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Cambridge English research identifies language learning skills gap

NewsSecondary Education
By Heather McLean | 27 April 2017
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Create DateApril 27, 2017
Last UpdatedApril 19, 2017

Research from Cambridge English Language Assessment (Cambridge English) and Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) shows a significant disconnect between the level of English required by employers and the English language capabilities of job applicants.

English remains the language of international business, with over 85% of international organisations using English as a working language, plus it is spoken by a quarter of the world’s population (1.75 billion people worldwide). The research indicates that, in countries where English is an official or de facto official language, 97% of employers say that English is vital to their organisation, with the majority requiring native or advanced level skills. In these countries excellent English skills can also lead to faster career progression (63% of employers) and higher salary increases (36% of employers).

Cambridge English research that looks into the language learning and assessment needs of economic migrants to the UK highlights that a substantial proportion of hirers rely on interviews in English to evaluate a candidate’s skill level. Data also shows that, contrary to recruiters’ beliefs about the importance of the spoken language, employers value all four language skills – reading, writing, speaking and listening – with reading being the most important.

Employers look for advanced levels of English language in all sectors however as many as one in five top managers lack the necessary English skills to meet job expectations. The research highlights the opportunity for individuals coming to the UK to work or study if they acquire a higher standard of English language.

Blandine Bastié, country head, UK and Ireland at Cambridge English Language Assessment, said: “In every industry, there is at least a 40% 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 disconnect between the reality of the skills sought by employers and recruiters’ perceptions is illustrated in research among young economic migrants from Spain, Poland and Romania. While the majority of economic migrants to the UK are interested in improving their English skills, many are told by recruiters that work experience and conversational skills are more desirable than formal qualifications. Migrants also find the UK education system complicated, making it difficult for them to navigate the range of qualifications for various skill levels.

Spanish migrant to the UK, Barbara Rodriguez, was looking to complete an English assessment that would help her to develop her English language skills and would also be recognised by employers globally. Rodriguez said: “I looked for information about courses while still in Spain but wasn’t clear about the best route to take to equip myself with the skills to work in a number of different countries. So, I decided it made most sense to immerse myself in the language and the culture and to take a qualification while in the UK, instead of attending a language school before leaving Spain.

“I chose to study the Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE) assessment, and the course has helped develop all four English language skills; reading, writing, speaking and listening.” Rodriguez’ language qualifications have helped her to find interesting work in the UK, including regular placements with Cambridge English.

Half of employers involved in the Cambridge English research offer better packages to individuals with good English language skills. Employers can use a recognised English language qualification as a standard to determine whether a candidate’s English language skills are at a level required for a specific vacancy. 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) and over a quarter of employers already look for evidence of success in external English language assessments to measure these skills.

Bastié continued: “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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