There is little doubt that the world is changing rapidly right before our eyes, and certainly nowhere more than in the nature of how global business is conducted. This global “flattening” is a result of the breakdown of the traditional barriers among countries, both literal and conceptual. Information travels freely and near instantaneously to all corners of the globe, and citizens and customers around the world can engage like never before. This 21st Century paradigm naturally changes the nature of work itself.
The World Economic Forum report from January 2016 entitled The Future of Jobs outlines these changes in much detail. A telling point from the report includes:
In many industries and countries, the most in-demand occupations or specialties did not exist 10 or even five years ago, and the pace of change is set to accelerate.
The WEF report refers to our current era as the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” essentially embodying the elements that have been flattening the globe – barriers breaking down among far-flung populations who can now instantly share information, capital, and even human resources. Inherent in these changing work environments is the need to re-think everything about labor from early education through HR management and leadership. Even schools today are starting to realize that in a world where their students may have jobs in the future that currently don’t even exist, it’s more important to teach students to “learn how to learn” – to be critical thinkers, collaborators, and good communicators.
Building a 21st century workforce
A recent Pearson English Business Solutions blog reflects on the WEF report and the recent pressures on recruitment and talent management that will continue to intensify as technologies, globalization and social changes continue to disrupt the world of work.
Today, it’s not uncommon for global businesses to list English competency as a crucial skill. That’s because a growing number of workers must communicate in English—both within their company and outside their company—on a regular basis. In fact, many companies are designating English the official language of their business because they recognize competency in English:
- Improves collaboration across global teams
- Helps the company to reach global markets
- Makes integrating foreign acquisitions easier.
Employees see the urgent need to improve
92% of global employees surveyed say that English is important for career progression, and in fact they can’t wait years to improve. In Pearson’s 2014 Customer Survey of more than 20,000 business English learners, 74% of respondents stated that they wanted to improve their English significantly in a year or less; one-third aimed to improve in six months or less.
This recognized need and urgency to learn English around the world has altered how we view English itself. Laura Patsko delivered a great talk at the recent Innovate ELT Conference in Barcelona. She stated that the very nature of English has changed – it is no longer “owned” by Great Britain, the U.S., or other “native” speaking countries, but rather it now belongs to the world:
…in 2008, David Crystal estimated (conservatively!) that for every person who speaks English as their first language, there were 3 to 4 people who used it as a second language (or third, fourth, etc.). So as Barbara Seidlhofer succinctly put it in 2011, for many people nowadays, English has become “the communicative medium of choice, and often the only option.”
A better way to learn English
If learning English is the oxygen of business, then it must follow that ultimately learners would be best served by learning English in a professional and task-based context—e.g., the ability to compose and understand e-mails, deliver presentations, and have business meetings in English. If one is learning English for work, he/she needs to know what that really means. Unfortunately traditional curricula, assessments, and benchmarks are often focused on “general” or “academic” English learning and not catered to the specific needs (and timetable) of workers to learn English on-the-job and about the job. One can’t measure English progress or set learning goals without a granular measurement scale applicable for business.
This is why Pearson developed the Global Scale of English (GSE) as a scale and benchmark made for that purpose, to be the most robust and precise global standard for measuring English language proficiency and progress. And most importantly, it’s all about the context—the GSE is tailored to four groups—adult learning, academic English, professional English, and young learners. The GSE enables personalized learning and leads to improved outcomes in this 21st Century context.
The GSE Learning Objectives for Professional English give teachers and learners a clear and precise definition of what learners can be expected to do at a particular level across reading, writing, listening, and speaking. It allows teachers and learners to easily and accurately assess and track improvements across all of these areas, all in the context of using English for business. This first truly global research into the language skills required in a business context ensures employers are able to fully understand the levels of English proficiency that their teams and individuals need in order for their company to be more competitive and more productive. And individual employees ultimately know where they need to be to be successful in their jobs and meet their career objectives.
Bridging the English skills gap in a systematic and measurable way is essential for not just adapting, but also thriving, in this changing world of work. What are you doing to adapt? Tell us in the comments below!