Research reported by the The Times this week has highlighted a growing dissatisfaction among many high-profile employers with the language skills of UK graduates. HR staff from companies including RBS, Google, McDonald’s and the law firm Slaughter and May underwent interviews with Cilt, the government-funded National Centre for Languages. Cilt reports that “Employers view the pool of those with high-level language skills as a global one, with the UK a relatively weak player. Candidates were more likely to come from outside the UK. Indeed, some employers feel our young people are falling behind, or at a disadvantage, in comparison to those from other countries.” The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has also received complaints from businesses overseas about the lack of language skills among British graduates.
I studied a Modern Languages degree with a year abroad in France and Spain. My own experience is that, while British graduates with a second European language are relatively few on a global scale, where they do speak a second language (or even a third), their fluency and accuracy can exceed those of their counterparts in continental Europe.
My subject peer group left University fired up with enthusiasm about using our newly developed language skills and cultural awareness in the workplace. However, many found that jobs where a language requirement was immediately in evidence were few and far between – this with the exception of the Foreign Office, Intelligence Services, a few much sought-after stages with the European Commission or options in language teaching. On the advice of our careers service, a significant number joined multinational companies with a view to picking up language skills again further down the line.
Cilt’s research suggests that there is growing demand for applicants who can speak another language due to increased globalisation. That’s great news for this year’s graduates, but perhaps the companies involved could do more to advertise the opportunities for language use and travel overseas in their opportunities at graduate level. A bit of give and take, si tu veux. In any event, hopefully this means things are looking up for our multilingual graduates.
Here at FreshMinds Talent, we’re always keen to hear from linguists, whether from overseas or from UK universities. Our interim team often places foreign language-speakers on research projects for consultancies, and language requirements figure on the permanent side of the business in areas from digital media to financial services. If you have language ability as well as a healthy dose of commercial acumen – get in touch!
Joanna Lynas is a Consultant with FreshMinds Graduate