The added value of business English skills for local companies

Non-native speakers learn at a very young age that English is the language of success, international business and cross-cultural communication

Success in business often hinges on one single factor – communication. And the greater part of it happens in English. So, of all the skills required for success in today’s business market, a strong command of the English language is key.

Non-native speakers learn at a very young age that English is the language of success, international business and cross-cultural communication. Many strive to excel in their English language to have a competitive advantage over other job-seekers.

Yet, while second-language speakers of English have been travelling to Malta in masses to learn English to better their prospects, we seem to have lost sight of the importance of English. Our islands are synonymous with English-language travel and other countries envy our natural advantage. But along the way, our educational system has gone awry.

Every year, statistics show a continual decline in the level of English amongst school-goers and graduates. The MATSEC examination board consistently reports a worrying level of incompetence in English amongst school-leavers. In a country which sells itself for its English language ability, having 16-year old students leaving school with a poor command of English is alarming.

Unsurprisingly, students make their way through tertiary education with sub-standard use of English. As a result, today’s Maltese graduates can be highly qualified and employable, but they often lack a key skill needed for post-college life: proficiency in business English.

This issue was reflected in the findings of a 2016 survey conducted by NHCSE and JobsPlus. Data collected from a representative sample of employers presented that the skills considered most important in candidates were oral communication skills (78.7%), team-working skills (78.6%), English language skills (74.4%) and customer handling skills (72.3%). The study revealed that these skills are not only generally considered as essential by hiring managers but are the same skills they find lacking or absent in jobseekers.

Further complicating the issue is the influx of foreign workers, with most companies reporting having a multi-national employee base. Employers often do not consider that while foreign hires might be proficient speakers of English, this does not always equate to proficiency in Business English.

Clearly, a wide gap exists between the skills applications possesses and the practical demands of their daily working life.  English is the global language of business and multinationals mandate English as their common corporate language.

As a result, local companies are faced with applicants who are highly qualified in their field but are discarded due to an inability to effectively integrate and contribute using the English language. In an attempt to overcome this gap, many Maltese companies are seeking Business English courses for their team members as part of their continual professional development.

As startling as it may seem, with English as our second language, local managers are recognising the need of investing in Business English skills to facilitate communication and performance across multinational team members as well as geographically diverse functions and business endeavours.

“Over the past 20 years, we’ve been providing tailor-made Business English courses to individuals and companies travelling to improve their general and Business English skills,” Rebecca Bonnici, managing director at BELS (Business English Language School) said.

“While we’ve always worked with Maltese companies who use our services for their foreign employees, we’re now noticing an increase in the local companies approaching us to deliver this same service to their teams, for their non-Maltese and Maltese employees alike.”

The corporate Business English courses aim to overcome the gap between the current skill-set and the expected performance by targeting the specific skills that are lacking depending on the specific industry, role and day-to-day duties.