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Research by Cambridge English Puts a Spotlight on the Language Learning Skills Gap


Research conducted in 38 countries by Cambridge English Language Assessment (Cambridge English) and Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) highlights a significant disconnect between the English skills required by employers and the English language capabilities of job applicants.

This is fuelled, in part, by the recruitment industry where the general view is that the spoken language is more desirable to employers. The findings, however, suggest that employers require a high-level of proficiency in all four English language skills – reading, writing, speaking and listening – with reading being the most important.

The research also points to a clear correlation between size of organisation and which of the four language skills is most essential. For larger organisations, reading is likely to be the most important skill. Conversely, for smaller organisations, speaking is more important. Industries that have cited reading skills as being more beneficial include electronics, high-tech, computer services, aerospace and defence.

Employers are looking for advanced levels of English language from employees in all sectors. The research shows that, in countries where English is an official or de facto official language, 97 percent of employers say that English is vital to their organisation, with the majority requiring native or advanced level skills. Alarmingly, as many as one in five senior managers lack the necessary English skills to meet job expectations.

Blandine Bastié, Country Head, UK and Ireland at Cambridge English Language Assessment said: “In every industry, there is at least a 40 percent skills gap between the English language skills required and the skills that are available, irrespective of business size. The issue is constant for large, medium-sized and small employers.”

The research suggests that individuals have a better opportunity to work in the UK and fast-track their career if they attain a higher standard of English language. Excellent English skills lead to faster career progression (63 percent of employers) and higher salary increases (36 percent of employers).

And while the majority of migrants to the UK are interested in improving their English skills, they are being told by recruiters that work experience and conversational skills are more desirable than formal qualifications. Due to the distrust in the accuracy of applicants’ CVs, the majority of recruiters use their own methods of assessment (such as speaking to them in interviews). However, more than a quarter of employers are looking to English language qualifications as a standard to determine whether a candidate’s English language skills are at a level required for a specific vacancy.

Blandine said:

“We recommend that economic migrants moving to the UK for work should take a reputable and internationally recognised qualification to have the best chance of securing the job they want. They should also practise speaking the language as much as possible so that they can impress at the interview stage, and focus on reading and writing for more advanced technical roles.”


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