Job prospects across the Channel – are languages the future?

In an increasingly globalised and competitive job market, what can students do to help them stand out within a sea of applicants for a limited number of jobs? The answer: learn a foreign language.

With this in mind, I travelled to Germany in July to complete a four-week course in ‘Business German’ at the Institute for International Communication, Düsseldorf. As an international business and financial centre, Düsseldorf is the 7th largest city in Germany, as well as the location for the head offices of three of the 30 publicly listed companies on the DAX stock exchange. As well as opening up a world of job opportunities, learning a language enables you to bridge cultural divides by getting an outsider’s perspective of your own culture; this is particularly relevant in the current turbulent political landscape!

As soon as I arrived in Germany, I couldn’t fail to notice the post-Brexit shock and political ill-will towards the British. Just over a week after the Referendum, the decision to leave the EU was still raw; whether I was talking to students in lectures or chatting to passers-by in the city, all of them were concerned that Britain had gambled away its economic future and the future of its youth along with it. The German people that I spoke to had explained how they felt that there were many similarities between the Germans and the British, most commonly their cautious and reserved nature, making Brexit all the more surprising for our European counterparts, who had not anticipated the strong wave of nationalism throughout the UK.

My immediate experience across the Channel had left me wondering, would there be a possibility of rebuilding and maintaining a relationship with Germany in the future, in the interest of economic prosperity for both parties? Furthermore, are the job prospects favourable for English speaking students and young professionals?

I was lucky enough to have these questions answered by Maria Karageorgi, a qualified chartered accountant and fellow student at the Institute for Communication, who had come to Düsseldorf from Leeds less than a year previously. Her husband, a PhD Graduate from the University of Leeds, was offered a brilliant research position in Nordrhein-Westfalen, which prompted her to move with him to Germany. She had thought her English language skills and professional experience would stand her in good stead; unfortunately, she found the job market to be very “different” and “not that flexible” in comparison to Britain. However, Maria also emphasised that studying another language, particularly business German, was “ideal” for her transition into the prosperous German-speaking job market, where she was successfully able to find a job working for KPMG in Luxembourg.

With regards to the future of Anglo-German relations, the Academic Exchange service was a fantastic way to integrate British students into German culture by teaching them to recognise and respect the differences and idiosyncrasies of German business practices. For instance, any CV submitted for a job application without a professional headshot of the applicant would simply be thrown in the bin!

Learning a foreign language key to unlocking untapped potential within the globalised job market. Whether you’re thinking of working overseas or not, multilingual graduates are in high demand and in a post-Brexit economy, we should recognise the increased importance of foreign languages to retain our personal and national competitiveness. With this in mind, perhaps it’s time to pick up a phrase book?

By Julia Constable

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