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Brexit unquestionably demands that Britain build its linguistic prowess in order to even maintain present levels of international trade and cooperation. As an island of monoglots, losing the wealth of language skills and cultural knowledge currently possessed by our EU citizens as they predictably abandon or avoid our country in future is likely to make us poorer in both monetary and non-monetary terms. Recruiters already predict that finding candidates with the language skills necessary to conduct business with the EU, our largest trading partner, will be more difficult post-Brexit. Britain’s dire lack of European language skills is so acute that the government was recently unable to accurately translate it’s own Brexit proposal into German.
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, 5 of the top 10 languages the British Council has identified as necessary for the UK to maintain its global competitiveness are non-European. British businesses quick on their feet to adapt to these economic and political shifts could develop a competitive advantage, either by upskilling their workforce with the necessary language skills or by sourcing the right talent – two strategies that can be achieved with the help of our refugee community.
Hidden Resource In The Refugee Community
Just as businesses are troubled with the current 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 work 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’ invaluable cultural skills. Social enterprises like SPEAK and my company Chatterbox empower refugees to teach their native languages to individuals and businesses in their adopted homes. Specialist recruitment agencies Breaking Barriers and Transitions London directly connect leading companies like WeWork, Ikea, and Bank of America with multilingual 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, understanding that it is unsustainable to cut off from the world completely transcends the political spectrum.
May 8, 2019 at 12:28PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs