Foreign languages as a key competence

Increasing importance of foreign language skills in the world of work

In view of the globalisation of the economy and increased international integration, foreign language skills are becoming increasingly important in working life. Foreign language skills have therefore now become a key qualification in many areas of employment and an established part of everyday working life, with English being the foreign language used most frequently. Around 68 percent of gainfully employed persons in Germany require foreign languages skills, with 46 percent requiring basic skills and around 22 percent requiring specialist skills. These are the findings of a recent analysis by the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB) based on representative surveys of people in gainful employment from 2006, 2012 and 2018.

If you differentiate by requirement level, it becomes clear that the importance of foreign language skills for work requiring vocational education and training has risen continually: from 44 percent (2006) to 53 percent (2012) and most recently to 65 percent (2018). For work requiring a university degree, the value rose from 78 percent (2006) to 83 percent (2012) and then most recently to 89 percent (2018).

When differentiated by occupational sector, it is mainly the IT and scientific service occupations which most frequently demand foreign language skills (around 91 percent). In the case of commercial, business-related, manufacturing and people-related service occupations, between 70 and 75 percent of persons in gainful employment now require foreign language skills.

In terms of the level of foreign language skills, it is evident that specialist skills are required primarily in computer science occupations and in other information and communication technology (ICT) occupations, as well as in occupations in technical development, construction and production control, but also in purchasing, sales and commerce occupations. Occupations with an above average requirement for basic foreign language skills are mainly protection, security and surveillance occupations; tourism, hospitality and catering occupations as well as sales occupations and medical healthcare professions. 

The representative surveys of people in gainful employment are conducted every six years by BIBB in cooperation with the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA). In each case data is evaluated from around 20,000 persons in gainful employment.

Source: (Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training), revised by iMOVE, September 2021