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Bilingual college grads are in demand, says NIU survey

NIU Newsroom

graphicHalf of all employers in northern Illinois plan to hire more bilingual or multilingual college graduates within five years, according to a report released today by the Northern Illinois University Center for Governmental Studies.

About one-third of all respondents said that they are currently seeking bilingual employees.

The study is the first in a series the university is calling the “NIU Dialogues on Global Competitiveness.”

Among the findings, researchers found some significant differences in the importance placed on bilingualism by the for-profit sector versus the not-for-profit sector: Nearly 55 percent of the not-for-profits polled predicted that the ability to speak more than one language will be an important criterion for employment five years from now. That was nearly 15 percent higher than among businesses (41.4 percent).

Both sectors, however, agreed that bilingual employees provide several benefits.

Nearly four out of five respondents (78.1 percent) said that the ability to communicate effectively in more than one language is helpful for customer/client relations. Also, more than seven in 10 employers (71.4 percent) believe that communicating effectively in more than one language can enhance customer retention and satisfaction among customers or clients with specific language backgrounds.

For-profit businesses polled agreed that hiring college graduates who are bilingual or multilingual will help them:

  • Engage new suppliers or contractors with specific language backgrounds (59 percent); 
  • Conduct business in other countries (51.5 percent);
  • and Expand business currently being conducted in other countries (48.5 percent) 

“The findings of this study confirm that career success – a cornerstone goal at NIU – will increasingly come from graduates who have language fluency beyond English,” NIU President Doug Baker said. “This has implications for the priority that higher education must place on language skills.”

Baker cited the university’s recently launched initiative, Celebrating Bilingualism, as one way NIU is responding to this trend. The program allows students who are fluent in a language other than English to earn a certificate and up to 12 free academic credits.

The value of that program was underscored by survey findings showing that more than 43.5 percent of employers believe it is important for universities to provide proficiency testing and certification in languages other than English.

Spanish is the language that an overwhelming number of respondents (84.2 percent for not-for-profits and 86 percent for businesses) indicated would prove most useful to their organization.

This finding tracks demographic trends in the region that show a significant growth in the Hispanic population over the past several years. Recently released Census Bureau data showed that, without the steady growth of the Hispanic sector from 2010 to 2014, the population of Illinois would have plummeted by nearly 80,000 people.

Polish is the next-most useful language cited, followed by Mandarin Chinese. The latter suggests that outreach to China is a growing priority for companies in the region.

While many employers said that bilingualism isn’t critical to a college graduate’s prospects for employment, they also reported that they are impressed by students who have taken advantage of engaged learning opportunities for polishing their language skills.

Two-thirds of businesses indicate that universities need to place greater emphasis on service projects and internships in bilingual or multilingual communities (42.4 percent), with almost 40 percent (39.6 percent) recommending greater university outreach to organizations seeking bilingual or multilingual employees.

The full study is available online.

CGS Contact

Center for Governmental Studies

Northern Illinois University
148 North 3rd Street
DeKalb, Illinois 60115-2828

Phone: 815-753-1907
Fax:  815-753-7278