New report highlights foreign language skills gap in construction

New report highlights foreign language skills gap in construction

Of all industries surveyed, construction reports the greatest foreign language skills gap.

September 13, 2019

A recently released study has found that construction reports the greatest foreign language skills gap of all industries surveyed.

The findings were published in “Making Languages Our Business: Addressing Foreign Language Demand Among U.S. Employers,” a report put together by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) after surveying 1,200 U.S. employers.

The report, which examines eight different industry sectors, finds that the demand for foreign language skills is increasing and becoming more critical to have for both internal and external operations.

Foreign language skills gaps means employees are unable to meet the employer’s foreign language needs, which ACTFL says results in “lost opportunity and loss business.” The report found that 40 percent of construction employers report a foreign language skills gap, making it the highest out of all surveyed industries.

“There is no denying the dominant position STEM subjects have enjoyed in today’s curriculum. Foreign language, unfortunately, is often treated as a competing discipline. Our survey findings highlight the need for world language skills to be recognized as a complementary and interdependent capability. We already know that language learning deepens our connections to other cultures, boosts confidence, strengthens decision-making, and contributes greatly to national security; we also know language skills are necessary to produce the globally-competent employees U.S. businesses are seeking,” says Howie Berman, ACTFL’s executive director. “This reality requires an education system that prepares graduates to be proficient in the languages they need to successfully compete in a 21st century global economy.”

Among other findings, the report also shows that nine out of 10 U.S. employers report a reliance on U.S.-based employees with language skills other than English, with one-third reporting a high dependency. Spanish is the most in-demand foreign language reported by U.S. employers, followed by Chinese, French, Japanes and German.

Other key findings specific to the construction sector include:

  • With a five-year outlook, 54 percent of employers in the construction sector expect an increase in demand for foreign language skills. 

  • 42 percent of construction employers and 41 percent of healthcare and social assistance employers say they rely “a lot” on employees with foreign language skills. Employers that depend “a lot” on multilingual staff are much more likely to report a foreign language skills gap compared to those with “some” reliance.

  • Employers in the construction sector are most likely to be unable to pursue or have lost business in the past three years due to a lack of foreign language skills.

  • The healthcare and social assistance sector is the most likely to contract with language service providers (LSPs). This is followed by manufacturing, professional and technical services, education services, and construction, with each of these reporting similar levels of usage. Overall, employers use LSPs primarily to translate HR and employee materials (52 percent), followed by marketing materials (42 percent) and compliance documents (38 percent), while about three in 10 employers contract with LSPs for routine documents (30 percent) and website localization (28 percent).

  • The construction sector has the strongest need for foreign language skills in production (38 percent). Additionally, compared to every other sector, construction has the greatest demand for foreign languages in administrative work (28 percent), followed by the education services sector (26 percent). 

Following the report’s release, ACTFL released recommendations on tackling the foreign language skills gap. Recommendations are as follows:

  • Conduct a language needs analysis. Identify linguistic strengths and weaknesses in your organization, and define current and future language needs. This helps create clear goals and measurable outcomes for attaining the necessary language capacity. 

  • Conduct outside language testing and assessment. Professionally test employees as a first step to identifying your workforce’s linguistic strengths and weaknesses. 

  • Maintain an inventory of the linguistic and cultural competencies of your workforce. 

  • Make foreign languages a strategic focus throughout the recruitment process. Set hiring targets for employees with foreign language skills based on your organizational goals. Prominently communicate interest in employees with multilingual and cross-cultural competencies in all recruiting resources and corporate communications. 

  • Train talented candidates and employees who lack the required level of language proficiency. Immersive training, private coaching, online programs and blended learning methods are viable options. Consider personalized, sector-specific training. Not all roles require full proficiency. Many require a working knowledge of a language within a specialized domain. Fulfill these needs with functional, immersive language training relevant to a specific field. 

  • Identify and cultivate a pipeline of multilingual talent. Partner with colleges and universities with international studies, foreign language and study abroad programs. Articulate industry language needs to help them design relevant programs. Also, offer internships and job opportunities for qualified students and recent graduates with the linguistic and global competencies your organization requires. 

  • Advocate regional, state and national policies that are responsive to industries’ foreign language and workforce needs, including the funding of early language-learning programs

For a more in-depth look at hiring employees who speak another language and more resources to do so, check out our discussion with Pat Hudson of Leadpoint Business Services on our sister publication Waste Today.