Could Refugees Help To Solve The Post Brexit Language Skills Deficit?
Nobel Peace Prize winner and German Chancellor Willy Brandt, left, famously said, “If I’m selling to you, I speak your language. If I’m buying, dann müssen Sie Deutsch sprechen!”
Exiting from the EU is also likely to increase the need for British businesses to acquire language skills originating outside of Europe, where the government estimates 90% of all global trade will take place in the near future. Currently, five of the top ten languages the British Council has identified as necessary for the UK to maintain its global competitiveness are non-European. British businesses will need to be quick on their feet to adapt to these economic and political shifts, and could even develop a competitive advantage by taking language and cultural skills development seriously. Upskilling their existing workforce and sourcing multilingual talent are two strategies that can be used to achieve this goal. Both can be helped with input from our underutilised refugee community.
Hidden Resource In The Refugee Community
Just as businesses are troubled with the stream of skilled foreign workers leaving the UK, they have another, hitherto unrecognised resource in waiting. There are over 120,000 refugees living in the UK harbouring a wealth of talent that is acutely underleveraged, including skills in languages like Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin, and French. With record numbers pending asylum applications, much of this community is stuck at the first hurdle. Breaking down barriers to employment for the refugee community could help to equip British commerce with the cultural capital that is so integral to its future success.
A whole host of services are already in place to connect businesses with refugees’ valuable native language skills, cultural knowledge, and international industry insights. Several online and offline learning platforms exist to teach refugees’ cultural capital to individuals and organisations, both online and offline. Meanwhile, specialist recruitment agencies such as Breaking Barriers and Transitions London directly connect leading companies like WeWork, Ikea, and Bank of America with talent from within the refugee community. Learning new languages and diversifying our labour market with talent from the refugee community has the potential to benefit Britain in a number of ways, not least by helping to shift alarming evidence of xenophobic sentiments developing within the UK. Whilst we may be able to survive outside of Europe, it is essential that we become even more open, connected, and innovative to realise even a sliver of the promises made by Brexiteers.