Languages ‘Critical’ to U.S. Employers

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A new survey, released today, calls attention to the serious foreign language skills gap in the U.S. workforce. The report, “Making Languages Our Business: Addressing Foreign Language Demand Among U.S. Employers,” shows the critical demand in the U.S. economy for multilingual employees, providing the most comprehensive look at the value of foreign language to date.

Demand for language skills in the U.S. workforce is greater than ever before. In boardrooms and in the field, with customers and partners and on social media, U.S. employers today are increasingly conducting business in a language other than English. Accordingly, the ability to effectively communicate in more than one language is a critical asset for U.S. students and employees—not only in boosting their marketability in the workplace, but in helping them thrive in a global economy.

This groundbreaking industry report, based on a survey conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs for The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) as part of its Lead with Languages campaign, and with support from Pearson and Language Testing International, includes new data emphasizing the vital need for language skills in the U.S. workplace and their impact on the U.S. economy.

“There is no denying the dominant position STEM subjects have enjoyed in today’s curriculum. Foreign language, unfortunately, is often treated as a competing discipline. Our survey findings highlight the need for world language skills to be recognized as a complementary and interdependent capability. We already know that language learning deepens our connections to other cultures, boosts confidence, strengthens decision-making, and contributes greatly to national security; we also know language skills are necessary to produce the globally-competent employees U.S. businesses are seeking,” said Howie Berman, ACTFL’s executive director. “This reality requires an education system that prepares graduates to be proficient in the languages they need to successfully compete in a 21st century global economy.”

According to the report, a vast majority of U.S. employers say they rely on employees with language skills other than English to advance their business goals. Those unable to fill this need may find themselves falling behind in the global market.

Key findings of the report include:

U.S. employers have a growing demand for multilingual employees.

  • Nine out of 10 U.S. employers report a reliance on U.S.-based employees with language skills other than English.
  • One-third (32%) of employers report a high dependency on language skills other than English.
  • A majority of employers report that their need for foreign languages has increased over the past five years and project that it will continue to grow.

High-demand languages also have the greatest shortages.

  • Spanish, Chinese and Japanese see the highest demand among U.S. employers. Additionally, employers are most likely to report shortages in these languages.
  • A third (34%) of U.S. employers reliant on foreign languages say their foreign language needs are not currently being met by their employees.

Foreign language skills impact employers’ bottom line.

  • Nearly one in four U.S. employers surveyed acknowledged losing or being unable to pursue a business opportunity over the singular lack of foreign language skills.

The report also proposes seven concrete recommendations U.S. employers can implement to better recruit and sustain a multilingual workforce, as well as understand the implications of early language instruction on creating a more robust pipeline of future workers with language skills.

“We are pleased to support the work that ACTFL is doing to quantify the demand for multilingual employees in the United States and raise awareness of the importance of foreign language education,” said Andrew Gilfillan, Pearson’s VP of Product Management for the Humanities, Social Sciences, World Languages, and Business. “At Pearson, it is our mission to be a true partner in language learning for instructors and students by creating proficiency-oriented educational solutions for the 21st century classroom. Students are increasingly focused on how their studies relate to employability, and the results of this survey unequivocally demonstrate the value of language education to the U.S. economy.”

ACTFL’s report details the findings of a national survey among 1,200 upper-level managers and human resources professionals with knowledge of their organization’s foreign language needs.Public administration and government employers were excluded from this survey as were employers with fewer than 10 employees.

To learn more andto download the report, visit https://www.leadwithlanguages.org/report.

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