Can your English language course transform you into a global professional?
Employers today demand much more from their workforce than simply gaining the right degrees. They require skills for the 21st century or ‘employability skills’ that go beyond subject matter knowledge. Employees who demonstrate these skills often have better job prospects. The G20 notes in its Skills Strategy report (2015) that having the right skills can boost earnings, enhance opportunities and promote well-being. Professional environments are shrinking, in terms of access, and expanding, in terms of newer connections, at the same time—giving rise to the need for enhanced workplace skills. Today, there are many ‘soft skills’ that enable an employee to stand out in the crowd, especially when the world has become more connected, and businesses more global in nature. What are these skills and how can employees acquire them?
Staying competitive with soft skills
At times, even good performers find it difficult to advance to senior positions due to a lack of soft skills. As businesses transform to keep up with changing technology and socio-economic factors and the demand for multi-disciplinary skills increases, employees too need to adapt their approach. Apart from domain knowledge, other skills valued by employers are communication, digital literacy, learning agility and cultural awareness (India Skills Report, 2017). Effective communication is one of the most sought-after job skills. In some cases, lacking the necessary language proficiency may become an obstacle to career growth. In a British Council study, employers suggested that good English language skills are important for promotion to supervisory or management roles (English Skills For Employability Report, 2015). As English is the language of global business, being proficient in it is important for employees. There seems to be ‘a critical need for English’ for career success in many sectors. Hence, English proficiency is not a choice, but a necessity.
In the business world, employees are regularly required to use video conferencing and email for day-to-day work. They may also need to use social networking sites and micro-blogs. Being collaborative and knowing how to use digital technology to communicate can help an employee bring additional value to the workplace.
How to get started
As a first step, you can access free language learning material online, including tools that can help improve reading, listening and pronunciation skills. However, taking a taught language course is likely to boost not just your overall language proficiency, but also employability skills. There are a host of courses available for employees to bridge the language proficiency gap, but the biggest challenge that people face is paucity of time. With ever-increasing workloads, expanding social circles and transportation issues, taking out time for additional practice is tough. This problem can be solved using technology. In a country the size of India, with improvements in technology and connectivity, online learning solutions are readily available for determined knowledge seekers.
Why go online?
First, the advantage of an online course is convenience and flexibility. Learners can study where and when they like. Second, an online language course can boost learners’ digital literacy, by guiding them on the rules of ‘netiquette’, or polite online communication, and maintaining basic online security. In addition to improving English, they learn to communicate using modern media. Given the proliferation of remote working, collaborative sessions and video conferencing, this gives them a competitive advantage to succeed in the workplace. Third, online courses demand learners be well-organised, motivated and have time-management skills. Successful online learners demonstrate learning agility; they set goals for themselves and know their areas for improvement. Thus, any good online language course also nurtures the essential skills of time management and independent learning. Showing initiative and self-motivation are highly valued workplace skills, and an online course can help you develop in these key areas. Another benefit is the exposure to language as it is used globally, and access to internationally-recognised course content. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have seen an exponential increase in student enrolment over the years, underlining the appetite for learning. While MOOCs may offer limited interaction, other more evolved online courses offer a holistic experience with interactive classes that allow for real-time feedback, an appropriate teacher-student ratio and interaction with peers—all ingredients of a real classroom.
Picking the right course
Committed learners have a plethora of choices, but need to invest in the right options; the right course can enhance an employee’s confidence. For starters, check the credentials of the course provider in terms of the number of years of delivering language proficiency training, the qualifications and profile of trainers, the teaching methodology and the availability of on-course support for troubleshooting, among other factors. Analyse the delivery mechanism to gauge the effectiveness of the course. Remember, while most courses will offer standard features and services, it is prudent to find out more about the class delivery, interaction and engagement, guidance, etc, to ascertain the effectiveness of the course. When choosing a course, focus on the additional value it offers to maximise the returns on time and money you invest. For instance, a carefully designed online course should offer access to world-class content and expose individuals to global standards of communication. In conclusion, each aspect of an online course mirrors the workplace routine of today’s competitive and results-oriented employees, who are required to display interpersonal skills, critical thinking and problem solving skills. In most cases, successful online learners can develop these useful workplace skills. They can also develop capabilities for future job roles, becoming adaptable lifelong learners. For this reason, both employers and employees should view online learning as an opportunity to hone their skills and embrace the new horizons it affords.
By Neenaz Ichaporia
The author is academic manager for the British Council’s blended learning myEnglish courses. Views are personal