With our increasingly multicultural, and global job market, it's beneficial for those educating the professionals of tomorrow to enhance their programmes and courses with initiatives for student employability skills training. Those seeking work, especially those new to the job market, must do everything they can to stand out from the crowd, and language proficiency is a great way to do just that.
According to a recent paper jointly published by King's College London and the University of Sussex, employment is an outcome, whereas employability focuses on a wide range of “knowledge, skills, and attributes to support continued learning and career development”. The emphasis on the latter marks a significant shift in the focus of learning in general. Students must now adapt to the growing trend towards digitalisation, marketisation and lifelong learning, not just a series of fixed outcomes. Moving away from designated objectives, learning is now seen as an ongoing, interactive process, with employability part of a continuous, ever-changing strategy.
Additionally, high-demand, low uptake skills can greatly improve your employability. Other employability skill examples include programming (HTML, CSS), translation skills, UX design, and conversational proficiency in a foreign language. Hard skills like these can drastically improve your chance of employment, and where employability is concerned, focused on life-long learning, continual improvement sustains your value as an employee long into the future.
With a concentration on language skills, we’ll look in detail at how proficiency in languages can improve student prospects, while also boosting student reputation amongst prospective employers.
There’s no doubt that speaking a second, or even a third or fourth, language can positively impact your students’ prospects. At present, there is a skills gap for multilingual speakers. If your students already have another language, make sure that employers are aware of it: skills like fluency in German and French can be easily overlooked.
Too often prospective employees assume that they must be fluent in another language in order to market it as a skill. But this is rarely the case. In practice, employers are just as often looking for staff proficient to a conversational level. For instance, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) recently found that 74% of employers recruit applicants with conversational ability rather than those who are fluent. Hence, while complete mastery of a language is obviously still a huge advantage, potential candidates are missing out by underselling their conversational language skills. When supporting your students with language learning options, you can encourage them on their learning journey by reinforcing that learning to be conversational in a language is still a commendable goal. Knowing how to use your language skills to liaise with overseas clients, make phone calls to teams in other countries, or attend conferences with representatives from across the world is a win for employers.
Just as there is a common misperception that students need to be fluent in another language to attract employers, so there is a misconception that only large firms want multilingual speakers. In reality, small firms are often just as keen to hire multilingual speakers. They may need help to break into foreign markets. They may also be looking for people who can market their services or products online: the internet has made it easier for all types of businesses to trade internationally. Whatever the industry or market, it pays not to underestimate the demand for foreign languages. And universities can make the most out of this knowledge by supporting their students with language learning opportunities.
Another way in which language learning can boost employability skills is by indirect improvement of cognition. A recent study has found that bilingual children are better at solving puzzles than monolinguals, while a New York Times article has reported on studies that have shown that being bilingual “can have a profound effect on the brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age.” Although it might be tricky to convince employers that language skills make graduates better problem solvers, there is an obvious advantage to learning a new language to help maintain your students’ overall mental agility.
We hope we’ve shown you how language skills can boost your students’ career prospects. Not only does learning a new language improve overall brain function, but it also opens up career paths. We believe that language learning is one of the most effective ways of bridging a host of skills gaps, while also boosting learner performance, improving internal communication to encouraging critical thinking.
Learn more about how you can support your students with language learning through a conversation with our team.