In the current economic climate, job seekers are having to find as many ways to distinguish themselves from the competition as possible, with one report suggesting that people with language skills could be one step ahead of the rest.
Recent research by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and North Anglia Education found that employers value the ability to speak a foreign language.
They are looking for people with conversational ability rather than full fluency, the CBI says, which could be good news for those who have undergone courses in secretarial studies and can speak more than one language.
The survey found that four per cent of chief executives believe the companies have lost access to markets due to inadequate ability to communicate effectively with overseas businesses.
However, the report suggested that the number of firms that have been held back by a skills shortage in this area could actually be much higher, as 21 per cent of respondents said that they did not know whether a lack of language ability had cost them business.
The survey found that European languages, particularly French and German, are the most sought-after by employers recruiting based on these skills, although the move into emerging markets in the Far East, Central Asia and Latin America is widening the scope for language abilities. According to the report, 38 per cent of firms are seeking speakers of Mandarin/Cantonese, 28 per cent are seeking those with a knowledge of Spanish and 21 per cent want people who can converse in Russian.
“Employers are increasingly looking for people with ability in a second language, particularly conversational language skills which help to build relationships with existing partners and to make contacts in new markets,” said Teresa Tinsley, director of communications at CILT, the National Centre for Languages.
“Just having enough of a second language to chat over dinner or
networking drinks can make a great difference to businesses operating in a global market,” said Ms Tinsley.
The monetary rewards for people with language skills are also
potentially higher, with a recent Elizabeth Hunt survey showing that the typical salary for bilingual secretarial staff in the City of London stands at £29,000 a year.
According to the research, an Executive PA who is fluent in more than one language can expect to earn on average £30,500. The earning potential for people in these two roles amounts to £33,000 and £36,000 for employees working in the City, the survey showed.
Karen Floyd, director of communications and development at the
Institute of Translation and Interpreting, says that as a country which relies heavily on exports, the UK is increasingly in need of employees, such as secretarial staff, who can speak more than one language.
“It always creates a very good first impression if you’re able to at least communicate with somebody in their own language. Even if it’s just to be polite and say a few words, it always creates goodwill,” she explains.
“We have a reputation as a country of not being particularly good with languages and that is something we have to overcome,” Ms Floyd adds. Secretarial staff who have language skills tend also to have an appreciation for a particular culture, which can be a significant advantage when trying to employ correct business etiquette with a foreign firm or identify trading trends.
“If a country is looking to export a particular widget to a particular target market, somebody who has experience of the market because of their knowledge of the language, will know the feel of that country and whether this is a particular product that should be marketed in a slightly different way with slightly different messages perhaps,” Ms Floyd explains. “It also shows a bit of worldliness, which I think employers like,” she adds.
“If you can demonstrate worldliness and an appreciation of the wider scope of business, particularly international business, then obviously that will set people apart as well.” Ms Floyd also suggests that being able to read, write and speak a foreign language indicates a good ability to learn and an excellent command of your own, complementing the skills gained through secretarial training or during typing courses, for example.