The Guardian: Language Skills Deficit Costs The UK 48bn a Year

According to The Guardian a new research done in the UK, the lack of language skills is hurting about 70% of businesses especially in the export sector. The research shows that the country is losing £48 billion every year which works out to about 3.5% of the GDP. The most affected are small and medium sized exporters. Trading abroad is easier if employees understand the language, can speak it and if they appreciate the culture and norms of many countries that import goods from the UK.

The guardian and the observer

The matter is simple really; many potential business partners are ready to work with UK companies that can talk to them directly and that are ready to tailor products to a language that they can understand. According to the research, people will have no problem if you are buying from them and you have no linguistic skills that they can understand. On the other hand, it is very hard to sell to them if you can only speak English.

The biggest economies in the world, China, Brazil and India have huge populations and hold great potential for English exporters but not many of these businesses are teaching their employees the languages needed to sell goods in these economies. In fact, employers do not even think of this when they are hiring; they will not choose new employees based on linguistic skills. These same businesses are the same ones that complain about how hard it is to get though these large economies. They simply want to assume that everyone speaks English.

According to Nick Brown, CEO of Nickwax, “We’re doing a little bit of work with China and we’re very aware that we’re behind there. One of the reasons is the language problem – we don’t have a Mandarin speaker.” Many other small and medium companies that export also echo the same, and the surprising thing is that they don’t seem to acknowledge the need to be strategic about these markets by finding employees who can communicate with potential markets.

Some companies are choosing to hire expatriates, but this is not really the answer if you look at how much they have to pay them; expats are usually paid more than employees from the UK and they also get perks. For a small business, this can be a huge cost and quite unnecessary. The better solution would be to hire someone who is already competent or train existing employees in foreign languages.
Looking at the other side of the coin, not enough people in the UK see the potential of learning new languages. It is very few people who have developed language skills specifically so that they can help their careers. Even with the availability of affordable language lessons, many people remain unemployed or in jobs that they want when a new language could change everything for them. It increases their chances of getting well paying jobs and opportunities for travel are numerous.