Lack of languages costs UK jobs

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The Independent Online
A shortage of foreign language skills among British workers is costing the UK jobs by forcing UK-based financial services companies to recruit foreigners instead.

According to recruitment consultants, unfulfilled demand is leading to a large proportion of bilingual jobs being filled by candidates from France, Germany and the Benelux countries. British jobseekers in the financial services area are likely to be passed over for possibly less technically qualified but bilingual Europeans, they say.

A survey of London branches of one agency, Reed Accountancy, found that one in three jobs going through their books requires a working knowledge of a second language.

Of these, an "overwhelming majority" are going to non-British candidates.

The trend appears to be mirrored by legal recruiters. According to Stephen Rodney, a director of the Quarry Dougall agency, it is now more likely that qualified lawyers who are also linguists will come from the Netherlands than from the UK. "Finding good candidates is still a problem," he added.

The demand springs from the numbers of non-UK companies, particularly in the area of financial services, setting up European headquarters operations in London.

In the past two years a number of German, French and American banks have invested heavily in the City and have been anxious to recruit staff in the UK who can deal with their pan-European clientele.

The lack of fluency in a second language is partly a traditional British problem, according to John Taylor, senior lecturer in German at the University of Surrey. But he added that the number of language students at UK universities was declining, despite the demand. Applications to do German, French and Russian degrees fell between 11 and 21 per cent last year.

Language problems are also holding back the travel and tourism industry. Last Tuesday, British Airways chief executive, Robert Ayling, said the airline had been forced to go to the Netherlands and France to recruit bilingual cabin staff for its expanding Gatwick operation.

To combat the problem, the English Tourist Board now runs one-day courses to get hotel staff used to dealing with requests in other languages. "They won't go away polished linguists, but they will at least make foreign tourists feel at home by making an effort to speak in their language," a spokesman said.