Closing the language skills gap that hinders business

Panos Kraniotis gives us more good reasons why we shouldn’t drop language skills from the mix.

Many of today’s businesses continue to expand and operate on a global scale. Companies interact with suppliers all around the world, trading and shipping internationally, and selling to customers across continents.

To operate on this level, companies need strong customer and supplier relationships that span many languages. Building and maintaining these powerful relationships requires efficient communication, but many organisations have employees that still lack the language skills needed to bridge communication, which is hindering cross-border interactions.

Companies that give employees the opportunity to build and develop language skills can reap the benefits through more productive negotiations, sales discussions, increased employee retention and teamwork within their own enterprise.

The cost of a language skills deficit

In the UK, language learning is often abandoned during school years and the impact of this ricochets through industry and the economy. In fact, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages cites the UK’s language skills deficit is currently estimated to cost 3.5% of GDP.

If organisations do not have a workforce that is multilingual, this could impact British businesses as trade continues to take place across the continent. 

The Group also points out that, while a majority of the significant small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) operate only in English, over half of them say language skills would help expand business opportunities and build export growth.

As the UK exits the European Union, it is entirely possible that the English language will take a step back from being the lingua franca in business and that other European langu

A survey from OCR/Think Global indicates that companies are feeling the impact of this skills shortage on a daily basis. In fact, 28% of UK employers are affected by a lack of workers with foreign language skills, and in London a huge 44% are affected.

We can see the impact in missed opportunities to win new contracts or grow existing business, for example, or day-to-day operations not running as they should. If organisations do not have a workforce that is multilingual, this could impact British businesses as trade continues to take place across the continent. 

Companies will put themselves in a better position to maintain and build international relationships if they promote the benefits of languages within their organisations, and encourage employees to develop these skills.

Employee benefits

While some might think that encouraging employees to take on a new language will be an uphill battle, this isn’t the case with the majority of adults in the UK. In fact, the British Council discovered that 58% of UK adults wish they hadn’t let language skills from school days slip, and nearly three-quarters of them think that speaking another language is an important skill to have.

Not only does building new skills give employees a significant confidence boost by easing any potential international conversation, but will also help them feel appreciated by the investment made in their ongoing development and feel more motivated at work – all encouraging news for an employer, which can lead to increased employee retention.


Traditionally, closing the language skills gap has been done with on- or off-site classroom-style training. However, this method has proven to be an impractical and high-cost solution for many, with it being challenging getting employees from many – and sometimes international – offices together.

This method can also make it difficult to achieve consistent learning standards and complicated to measure progress across a company.

Digital solutions to bridge training gaps

When taking on operational challenges in the workplace, many companies turn to technological solutions as digitisation delivers benefits of speed, consistency and cost reductions in many areas of business.

You can gain these same benefits from digital training programmes to upskill a workforce, especially one that is geographically spread. Consistency is achieved through standardised content and measurement is simple through inclusive reporting options.

Practicalities aside, technology-based learning is also ideal for companies whose employees struggle to fit training into their already busy schedule. Digital learning programmes can be accessed from a range of devices when and where it suits the learner, allowing them to dip into their training when it is convenient for them, in or out of the office.

Many aspects of work life have now become digital, from file storing, editing, to the rise of BYOD, so employees are comfortable navigating screen-based content and respond well to the interactivity it can give them. Speech recognition and online tutoring with native speakers can also help develop and refine pronunciation to get learners speaking confidently in their new language.

By closing the language skills gap, companies can better equip themselves to perform well on a global scale, benefiting from improved customer and supplier interactions, stronger cross-border relationships and an enhanced level of cultural understanding.

The considerable revenue and growth impact of not having language skills on UK businesses and the economy exposes the danger of ignoring this skills deficit. Fortunately, digital language learning programmes can help companies upskill their workforce for better business results, enhanced employee engagement and closer team working.


About the author

Panos Kraniotis is regional director of Europe at Rosetta Stone.


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