Skills shortage for UK exporters

Profound difficulties lie ahead for exporters if the UK doesn’t address the decline in the take-up of languages in schools and universities.

A CBI/Pearson Education & Skills survey carried out in early 2012 showed :

  • Nearly three quarters of businesses say they value foreign language skills among employers to build customer, client and supplier relations.
  • One in five are concerned about shortfalls in language proficiency.
  • Half of those were looking for appropriately skilled staff

As this suggests only 10% are looking for appropriately skilled staff, it indicates two problems :

  1. Businesses need to be more attuned to the value of language skills in order to build their international business given no/low growth prospects in the domestic and eurozone markets.
  2. Businesses need to be aware of ‘supply – side’ shortfalls in appropriately skilled people coming out of the education system over the medium term.

The UK has the worst foreign language skills in Europe and this severely restricts the capability to understand business culture and practice internationally. It acts as a block on export capabilities.

The major ‘in demand’ languages most mentioned in the survey were French and German with 2 in 5 referring to Spanish as useful.

So how is the education system doing in the supply of these linguists ?  The prospects do not look good.

Entries for French ‘A’ levels dropped to around 12500 (-5%) this year, German candidates dropped below 5000 (-7.6%), Spanish entrants by 3.4% to below 7300. Mandarin had just 3200 entrants and Modern Languages didn’t make the Top 10 most popular subjects. No wonder Andrew Hall of AQA states “we have the euro economy in crisis – I think modern languages are in the same place”.

To add to these woes, French and German GCSE take up is down and achievements levels to A*-C grade hardly inspire.

Furthermore, the University picture doesn’t boost confidence  – when the latest figures are publicly available what will be the impact of the £9000 tuition fee on the 94000 full time / 40,000 part time language student population ? I think we can guess.

This is a crisis of our own making and the consequences are obvious for our exporting capabilities. As Willy Brandt famously said – “If I am selling to you, I speak your language. If I am buying, dann müssen sie Deutsch sprechen.”


P.S Parlo italiano per sviluppare gli affari della mia azienda e per miei clienti nelle categorie di bellezza e consumo prodotti, e per rinforzare la mia conoscenza della cultura  e aspetti pratici degli affari in Italia.

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