sector, year abroad, language policies

    author British Council, British Council (2013)

    Key messages on language skills:

    The research shows that there is real business value in employing staff who have the ability to work effectively with individuals and organisations from cultural backgrounds different from their own. In particular, employers highlight the following as important intercultural skills:

    • the ability to understand different cultural contexts and viewpoints
    • demonstrating respect for others
    • knowledge of a foreign language.

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    author Teresa Tinsley, British Academy (2013)

    Key messages:

    The British Academy commissioned a review of empirical data from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales seeking baseline data on the current demand and supply of language skills in the UK. Key findings from the report include: 

    • There is strong evidence that the UK is suffering from a growing deficit in foreign language skills at a time when globally, the demand for language skills is expanding
    • The range and nature of languages being taught is insufficient to meet current and future demand 
    • Language skills are needed at all levels in the workforce, and not simply by an internationally-mobile elite 
    • A weak supply of language skills is pushing down demand and creating a vicious circle of monolingualism 
    • Languages spoken by British school children, in addition to English, represent a valuable future source of supply – if these skills can be developed appropriately.

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    author Scottish Government, Scottish Government (2012)

    The purpose of this report was to report findings to the Languages Working Group of the cost to Scotland of a monolingual workforce in order to support the delivery of an action plan for the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning for the manifesto commitment ‘that all students develop 1+2 languages’.

    Conclusions:

    • 75% of the world population speaks no English and only 6% are fluent in English. If nothing else shakes our complacency that English is enough, those figures should. But add these to the clear demand from business, and the weight of evidence that improving language skills will enhance life chances for individuals. Enhancing language skills increases the trading capabilities of companies and organisations; and provides growth for the economy, as well as enhancing Scotland’s international cultural reputation. Then the problem shifts from why we should invest in language skills to how we can make it happen.
    • While there may be insufficient data from Scotland to provide a detailed economic impact analysis of the ‘tax on trade’ for Scotland, if we take the minimum suggested by the analysis for the UK of half a billion pounds it is a prize worth securing and a price worth investing in acquiring the skills. 
    • Working closely with business organisations will enable Scotland not only to gather specific empirical evidence, but it will also build stronger ties between commerce and education that will bring significant rewards for Scotland.

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    University of Strathclyde Education Scotland British Council Scotland The Scottish Government
    SCILT - Scotlands National centre for Languages