A recent report released by the Northern Illinois University Center for Governmental Studies polled employers throughout the northern Illinois area specifically for their opinions on language learning in college.
Within five years, half of the employers surveyed are planning to hire more bilingual or multilingual college graduates.
Also within five years, 41 percent of businesses believed that the ability to speak more than one language would become an important criterion for employment. That number jumps to 55 percent if the potential employer is a non-profit.
Why is the demand for bilingual graduates rising? The survey also had some insights on that front.
Among the for-profit businesses polled:
- 59 percent believed bilinguals would help them engage new suppliers or contractors.
- 51.5 percent want bilinguals to help them conduct business in other countries.
- 48.5 percent require bilinguals so they can expand existing international business.
Perhaps the best measure is what these graduates can do for a business’s bottom line. 78 percent believe speaking more than one language is helpful in customer/client relations. 71 percent believe language skills improve customer retention and satisfaction.
Spanish was by far the most desired language, with 86 percent of businesses calling for graduates with Spanish skills. Polish was next, followed by Mandarin Chinese, although those needs would certainly vary in other parts of the country.
The businesses were also quite critical of how colleges and universities are preparing students to compete in the multilingual economy. Around 40 percent wanted to see colleges put more resources toward offering internships and service projects in bilingual or multilingual communities, as well as more partnerships between university and the organizations seeking to hire graduates with language skills.
Although this is a sliver of one state, the evidence is becoming apparent that the businesses in Illinois are not an outlier—they are becoming the norm. Colleges and universities need to start preparing students as if language learning is a primary requirement of success outside of school, because that is quickly becoming the case.