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Lack of English language skills holding back global workforce

Global businesses that don’t invest in improving their employees’ English skills are missing out on major savings in productivity, higher returns and talent development opportunities, according to leading learning company Pearson.

Global businesses that don’t invest in improving their employees’ English skills are missing out on major savings in productivity, higher returns and talent development opportunities, according to leading learning company Pearson. 

New research from Pearson shows that English skills are considered key for learners, no matter where in the world they are applying for a job. Around a third of learners in global markets such as Asia, Europe and South America, are learning English to apply for a job in their own country and about the same amount of people said they were learning the language to work overseas. However, Pearson’s research also suggests that global businesses could do more to develop their employees’ English skills. While 92 percent of global employees report that English is important for their career progression, only 7 percent of non-native English speakers in global companies believe they can communicate effectively at work – for example, when using English in emails, conversations, phone calls or meetings.

As a result, businesses are missing out on crucial benefits to the bottom line: Pearson found that improved English skills can boost a businesses’ productivity.  On average, companies gained one working week per year, per employee. For a multinational business this means thousands of weeks per year. According to a recent study analysing the return on investment of communications, companies that are effective communicators have a 47 percent higher total return to shareholders over a 5-year period compared to those who weren’t effective in this area. To address this gap and help businesses reap the benefits of investing in employees’ professional English skills, Pearson is launching a suite of tailored learning objectives. These objectives are part of the Global Scale of English (GSE), a granular, numeric scale from 10-90 that provides a far more precise measurement of a learner’s abilities across each of the four language skills – reading, listening, speaking and writing – in comparison to other methods which tend to categorise proficiency in broad bands.

The GSE helps employers understand the individual English capabilities of their employees and identifies the specific skills they need to perform their role successfully. The GSE learning objectives are rooted in practical every-day business English. For professionals who wish to develop their English, the GSE learning objectives are a tool that can be readily used to plan a path to greater English proficiency. A customer service team, for example, may wish to focus more on speaking skills, in order to improve customer relations, and less on reading skills.

On an individual level, a Chief Executive who faces complex discussions and problems, may want to strive for a GSE score of 75 in spoken English to be persuasive and convince others a lawyer who fulfils key responsibilities such as questioning witnesses during trials, would be advised to aim for a score of 68 in spoken English to ensure questions are asked politely in potentially difficult or sensitive situations a mechanical engineer who takes readings and follows instructions, may want to aim for a reading score of 62 in order to interpret messages from diagrams and visual information

Tas Viglatzis, Managing Director, Pearson English, said: “It’s in everyone’s interest to ensure that learning a language isn’t seen as just a ‘training opportunity’, but a solid investment in personal growth and career development. Now more than ever, English is the common language of multinational businesses and candidates compete in a global talent market. Having a global scale will not only help them to be more efficient, it will also give learners direction on the specific English skills they need to develop in order to perform their role successfully.”

Research from Pearson also demonstrates that employees see English as a key tool to advance their careers. Learners in China (71 percent), the rest of Asia (42 percent), South America (45 percent), and Europe (39 percent), see job promotion as a key driver for learning English and, on average, feel they can earn almost 5,000 US$ more per year with improved English. Almost a third (27 percent) also said that they expect their jobs to require ongoing improvement in English if they want to advance and 86 percent want to become completely fluent in English. Looking at whether learning English helps to improve job prospects, learners in most emerging markets, such as Brazil (99 percent), India (94 percent) and Russia (88 percent) agree, while those in countries such as Germany (69 percent) and Japan (57 percent) perceive less benefit in learning English to improve career chances.

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