Brexit and the Multi-Lingual Market
5 July 2017
Brexit. It’s a word that’s been lingering in the not-too-distant background for well over eighteen months. First we had a referendum, then the government had to decide if our departure from the EU was to be ‘hard’ or ‘soft’. This year’s election was pretty much fought on the basis of, “Who do you want to lead the country through Brexit negotiations?” It’s a word that’s not going away any time soon.
What are the implications of the process on our multi-lingual markets? Certainly, within many sectors of business, international trading and support is a massive proportion of their income.
In February 2017, the UK exported £21.7 billion worth of goods to EU and non-EU countries. Therefore, multi-lingual after-sales support becomes an incredibly valuable asset to a business. Indeed, the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) recently reported that 86% of UK contact centres receive non-English calls.
As trade borders alter and as Britain seeks to strike new deals in the wake of Brexit, the ability to communicate without needing to translate is becoming more pressing.
However, if Brexit negotiations ensure that our freedom of movement policies are altered, this may mean that our multi-lingual talent pool shrinks dramatically. There are currently 3.5 million EU nationals living in the UK (that’s about 5% of the population). About 80% of these who are of working age are currently employed here.
Many multi-lingual candidates are native speakers of languages such as Spanish, German and Dutch. These are students who have studied here and made the UK their home. What will happen if Brexit means their right to stay here is up for debate? Students who are currently studying here may well return home early in a bid to pre-empt any new migration rulings. We could see an exodus of talent.
Similarly, UK talent living and working throughout Europe may have to return home. Do they have proficient enough language skills to plug the gap?
A short while ago, The Independent newspaper bore a headline that dramatically declared that “free movement of European people is coming to an end”, citing a mix of Brexit and terror-related reasons. This could mean that even those who have secured full-time work and the right to live in the UK could be turned away at the border, so to speak.
Therefore, the education system in the UK will have to ‘up its game’ in terms of teaching children, from primary school age, new languages. Just over half of Europeans can converse in more than one language, and a third can converse in more than two. Yet 61% of people living in the UK can only claim to be fluent in their native tongue.
If we are seeking to trade with and export to new countries in the wake of Brexit, we need to have the tools with which to do that. This means investing in language learning throughout the educational system and encouraging young people to pursue that learning to university level.
If you would like to recruit talent within the multi-lingual contact centre market, I’d love to help you. Click here to see my contact details to discuss your staffing needs.
Written By Chris Milne