The Demand for Multilingual Human Capital in the U.S. Labor Market

The Demand for Multilingual Human Capital in the U.S. Labor Market

This article presents the findings of a 2014 survey of US employers on their requirements for multilingual employees. It identifies the employment sectors that were most likely to value multilingual workers, and it describes which skill sets were most coveted in conjunction with foreign language ability. The study also explains that even though a vast majority of employers wanted employees who can communicate effectively with people of different linguistic and cultural backgrounds, only 10 percent of responding employers reported requiring foreign-language skills in hiring.

Resource Topic
Resource Project
Resource Type
People Involved
Rebecca Rubin Damari
William P. Rivers
Richard D. Brecht
Philip Gardner
Catherine Pulupa
John Robinson
Publication Year
2017

This article presents the results of a 2014 survey of more than 2,100 U.S. employers on their requirements for multilingual employees. The survey found a significant discrepancy: On the one hand, 93% of respondents “value[d] employees who...are able to work effectively with customers, clients, and businesses from a range of different countries and cultures.” On the other, 66% of respondents reported identifying foreign language skills in the hiring process, 41% reported giving advantage to multilingual applicants, and only 10% of respondents indicated that new hires “needed to speak at least one language besides English.” In addition, the survey revealed employer characteristics related to demand for language ability: Industries with the greatest demand were government and public administration, information services, educational services, health care, and the administrative sector. Language skills were sought in combination with other skill sets, notably customer service, sales, vendor management, and marketing. Finally, the survey identified college majors sought in conjunction with foreign language ability. The study is unique in its size; its coverage of small, medium, and large businesses; and its focus on college recruitment and hiring. The results are critical to educational programs seeking to understand the value of language in the job market.