Career ammunition for language graduates

Career ammunition for language graduates Transferable skills by The economic case for language learning

This article was written by Global Graduates, published on 13th February 2013 and has been read 10885 times.

As a business which works with year abroad students, we are constantly hearing stories about how important the year abroad and foreign language skills are for your graduate career prospects. It's when employers start talking about "the lack of linguistic graduates in the UK" that it gets really interesting. You are a linguistic graduate! You are a valuable commodity! You need to understand that with a grasp of a foreign language or an inside knowledge of another culture, you are in a position to approach employers speculatively and offer your services to help them develop new business in those geographical areas.

If you find a business in the UK which deals with your year abroad destination, you would be a dream graduate trainee! You already speak the language and understand how the locals think, so you are like a secret weapon for a business trading there. So go out and do some research! Which are the businesses with  the greatest potential?!

A surprisingly huge number of students we've met recently still think that their career options as a language graduate are limited to teaching, interpreting or translation. This is simply not the case. Global brands understand the positive value of communicating with clients and customers in a way which makes them feel comfortable. As Willy Brandt, the former German Chancellor put it: "If I'm selling to you, I speak your language. If I'm buying, dann müssen Sie Deutsch sprechen." Mention this in interviews!

We can pep talk like this til the cows come home, so it might be more useful to have an armoury of stats, facts, figures and quotations to help you with your job hunt and interviews. Some will be useful, and some not, but we love them:

79% of employers say knowledge of intercultural skills and other cultures are more important than degree classification. (Martin Davidson, CE, British Council) "Under-investment in languages relative to other countries cost the UK in 2009 a minimum of £7.3 billion". (The economic case for language learning and the role of employer engagement, Education and Employers’ Taskforce, 2011) "In the UK, studying languages at university has been shown to lead to good employment prospects. Three and a half years after graduation, more languages graduates are in work or study than their peers who studied Law, Architecture, Business or Computer Science, and earning high average wages." (ibid) 60% of employers are not satisfied with the foreign language skills of graduates (CBI, Education and Skills Survey 2011) 61% of non-exporters said they considered a lack of language skills a barrier to trading internationally (British Chambers of Commerce, International Trade Business Survey 2012) For 76% of companies, sales turnover increased by a minimum of 16% as a direct result of having a ‘language management strategy’ (various measures e.g. professional translation, selecting multilingual staff) (PIMLICO Project, European Commission survey of best practice in European SMEs, 2011) "The last twenty years have seen a rapid decline in language learning in the UK, and it’s a problem. It is inhibiting our businesses, our national prosperity and even our international standing." Roland Rudd, New Business for Europe. "The candidates who end up with job offers also demonstrate determination and resilience, and are able to work hard and thrive in difficult situations… able to cope if they are sent half way across the world to work on a client project… [graduates should] build resilience and get out of their comfort zones." (Stephen Isherwood, Head of Graduate Recruitment at Ernst & Young, Personnel Today, 2012) "The labour market requires graduates with enhanced skills who can think on their feet and be innovative in a global economic environment". (The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, QAA, 2012) “Adaptability, flexibility, and the ability to work in situations of ambiguity and risk” is a definition of the linguist’s placement period and what defines a global graduate, according to research for the Association of Graduate Recruiters, the Council for Industry and Higher Education (CFE Research and Consulting, 2010)


We will keep this list updated to ensure it's a truly relevant and accurate representation of what HR people, businesses, authorities and other related organisations are thinking, in terms of the value of the well-rounded 'Global Graduate'.


You should also check out our new jobs board: GlobalGraduates.com - filled with opportunities for young people with global skills!

Case study: Telefónica Digital

To give you an example of a business lamenting the lack of language skills in their new recruits, Telefónica has said that as a global digital business, headquartered in the UK, it "badly needs" more graduates who can speak second and even third languages to take advantage of huge opportunities in areas such as Latin America. Speaking to HR magazine, Geraldine Morel, global senior talent consultant at Telefónica Digital, said that employers are increasingly seeking talent abroad because of the shortage of graduates with a foreign language. She said:

"Employers are definitely looking abroad, so young people must now be more open to what is happening abroad. I'd encourage all young people in the UK to travel, experience different cultures and try to pick up a bit of language from their chosen country. The research shows that Brazil is one of the biggest growth markets, but only 3% of graduates speak Portuguese. If young people were aware of this it might influence them to study Portuguese and increase their job opportunities, especially in the digital arena."

The head of talent and development at Telefónica Digital added: "It is worrying that so few graduates speak additional languages today, particularly Spanish and Portuguese. Many digital businesses are global by their very nature, but in the UK it would seem we are not very well placed to take advantage of the massive opportunities in Brazil and Latin America simply due to our lack of language skills. The ability to understand and create new technologies is very important, but as we involve our graduates in a whole range of business functions from HR to marketing, cloud technology, video and machine-to-machine, the ability to understand and learn is crucial."

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