Finding and plugging the language skills gap

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Written by Panos Kraniotis on 10 May 2016

Research reveals that an alarming nine out of 10 line of business leaders face communication skills gaps within their teams.

Verbal, written and language skills are essential in the workplace, especially as businesses expand and compete in today’s global marketplace, yet businesses find that their employees are often lacking in these critical skills. The full extent of a company-wide skills gap can sometimes be obscured when it’s tackled within siloed lines of business.

I’ve found that taking a systematic, and company-wide approach to understanding the business need for languages is the most effective way to find, and plug, the skills gap.

To meet long-term business goals, HR and training managers have to take a long-term view when it comes to training needs. Meeting today’s requirement for language proficiency and building toward the demands the future will bring can stem productivity loss, ease customer frustration, and reduce employee turnover.

Employees that are able to interact with suppliers, customers and partners in a common language can achieve tasks quicker and more effectively than those who cannot, cementing relationships along the way.

Customers receive a better level of service when they are being engaged with on their terms.  Employees with confidence and abilities boosted by their new-found language skills, are likely to be more engaged, feel valued, and remain with the company.

Sizing the language skills shortfall in an organisation can be a challenge; as can building the case for training that makes senior management sit up and take notice. Smart businesses are taking note, however, and see the value that this investment in the future of the business and its employees can deliver time spent finding and plugging the skills gap is time well spent.

How to identify your business’ skills gap

The question then becomes, “does this apply to my workforce?” There are resources that can help identify missing elements from a training mix and help you to develop a skills map. The first step is to ask yourself a series of questions:

  1. Do your teams face language proficiency challenges?
  2. Does your company interact with customers or suppliers who speak other languages?
  3. How well do your teams collaborate with those customers/suppliers? Are they building optimally productive relationships?
  4. What is the range of languages spoken within your own organisation?
  5. Does your training and development approach satisfy this year’s language proficiency needs? What about next year’s, or in the next three to five years?
  6. Does your training and hiring plan align with the business’ long-term strategy, especially as it pertains to overseas growth?

This global readiness flowchart goes through this step-by-step and provides links to further resources to help you open up the discussion on taking your business to a state of global readiness, planning a talent survey, producing a talent map and using consistent personal development plans to implement a training strategy.  

If senior management isn’t aware a skills gap even exists, they will value a considered proposal that clearly identifies the need and establishes how meeting it will benefit the business. A company-wide talent management approach best supports the goals of the business with a centralised global training initiative, providing two key benefits:

  1. Economies of Scale: if training is arranged independently in separate business lines, it will likely cost the company more overall. A one-off approach to training incurs significant waste.
  2. Measurement: tracking, measuring and reporting against training is the only way companies can understand their return on investment and see if they are making progress in achieving the goals they have set for personnel development. It is harder, if not impossible, to achieve a company-wide view of this if training is being arranged independently across different divisions using multiple training resources.

It is clear that language training brings many benefits to employees and businesses. Identifying the training need and taking a company-wide approach to plugging it is a big step on the road to global readiness and one that many successful global businesses are taking.


About the author 

Panos Kraniotis is Regional Director of Europe at Rosetta Stone.