Irish jobseekers are missing out on careers and business opportunities due to a lack of foreign language skills.
Speaking during a panel discussion on the importance of investing in language learning, head of education policy at IBEC Tony Donohoe said Ireland was not fulfilling its potential in the global market place by failing to invest in language skills.
“Over 70% of the world’s population do not speak English, and only 9% speak English as their first language.
“If we neglect to ensure adequate availability of foreign language skills in Ireland, the opportunities of the global market-place will not be realised.”
The event, organised by EIL Intercultural Learning, highlighted the need for language learning to be addressed by Irish jobseekers and employers.
EIL organises study abroad, volunteering, language training, travel scholarships, and cultural immersion activities, with more than 2,000 people participating in its programmes each year.
Director of EIL Intercultural Learning Kevin Hickey said large multinationals such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter had their European headquarters here due to Ireland’s highly educated and skilled workforce, but that a lack of language skills was forcing Irish people out of the market.
“Right now, Ireland is the only country in Europe where the learning of a foreign language in post-primary education is optional and, if that remains the case, this problem will surely perpetuate,” he said.
“In order to maintain our reputation as a desirable location for major multinational firms — and build upon it to achieve future economic growth — it is imperative that we develop our foreign language skills.”
The lack of language skills was also highlighted by PayPal in 2012, when the e-commerce giant said it had to import 500 employees from abroad as the necessary language skills were not available here.
Louise Phelan, global operations vice-president of PayPal, said Ireland suffered from a “deficiency” in workers with second languages and said grassroots changes were required in the education system to ensure those entering the workforce in the future had the necessary language and science qualifications the business world needed.
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