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Is the skills shortage for UK organisations the result of a lack in training investment?


The Government skills watchdog recently found that a sharp rise in skills shortages in the UK may be preventing full recovery for parts of the economy. A common fear is that businesses might fall behind and miss out on the opportunity to take advantage of the upturn if they lack people with the right skills to drive their business. Although job vacancies in England are back to pre-recession levels according to the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, the remaining shortages can mostly be attributed to the fact that businesses are struggling to find recruits with the appropriate experience and qualifications.

The industry suffering most from skills shortages is manufacturing. According to the recent government report “The future of manufacturing: A new era of opportunity and challenge for the UK” the quality and skills of the workforce is increasingly important in securing competitive advantage over international competition. The shortage of skilled workers is so crucial in this industry in fact that some UK employers are already looking to source expert talent with strategically important skills from outside of the UK.

The UK Commission for Employment and Skills study went into further detail and highlighted that amongst other skills, “There has been an increase in the proportion of skills-shortage vacancies resulting from a lack of communication skills, particularly oral communication (41%, up from 37% in 2011)”. Could this inability to communicate properly be the result of poor language skills?

The English effect

According to the World Trade Organisation, 70 percent of the Global 1000 workforce is made up of non-native English speakers. What brings up serious issues is the findings of a survey conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit in 2012, where 70 per cent of the executives surveyed rated their colleagues` ability to communicate internationally as average or below, even though 70 per cent also highlighted that their workforce will need to master English to realise corporate expansion plans, and a quarter said that English abilities are required for 50 per cent of their employees.

Based on these findings it is clear that when it comes to organisations with a geographically or linguistically diverse workforce, whilst many believe English to be the lingua franca of business, proficiency in the language is by no means advanced across the board.

With this in mind it is even more surprising to learn that according to the study above by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, a third of employers do not provide training to staff, in fact spending on employee training has fallen by over 2 billion since 2011. Could it be that through an under prioritisation of language training, skilled workers are less able to communicate efficiently in the workplace and therefore unable to demonstrate their skills and value to organisations?

It seems appropriate that executives should start to look at this field as an opportunity. Rosetta Stone Enterprise and Education recently surveyed 300 global business decision makers and the outcome seems to support this theory in full. 88 per cent of respondents went on the record to say that investing in English training for their staff increased overall success for their organisations. Furthermore, 77 per cent said that investing in English language training increased profitability by 25 per cent through increasing productivity, quality of work and customer satisfaction. 

Taking this into account it is possible that many international companies already have skilled people within their business. It could be that instead of looking outside the business for talent, in fact they need to search closer to home and start capitalising on the workforce already at their disposal. Providing training to enable those skilled people to perform and communicate effectively within the organisation would enable them to maximise their individual potential as well as that of the organisation. Business language requires a more specific and focussed training programme than your average language training programme, with immediate and actionable skills training such as presentation skills and email language and industry specific areas of development.

Talent speaks many languages, but when an international team can communicate through a common tongue the overall success of an organisation is increased and individuals are utilised to their maximum potential. Crossing the language barrier might be all that’s needed in order to bridge the skills gap. 

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