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Not Lost in Translation: The Growing Importance of Foreign Language Skills in the U.S. Job Market

There is a growing demand for bilingual talent in major industries in the United States. The research looks at online job posting data acquired by Burning Glass Technologies, a leading labor market analytics firm that searches 40,000 job boards daily.

The report shows that employers increasingly desire workers who speak multiple languages, particularly in industries that provide services involving a high degree of human interaction. Bank of America, H&R Block, and Humana were among the top firms seeking bilingual workers, based on the share of online job listings posted in 2015.

The report, Not Lost in Translation: The Growing Importance of Foreign Language Skills in the U.S. Job Market, finds:

  • Over the past five years, demand for bilingual workers in the United States more than doubled. In 2010, there were roughly 240,000 job postings aimed at bilingual workers; by 2015, that figure had ballooned to approximately 630,000.
  • Employers seek bilingual workers for both low- and high-skilled positions. In 2015, 60 percent of the jobs with the highest demand for bilingual workers were open to individuals with less than a bachelor’s degree. Meanwhile, the fastest growth in bilingual listings from 2010 to 2015 was for so-called “high prestige” jobs, a category including financial managers, editors, and industrial engineers.
  • Employers are increasingly looking for workers who can speak Chinese, Spanish, and Arabic. Employers posted more than three times more jobs for Chinese speakers in 2015 than they had just five years earlier. During the same time period, the number of U.S. job ads listing Spanish or Arabic as a desired skill increased by roughly 150 percent.
  • Some states have particularly high demand for bilingual workers. Despite being home to 12.4 percent of the overall U.S. working-age population, California accounted for 19.4 percent of all job ads seeking bilingual workers. Arizona displayed similar trends—accounting for just 2 percent of working-age adults, but 4 percent of bilingual job listings. Seven states—including Colorado, Oregon, and Texas—had considerably higher demand for bilingual speakers than would be expected based on their share of the working-age population overall.
  • Some employers have particularly strong demand for bilingual workers. More than a third of the positions advertised by Bank of America in 2015 were for bilingual workers. At the health insurer Humana, meanwhile, almost one in four online posts asked for such skills—including almost 40 percent of the company’s listings for registered nurses.

Read the full report here.

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