Northern Ireland

Ulster University says firms look abroad to fill language jobs

Picture of language students chatting in the University library Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption 800 international companies have bases in Northern Ireland

Ulster University says a serious shortage of language graduates is forcing international companies with bases in Northern Ireland to look abroad for employees

The fact that languages are no longer compulsory at GCSE has led to the problem, says the university's head of modern languages Dr David Barr.

Around 800 global firms have bases in Belfast, employing about 75,000 people.

But Dr Barr says there's now a shortage of supply to meet the demand.

Image caption Graduates leave because they think there are no jobs in Northern Ireland

"Lots of companies and employers are seeing opportunities for local graduates staying in Northern Ireland," he says.

"What we are fighting against is the trend nationally for graduates to think there are no jobs in Northern Ireland and then they leave us en masse."

Micro Focus Belfast employs 130 people who sell software and provide customer care across Europe, North and South America, the Middle East and Africa.

Mary McDermott, who is responsible for company recruitment, says: "We don't get a lot of local graduates applying for jobs.

"We could fill an English role here quite easily with 30 plus applicants. If we're looking for French, Spanish or German speakers that candidate pool is a lot lower. Fewer candidates are applying. But we find we have some really good success stories of local graduates who speak French and Spanish and who have been very successful in those language specific roles."

Compulsory languages

Louise Kearney has been working at Micro Focus for six months. She speaks Spanish, French and Chinese.

"When I was at school at St Louise's in Belfast it was compulsory to take a language at GCSE. I was very arty at that age and had it not been for languages being compulsory it could have been a completely different story for me today. I'm very glad I had to study languages"

There are fears too that changes to the curriculum at GCSE and A level could further impact the uptake in languages.

Image caption Firms work across international time zones

Alexandra Bell, head of modern languages at Lagan College in Belfast, says she has concerns that possible changes to GCSE and A-levels could put the study of languages "back 20 years".

Teachers in Northern Ireland are currently being consulted about changes, she says.

"Employers want students who can speak, communicate and sell their products," she says.

"There's a concern amongst teachers that some exam boards are looking at maybe including a little too much literature.

"Students should have a choice and that includes a business and careers bent in their studies.

"Not that there isn't a place for literature at A-level. But give employers what they need. Someone who wants to use their languages in engineering isn't really going to need to know about Camus [Albert Camus, author of The Outsider]."

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