Good news for language graduates: A report on UK labour market demand for modern language graduates, published by the University Council of Modern Languages (UCML), shows that despite the often-voiced claim that non-European languages such as Arabic and Mandarin Chinese should be given preference when planning foreign language provision in secondary and higher education, the European “Big4” French, German, Spanish and Italian remain most in demand by employers specifying a language for recruitment: “[The] results show that [non-European languages] are requested in addition to – not instead of – the Western European languages that have been taught for so many years in UK higher education.” (p. 96)
The report is based on figures collected by analysing postings on major online employment websites, by a survey of recruitment agencies specialising in language recruitment, and through interviews with employers in a variety of sectors. The numbers indicate that German and French are especially desirable due to the UK’s trade relationships with the two language areas. To give an example: Recruitment agencies reported that in the last 12 months, German was the most requested language, with more than 1,500 jobs requiring German, about 25% of the total (p. 38).
There is clear evidence that employers “view language skills as a strategically important recruitment target for a wide variety of purposes” (p. 45). Unfortunately, a number of interviewees lamented the lack of sufficient language skills among their prospective recruitees from the UK labour force: One respondent said that “[it] used to be very easy to find a German speaker, it’s dried up now and it is increasingly difficult” (p. 48).
The report also clearly shows that, for most employers, UK graduates with language skills have ‘the edge’ over similar candidates without language skills (p. 50), and that employers especially value graduates who combine language skills with joint academic experience, for example in combination with law or finance: “[Studying] a subject at university such as ‘Law and French’ or ‘Economics and German’ puts you ahead because you’ll graduate with a combination of skills that not many other people have.” (Margaret Prythergch, Chief Assessor, Recruitment Strategy Team, Civil Service Capability Group, p. 51).
Discussing future skill needs, the report is quite clear about the significant role of higher education in closing a skills gap caused by a decrease in German uptake post-GCSE and growing pressure on German departments in universities:
“The continued popularity of German with employers based in the UK, and its strategic importance as a language to international institutions, would indicate a potential increase in demand in future, rather than a decrease. The decline in numbers taking German in secondary education and the closure or restructuring of German departments throughout the UK will continue to have a negative impact on the numbers of those who can speak German. As a result, the research would indicate a future widening skills gap that may need to be addressed at higher education level.” (p. 95)
Click here to read the full report.
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