Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

The Demand for Multilingual Human Capital in the U.S. Labor Market

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

The Demand for Multilingual Human Capital in the U.S. Labor Market

Article excerpt


The literature contains a number of studies that have cited the need among global and transnational companies, institutions, and organizations for employees who possess "global competencies" (e.g., Brown, 2014; Grandin & Berka, 2014). Institutions of higher education as well as professional associations and organizations that focus on language policy and on the teaching and learning of languages have developed frameworks that outline such competencies, such as the Asia Society (Mansilla & Jackson, 2011) and the U.S. Department of Education (2012, 2016). These frameworks vary in their emphases on language proficiency, cultural competence, and overseas experience; however, so far no universally agreed upon definition of such a skill set has emerged from the employment sector. Moreover, while they have generally been developed with participation from the business community, these frameworks in general have not been validated by empirical research on the demand for such skills among employers.

The current study focused on one universally recognized component of global competence, namely, the ability to communicate with colleagues and clients from different cultures, and its key enabler: language. The researchers sought to quantify the overall need for employees who have proficiency in a language other than English and to identify the specific corporate sectors and functions that directly require public and interpersonal communication in a foreign language (FL). The study also examined the hiring practices that these companies employ to meet their staffing needs. Using data from the Global Talent Survey section of the 2014 edition of the Recruiting Trends survey, administered annually by the Michigan State University Collegiate Employment Research Institute (CERI), the study specifically investigated the proportion of the 2,101 survey respondents who valued FL skills in their new hires, the types of organizations (economic sector and size) that valued FL skills the most, the corporate functions that were more likely to require FL skills, and the academic majors that were most frequently sought by employers in combination with FL skills. Unlike a number of recent studies focused on employment for "bilinguals," the current work queried employers seeking job candidates with language proficiency at some level. This approach effectively included, but did not isolate, immigrant and heritage language populations with proficiency in a home language other than English as well as native English speakers with abilities in a second language.

Literature Review

Definitions of "global competencies" have emerged in the past decade as educational policy makers have attempted to characterize and design programs of study that emphasize the set of attributes that are sought by employers, particularly in international business. For example, the U.S. Department of Education (2012), citing the Asia Society and the Council of Chief State School Officers, defined global competence as "the capacity and disposition to understand and act on issues of global significance" (Mansilla & Jackson, 2011, p. xiii). This means that students can:

1. Investigate the world beyond their immediate environment, framing significant problems and conducting well-crafted and age-appropriate research.

2. Recognize perspectives, others' and their own, articulating and explaining such perspectives thoughtfully and respectfully.

3. Communicate ideas effectively with diverse audiences, bridging geographic, linguistic, ideological, and cultural barriers.

4. Take action to improve conditions, viewing themselves as players in the world and participating reflectively (see also U.S. Department of Education, 2012, p. 6).

It is important to note that language proficiency is deemphasized in these descriptions. In contrast, the U.S. Department of Defense (2011, p. 8) defined global competencies more narrowly and included language, regional expertise, and culture. …

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