How companies can ease labor shortages through language training

Training & Learning

2020-04-14-Language-Training-and-Staff-Shortage

In this blog post, we explain how investing in language training in the local language can help companies tackle a shortage of labor.

Finding skilled employees is a challenge that most companies need to address. Employees are needed for both demanding specialist tasks and regular work tasks. Internationalization also requires support from employees, especially when local knowledge of a new market is needed that is otherwise not available. A lack of suitable employees may slow down growth and, at worst, even hinder the execution of basic functions. So, what can be done if there is labor shortage in the industry?

A lot of untapped potential can be found in immigrants and by looking abroad.

Which situations call for language training?

Even though a shortage of labor is a difficult and multi-faceted issue, there are means to address it. Increasing the amount of training offered by schools and other similar measures will improve the situation, but these actions may take years to have an effect. Relief from acute labor shortages can be found abroad, and also locally.

Easing the shortage of skilled employees

There is a shortage of skilled professionals especially in the IT field in Finland. For instance, there are frequent reports on the lack of programmers, and the need for skilled workforce will only grow in the coming years. In addition to the IT branch, professionals are also needed in the gaming industry, which has been doing well in Finland for several years now.

However, the lack of skilled workforce is not restricted to the IT industry. Top professionals are needed in several fields, and suitable professionals may not even be trained locally. So, it is quite logical to look abroad. If professionals are sought within Europe, the free movement of labor helps with bureaucracy. When looking for professionals outside the European Economic Area, it should be remembered that the regulatory consideration of the availability of local workforce does not apply to experts and people with special skills.

At this point, the question of the role of language training in solving certain problems comes up. It is one thing to find skilled professionals and get them to come to work in another country. It is another thing altogether to retain these professionals.

People moving to Finland or other Nordic countries to work most likely know English. The English language has probably already been used in the job interviews and other negotiations. The arrangements, potential permit issues and other similar matters can easily be handled in English. What is the local language needed for, then? In practice, for all social interaction both within the work community and in free time.

The purpose of language training is to help the immigrant integrate in the new living and working environment. Even though you can get by using English, conversations over lunch or coffee usually take place in the local language. If an employee has arrived in the country by him- or herself, a lack of language skills may lead to very restricted social contacts. At the same time, offering language and cultural training demonstrates that the employer is committed to the new employee and their integration into the new environment. It also helps if the employee knows that others trust in their work.

Two immigrants and two experienced language trainers were interviewed for this blog post. In practice, the same theme was brought up in nearly all interviews. If one does not know the local language, they almost inevitably get a feeling of being an outsider. For a sense of unity, it is essential to be able to participate in everyday conversations. The same theme also appears in the following interview of an ABB employee, in which an employee who moved to Sweden from the United States talks about her experiences of language training.

A Master's thesis published at the University of Jyväskylä discusses this very topic. For the thesis, the social learning of the Finnish language in the work community was studied. Based on the results, knowing the local language has an impact on social interaction at the workplace, but even more so outside the workplace. Learning the local language in a foreign environment is essential, especially if the immigrant intends to stay.

Help with internationalization

One challenge in internationalization is gaining an understanding of a new market. In addition to the local culture, one needs to know the local business practices. For instance, regulations are largely harmonized within Europe, but outside Europe, the operating models and business environment may be very different from what people are used to. Because of this, there is a need for employees who are familiar with the local customs. If a local organization will not be established for a new market, it is quite natural to hire an employee with the required knowledge in the company’s home country. This calls for language training that commits the new employee to the new employer and the new living environment.

Easing the resource shortage

In addition to top-level experts, there is also a labor shortage in jobs that do not require higher education. The range of work tasks can be very wide. For instance, in retail trade and logistics, there are a lot of jobs that do not require a high level of education. There are also a lot of vacancies at cleaning companies. The work is often manual, practical work. The numbers of applicants are not enough to fill the vacancies, and there can be considerable workforce turnover.

Finding an employee abroad, especially outside Europe, requires more arrangements in this case. The regulatory consideration regarding the availability of local workforce enters into the picture and the formalities for bringing in employees from abroad may take a long time. A reserve of workforce that would be immediately available is often overlooked: immigrants already living in the country. They may have limited skills in the local language, and their English skills may not necessarily be much better. This is often the reason why an immigrant does not get selected in the recruitment process. However, many regular work tasks do not absolutely require fluent skills in the local language. Language training has its place in this case as well.

When a shared language is missing, language training can be used to facilitate communication. Once the employee learns the language, providing instructions, offering induction training and other actions that prepare them for the work are much easier to implement. When the employee already has some language skills, language training can develop the skills further to the point where, for instance, customer service tasks can be handled in the local language.

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In this case language training helps break down language barriers both within the work community and in external communication. Customer service certainly improves when the customer service staff and customers understand each other and can communicate fluently – at a cash desk, in a fast food restaurant, with courier deliveries, etc.

View our customer video of language training offered to the Pirkanmaa ELY Center.

The benefits of language training in the local language

When facing a resource shortage, it is good to consider whether it is better to increase employee commitment or keep recruiting continuously. Before a new employee has been hired, screening suitable applicants has already required the use of HR resources. Resources are also needed for the induction training offered to a new employee. If there is a lot of employee turnover, recruitment and induction alone become major expense items. It costs less to find an employee and get them committed to the company.

In the case of immigrants, language training is one of the best ways to integrate employees into the company and the work community. Breaking down language barriers is a precondition for performing the work, but it also helps in increasing employees’ commitment.

Language training also demonstrates that the employee's contribution is valued and the company wants to hold on to them. When employees are committed to the company, there is less workforce turnover and recruitment costs decrease.

In language training for experts and people with special skills, the focus is even more on committing and integrating them into the new environment. Nobody wants a top expert found from abroad to return to their home country just because they could not adapt to the new environment. For integration, knowing the local language is the best way to tie the immigrant and the work community together. Of course, the issue of cost also concerns skilled professionals. Finding a suitable professional for the job may require a lot of resources.

The need for the mobility of labor is also recognized by the European Commission. It has launched the Your First EURES Job initiative with the aim of helping employers find young employees from other EU countries. Within the initiative, employees are offered financial aid for the costs of induction training for a new employee and their settling in a new country. You can view the details of the initiative here.

More information on the EURES cooperation network developed to support the free movement of labor is available here.

What kind of training to offer to a new employee?

There are plenty of language training options. The implementation depends, of course, on the students’ needs and the number of students. One-to-one training is the best option for developing conversational skills. The benefit of small group sessions is that the students can also continue their learning outside the actual training course. Shared experiences and support from others create a fruitful setting for learning. Training can also be offered online, in which case it is not so much bound to time and place.

In addition to language training, a person who recently moved in a new country can certainly benefit from cultural training. Many of the local routines and customs can come as a surprisingly big shock to people coming from a different culture. For instance, some may find the quietness and lack of small talk typical of Finns to be rude, even though this is not intended. Knowing the language already helps a lot, but also knowing the culture helps understand the local characteristics better.

Are you looking for language training for new employees who have moved in the country? Are you looking for a language training solution for future recruitments? Please contact us, and our experts will help you select the most suitable training options. Read more about our language training here.

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