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According to the BBC, businesses are missing out on opportunities to break into new markets because they cannot recruit multilingual employees locally. This stems from the fact that the current education system doesn’t emphasize the acquisition of second languages. Although the government is now targeting policies to allow for second languages in the curriculum, it will be a while before the system can provide the necessary number of multilingual employees to satisfy the current job market. Most of the demand is for people who can speak French, German and Spanish but the recent domination of China in global trade has also led to demand for Mandarin speakers.
Bigger Trading Opportunities
Although UK’s biggest trading partner today is the EU, Katja Hall, the CBI Director General, the biggest demand for multilingual will no longer come from Europe. Firms are now looking to trade in China as well as Latin America where fast growing economies are allowing companies to trade globally. Multilingual employees mean that transitioning into new markets is a lot easier and less costly. Today, British firms that want to do this have to hire expatriates which means bigger salaries.
With only 1 in 5 schools requiring student to learn a second language, it will be several years before these companies can hire locally. Although there have been recent government initiatives to correct this worrying lack of foreign language education, it is yet to be seen as to how they will be implemented and how effective they will be. According to Ms. Hall, the problems is that students are not being told early that foreign languages will give them vast opportunities in the future. This is relevant because languages are much easier to grasp at young ages and if they are introduced early enough, it only takes a few years to become fluent.
As of September this year, children will be required to start learning second languages from the age of 7. In the past, languages were compulsory from the age of 11, a policy which saw a great decline in recent years. The current crop will understand from an early age that languages are just as important as math, science or history. It will definitely give them an edge because they have better earning opportunities.
Are employers willing to pay more for these skills? The trends speak for themselves. Although they will not pay as much as they pay expatriates, they will pay enough to distinguish multilingual employees from those who are not. In addition to French, Spanish, German and Mandarin, they are also looking for staff who can speak Cantonese, Polish, Russian, Japanese as well as employees who can speak Arabic.
Is it too late for those who haven’t mastered a second language? Fortunately no. There are plenty of foreign language classes available either through the internet or through better option of a personal tutor. A personal tutor is more effective because you don’t just learn a language, you get to learn a little bit of the culture.
Essentially global talent management is not dissimilar to HR – it’s simply HR on a global scale. The purpose of global talent management is to recruit and retain the best talent in the context of a business whose limits don’t stop at national borders.
The managing of a global workforce is complex, and involves not only selecting the right employees to send overseas, but in many cases also assisting them with their move. This could mean helping out with visa requirements, finding the right accommodation, and assisting in the selection and placing of school-age children in the best establishment (if the employee is going abroad with her or his family).
There are also important financial considerations too when a member of the workforce is stationed abroad – such as their tax requirements, how remuneration is worked out (and which currency to pay people in) as well as things like health cover.
Why are people moving abroad?
Research suggests that the profile of international workers is changing – and while the majority of those going overseas on assignments used to be people higher up the organisational structure, there are now more people going abroad who aren’t at an elevated executive level.
One of the main reasons more opportunities are opening up abroad is because companies – in an effort to rely less on a single territory, are looking to grow in emerging markets. Recently Brazil, Russia, India and China – known collectively as the BRICs economies – have been featured quite heavily in a lot of talk about economic growth and business opportunity.
The globally mobile workforce
While the day is still far off when a majority of employees will be able to choose to spend time working abroad for their company, there’s no doubt that overseas assignments are popular, and seen as a valuable step in career progression. But working abroad – for all its rewards, does bring its own special set of challenges and pressures, including:
- attaining the right level of language skills
- negotiating the vagaries of foreign healthcare systems
- settling into a new job and living circumstances in what may be an unfamiliar location
Obviously, for employers there’s a lot at stake as well for the employee. If an assignment doesn’t work out for whatever reason, then it can be a costly process to discontinue the assignment. Many employers provide an EAP (employee assistance programme) to provide counselling for employees experiencing problems in their personal life.
In terms of healthcare, some surveys have indicated that in some cases employers may be unaware of the difference between travel health cover and expat cover. In a blog post on advice for prospective expatriates on the website of AXA PPP International expat health insurance provider, an important point is raised about entry to certain countries and the strict visa rules they may have. There have been stories in the press about uninsured people actually being turned away at the airport. So health insurance comes high on the list of priorities.
Gavin M is a blogger specialising in expat life and employment topics.