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Apr 24, 2019

UK Demand For Linguists Grows


Demand for linguists is on the rise with German overtaking French to become the language most sought-after by UK employers, but does the Brexit-induced slowdown in EU migration point to a language skills gap?

Job vacancies specifying German language skills as a requirement rose by more than a tenth over the last three years, with those seeking Francophones increasing by a more modest 1.17% - dropping French into second spot. Behind them, Chinese made the biggest climb, jumping from fifth to third thanks to a significant surge in the number of jobs seeking Chinese speakers - a rise of 35.39% since 2016.

According to new research by job site Indeed, employer demand for German speakers peaked just before the Brexit referendum of June 2016, before dipping into second place behind French once again. Demand for both languages has largely remained in step, with job postings for German speakers beginning to outstrip those of French speakers in the final few months of 2018.

But while overall demand for linguists is up - the total share of job postings on Indeed specifying language skills increased by 2.7% over the last three years - there is a growing risk that there will be insufficient numbers of people with the skills needed to fill these roles.

Data reveals that the number of students taking a language at GCSE has declined by 45% this century, with German (-67%) and French (-63%) suffering the biggest drops. Meanwhile, the supply of native speakers of European languages is set to wane as the latest ONS figures show net migration from the EU is now at its lowest level for ten years.

With the prospect of Brexit pegging back the appetite of EU citizens to work in the UK, Indeed’s research reveals a steady fall in interest in UK jobs among EU-based jobseekers. That decline, coupled with the rapid drop in language learning among UK schoolchildren, is colliding with rising employer demand for linguists and causing a worsening language shortfall.

At the same time, the surge in the number of jobs calling for Chinese speakers hints at things to come. Britain’s post-Brexit future is widely expected to include closer ties with the Asian superpower, which is forecast to become the world’s largest economy within the next decade.

Bill Richards, UK Managing Director of Indeed, says: ​“Communication is essential in every sphere of work, and language skills in particular have become vital in a fully-connected world in which more businesses than ever operate across borders and in multiple languages."

Our View

Graham Brown, Managing Director of Forces Recruitment Services, comments: “The research from Indeed clearly demonstrates that the UK is facing a double threat when it comes to linguists - at one end, fewer young people are studying languages, and at the other, working in the UK has lost its appeal for many of our European counterparts.

"However, as with many challenges, this situation does present opportunities. Those who have current language skills will find their talents in demand and those who are prepared to work at dusting off their high school German or French, could find that having that added string to their bow makes them more competitive in the jobs market."

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