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UK and US businesses losing out due to lack of language skills and cultural awareness in their workforces


Monday, 21 September, 2015

Specialist translation and localisation agency and GALA member, Conversis, today released new research which reveals that many UK and US businesses are struggling to expand internationally because they can’t find employees with the appropriate language skills and cultural awareness.

The complete report, ‘The Importance of Global Talent within International Businesses’ can be downloaded at the Conversis website.

This study of UK based business leaders, together with the survey of US based Hiring Managers, shows that many are finding it hard to operate globally because they can’t find new staff who can speak other languages.

One in four companies surveyed in the UK that currently, or are looking to, operate internationally said they had lost business opportunities because of a lack of foreign language skills with one in six of all businesses in the US (where 33% of mid and large size companies had international operations and/or serve multilingual/multicultural clientele) said similar.

Moreover, in the UK, two in five say a lack of cultural understanding amongst their newest employees has created a barrier to growth, and a third admit to difficulties in filling vacancies due to lack of language skills amongst candidates.

Gary Muddyman, CEO of Conversis, says: “The findings in this research affirm the reality that we in the UK translation and localisation industry have been aware of for quite some time. On the one hand, graduates are generally struggling to find employment, and on the other hand, UK companies seeking graduates with specific skills like those we have been researching have to look abroad to staff their organisations. For some reason, learning foreign languages does not appear to be a priority amongst young people and this disinterest may be costing them job opportunities that they would otherwise have had."

Bill Rivers, Executive Director at Joint National Committee for Languages added: “Most strikingly in the US, companies seek professionals with global talent in order to improve how their own internal teams function, as the US workforce has become increasingly diverse. Primary and secondary schools as well as the higher education need to offer more language programming, and it needs to start sooner in the child’s schooling. In higher education, language programs need to work with the other programs on campus to ensure that students in business, engineering, the sciences, and other disciplines have quality language programming as well as opportunities to study abroad.”

The research suggests that British and American businesses could be losing business to overseas competitors because of a lack of foreign language skills and cultural awareness amongst their staff.

A quarter of respondents said a lack of language skills among their newest employees has resulted in a loss of business opportunities, while two in five UK businesses and 14% of US said a lack of cultural understanding among their newest employees has resulted in lost business opportunities. A third even said a lack of language skills among their newest employees has resulted in difficulty filling vacancies.

Muddyman continues: “The global economy and the Internet have sparked a transition away from English as the default business language, but the UK is lagging behind this trend which ultimately will lead to a lack of competitiveness. The skills gap revealed in this research obviously also takes a toll on the national economy when it becomes a barrier for international expansion. It is not surprising that so many business leaders say that they would like to see higher education institutions do more to promote global thinking amongst their students.”