|What Business Wants|
What Business Wants: Language Needs in the 21st Century
The Language Flagship has undertaken one of the most systematic efforts, to date, to assess and understand the needs for global skills in business. Over the past three years, this effort engaged over one hundred business leaders to identify the role and value of languages and cultural skills to business’ bottom line. Equally important it identified potential roles for business as an integral part of a dynamic that will bring significant change to language education in the United States. The resulting report, “What Business Wants: Language Needs in the 21st Century” summarizes the findings that companies do need language and cultural skills on their staff for improving global business practices and for serving a domestically based multi-lingual workforce and clientele.
Key Findings: Key Foreign Language Needs in the Corporate Sector
The totality of findings may be summarized by these key points illuminating need for languages and the commensurate of cost of not having language and cultural skills readily available on staff.
These points are discussed in detail in the report; they are listed below:
In the face of strong perceptions that English is -- and will continue to be -- the lingua franca of international business and that most companies address their language needs through creative “workarounds” (hiring in-country nationals and using translators), Flagship sought to delineate the actual needs of business for an American workforce with global skills including advanced language proficiency. This also included domestic business dealings with a multilingual workforce and/or clientele. We were impressed to learn of a real need and real opportunity costs, as well as a call for more systematic discussion of the role and value of language skills not only within the business sector, but throughout American education and society.
The Business Participants
During 2008, Flagship brought together thirty-eight representatives from a broad cross-section of the U.S. business community to participate in a Metro Language Series in San Francisco, Seattle, New York, and Washington, D.C. These sessions gleaned insights about the value and role of global skills in business success. This series was an important next step to an inquiry begun in 2006 with the development of three state-focused Language Roadmaps designed to address the economic and social imperatives for a globalized workforce at the state and local level. The Roadmap efforts – in Ohio, Oregon, and Texas -- convened over seventy business leaders whose input was critical to the development of strategies and policies responding to identified needs for language education.
Participants in both the Language Summits and the Metro Language Series brought a broad range of experience to these sessions not only in terms of their responsibilities, but in the breadth of industry sectors they represented. Business sectors included: hotel and travel industry; food services; high technology; transportation and shipping; aviation; banks; law firms; engineering and industrial development; waste and water management; international business development; automobile industry; as well as a number of economic development agencies. Participants represented views from research and product development; marketing and branding; international business development and sales; financial and legal services; domestic workforce management; large-scale project management; and corporate human resources.
This summary reviews not only key insights from session participants regarding serious need for language and cultural skills in business, but also the role business can play in affecting significant change in language education throughout the U.S. education system.