Research & Thought Leadership

Driving talent retention and development through language learning

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We surveyed 1,175 HR and Learning & Development leaders across the world who work for large multinational companies to gauge the impact of language proficiency, particularly in English, on their talent retention. This briefing shares the main findings of our study.

Key findings

  • 96% of firms believe English language training helps retain staff.

  • A lack of language skills restricts access to professional development and holds back career progression.

  • The need for language training continues to grow: Almost a third of employees are non-native speakers of their organization’s main language, while 74% of companies who provide language training plan to increase their investment this year.

  • Around three-quarters of employees with low English proficiency face limited participation and fewer promotion opportunities in their company compared to those with high English proficiency.

Language proficiency changes lives, teams and organizations

At a very basic level, in order to function properly, people within an organization need to be able to understand each other linguistically and culturally; to collaborate, share knowledge, learn new skills, innovate together, and to work at their best with external clients and suppliers.

Employees are hungrier than ever for more professional development to bring opportunities and satisfaction to their working life. Even where development is available, access to it is often dependent on language proficiency, harming the prospects of employees but ultimately also limiting the organization and its ability to release (and retain) the power of its workforce.

Investing in language learning graph

The modern world of work demands language training

Retention of talent has come into sharp focus in recent times, presenting a huge challenge to employers, with workers demanding more flexibility, compensation, development and meaning from their work life. And if employees are not satisfied with these key areas, replacing key talent and onboarding them is costly and time-consuming.

So what makes employees leave?

Language training info/graph

After salary, a lack of career progression and of training and development are the second and third most cited reasons for leaving. In terms of language, these two interlinked concepts are, to a degree, one and the same, since career development is often dependent on language aptitude. For example, depending on your location in the world, manager and executive positions may only be available to those with high English proficiency.

96% of the companies we surveyed are already offering language training to employees in at least one language. This shows that HR and L&D leaders are increasingly recognizing the fundamental requirement for language training as a core business and team enabler.

A strategic benefit

Backing up this argument is the experience of HR and L&D leaders on retention and language training: The consensus (96%) is that the two correlate. In particular, over 80% of executives and directors indicate that English training supports retention ‘to a great extent’, proving that language training goes beyond personal goals, even impacting high-level strategic business goals.

Language training info/graph

In other words, if talent retention depends on training and development, and language is a core developmental goal for individuals and businesses, the modern world of work demands language training as a basic foundation to retain and develop its workforce.

Language proficiency: a 'glass ceiling' for career development

Language and communication are in and of themselves extremely important skills to develop, but they also allow access to further development.

Besides the fact that the world’s online resources are primarily in English, the majority of international companies’ internal trainings are in English too, according to our study (60%). Typically, leadership and technical skill trainings may therefore be out of reach for those with low English proficiency, creating a language-enforced ‘glass ceiling’. 7 in 10 HR and L&D leaders admit that employees with low English proficiency face limited participation and are less likely to be promoted.

With certain groups such as women and young people experiencing decreasing proficiency in English worldwide, such biases can lead to unbalanced career development for your workforce.

Language training info/graph

Going beyond English

It seems clear from our research that English is by far the most important language to develop to have the most impact on an organization and on individuals’ careers.

But with almost a third of employees in international companies being non-native speakers of the organization’s core language, providing opportunities through language training in the business’s language is also an essential consideration in your talent retention strategy.

Language training info/graph

Key takeaways

International talent is vital to large multinational companies, and communication can be an obstacle or an enabler to retaining and developing the employees you need to succeed.

Having demonstrated the link between training & development, career progression, and language, companies that do not invest in core language training are more likely to lose potential change-makers from their organization, whose talent, drive and innovation remain hidden behind unnecessary communication barriers.

With this analysis, and with the vast majority (96%) of firms agreeing that English training is a key retention tool, investment in language training is highly likely to release the extraordinary in your people, and keep them motivated to remain with your company.

Our learning ecosystem

We bring content, teaching, and services together to create the best possible language learning experience for your people. Our approach engages and motivates learners by responding to, and meeting, their unique learning needs.

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