English is a widely used language, especially in commerce and media. In the UAE, where more than 200 nationalities live and work, English has become the dominant lingua franca and each year, more and more companies are opting to pursue new candidates who speak the language well.
But does this mean that applicants with the right technical skills and experience are being passed over due to poor English skills? Is proficiency of the language now a major determining factor for hiring employees?
Apparently, it is. Nearly eight in ten international human resources (HR) directors (79 per cent) look for English proficiency when recruiting, according to a LinkedIn research for Pearson English conducted in May this year.
Recruitment experts said that companies are filtering out applicants with below-average English skills. This is especially true in the UAE, which is increasingly becoming one of the most popular destinations for multinational firms and business startups.
“We are finding that employees with lower levels of English proficiency are finding it more and more challenging to gain employment in leading organisations and also with those employers aspiring to be on the forefront in their industry,” said Gaj Ravichandra, co-founder and managing partner at Kompass Consultancy.
Ravichandra said that with more attention being placed on Dubai as an international hub and with only six years to go before the start of Expo 2020 - an international event that will enable companies to reach out to a wider market - businesses would do well to ensure their staff have good English skills.
“There is a growing expectation on employees to interact with people from multiple cultures, professions and languages,” he said. “From a global perspective, English is still considered the universally accepted business language. As such, employers who are serious about growing their business into other markets need to consider the level of English proficiency of their workforce.”
Colin Burcher, head of programmatic marketing, EMEA, at Google, said that one of the preferred requirements they look for when hiring employees is the ability to speak and write in English.
“Being part of a global team, it is crucial that we share knowledge and collaborate across regions. It is therefore important that all team members are able to communicate in a single language,” Burcher said in an emailed statement to Gulf News.
Mohammed Al Tadmori, chief human capital officer at Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group, said the ability for employees to communicate and understand each other through a common language is “no doubt very crucial.” In general, he said a candidate with one or more language skills in addition to his native language may have more chances of landing a new role.
“UAE is the first choice for many multinational companies as well as entrepreneurial startups. The country hosts more than 200 nationalities that need to co-exist in the workplace and in day-to-day situations,” he told Gulf News.
However, English skills should not be the only factor to consider when hiring new talent. “Recruitment is about sourcing the right candidate for the vacant position keeping in mind few governing perimeters. English language proficiency is not always one of them,” Al Tadmori added.
It is therefore, wrong to assume that a person who is fluent in English and other languages on top of his native tongue have better employment opportunities. “It does not necessarily mean better job prospects at the outset, unless English language skills are a mandatory competency for the position,” said Al Tadmori.
“From a career growth aspect, an employee is expected to be proficient in communicating with both external and internal customers. In the UAE, where English is one of the most widely spoken languages, proficiency becomes an indispensable skill.”
Advocates for the English language said companies can strengthen their recruitment process by introducing a benchmark for scoring English proficiency among candidates or employees.
Pearson, a learning company, has recently unveiled the Global Scale of English (GSE), which seeks to “transform” how English is assessed, taught and scored in the Arab region and around the world. GSE is a tool by which companies can determine the level of English proficiency of candidates.
The company said that with English increasingly becoming the common language of multinational businesses, employers need to be able to attract and retain candidates who speak strong English, and they need a reliable tool for assessing their capability.
Organisations recruiting talent should therefore subject applicants to a GSE test to ensure they are hiring individuals with good English communication skills.
“At present, businesses, education institutions and individuals themselves lack a robust framework to understand exactly how well someone speaks English,” a spokesperson for the company said.
“This obviously creates problems, particularly for global businesses who need to be able to rely on the quality of candidates they are interviewing – but also for education institutions who have to recognize a plethora of English language certifications.”
The GSE has been developed not just for companies but for educational institutions, as well. It has been in development for over 25 years and has been tested on over 10,000 students in over 130 countries and 156 languages, as well as with teachers from over 80 countries.
The GSE has been endorsed by many leading, global businesses, including Google. Burcher said that while they prefer candidates with good English skills, it may be difficult to measure candidates’ language skills consistently across the world without using a standard tool.
“A global standard of English would allay this fear and ensure that the candidates we are interviewing meet the minimum language requirements for the role.”