An interesting read. Language skills open up a range of careers for graduates, but there are other skills employers may be after- such as intercultural knowledge and experience, and critical thinking.Almost 10 years after completing her languages degree Sarah Johnson found herself in a job where she rarely spoke French or Spanish.
In choosing languages at university she thought she was one step closer to achieving her dream of becoming a M16 spy. “I had visions of taking down drug cartels in Mexico and combating bribery and corruption in the French-speaking parts of Africa,” she says. But the reality was quite different.
While Sarah’s experience of post-graduation career confusion and disappointment is not unique to language graduates, it highlights the question of what sort of careers are available when you are able to put a second, third or even fourth language on your CV.
The business case for the value of language skills in the economy seems fairly clear. Last year, an all-party parliamentary group on modern languages estimated the UK alone loses £50bn a year in lost contracts due to an absence of employee language skills. In a report this week commissioned by Rosetta Stone, the 500 UK and Germany-based business executives interviewed stated that 67% of their staff required intermediate level proficiency in another language, supporting similar figures from CBI research last year.
So if language skills are economically valuable, what advice is there for how to use them to enhance your employment opportunities? Outside the jobs traditionally associated with languages - teaching, interpreting, diplomacy - and those less so (taking down Mexican drug cartels), what sort of jobs should bilinguals and multi-linguals be considering? And which languages give you the edge?
Born Global, a report last year on the language needs of the labour market, suggested that while many employers see languages as beneficial, they didn’t necessarily place them as a high priority at the recruitment stage. Does this mean job seekers should be emphasising the additional skills – such as critical and analytical thinking, international experience and intercultural understanding – that accompany learning another language? And what support is there for those already in employment who want to develop their language skills?
Can it be done?