Report: Foreign-Born Workers Struggle With English

Conference Board survey shows the majority of U.S. companies lack language training programs despite increase of foreign-born workers in the U.S. workforce.

NEW YORK -- According to a new survey by the Conference Board, the majority of employers are doing little to overcome the language barrier as more and more foreign-born workers join the U.S. workforce.

“The future for many U.S.-based companies appears flush with potential employees lacking English language skills,” says Chris Woock, author of the report. “Whether and how companies choose to accommodate these workers could have significant impacts on the sustainability of success. Latest evidence suggests companies could do well to recruit and hire the best available talent, irrespective of their language limitations, and invest in language training.”

Foreign-born Americans account for over 10 percent of the population and about 15 percent of the labor force, as well as half of net labor force increase. Over 50 percent of those foreign-born workers come from Latin America, and one-quarter are from Asia.

If current immigration levels continue, immigrants will account for half of the growth in America’s working age population between now and 2015, and will account for most of the growth through 2025.

According to the U.S. Census, fewer than one in four Mexican-born immigrants can speak English well. Only 40 percent of other Hispanic, Asian and European immigrants speak English. Given that nearly half of all non-English speaking immigrants struggling with English, the language barrier is proving to be a major problem.

The Conference Board survey found 66 percent of companies do not provide English language skills in their training programs. Of that group, more than half say they “have not found a need to warrant such training,” despite over 80 percent say they employ English deficient workers.

Companies that don’t currently provide training indicated that they would add it if it resulted in increased productivity.

The majority of employers say English language skills are important for new workforce entrants to be successful. In fact, studies show that immigrant workers who report speaking English “well” or “very well” earn between 5 and 15 percent more than those who report speaking English “not well” or “not at all.” Problems with English proficiency can also limit promotion opportunities.

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