Second language boosts job prospects

August 6, 2012

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Murdoch University research indicates Australians with a second language are at an advantage in the job market – though not for the reasons some might expect.

A new report from Senior Lecturer Kate Fitch of Murdoch’s School of Media Communication & Culture finds public relations (PR) employers in Perth and Singapore rate language skills highly, though for different reasons.

While the companies surveyed in Australia valued bilingualism, ironically employees were not typically expected to use their second language in the workplace.

“In Singapore, you’d be expected to use your other languages – they would be viewed as an asset at the hiring stage. In Australia, employers see a second language as a sign of cultural competence and an ability to think outside the box, which in a globalised world is invaluable,” Ms Fitch said.

Ms Fitch notes that while PR has long been regarded as a national activity, the public relations professionals she surveyed in Australia offered many examples of working across cultures as well as across borders.

“We live in a globally connected world with cultural interaction everywhere you turn, from the multinational level to less obvious places,” she said.

“Professionals in the resource sector may have customers or infrastructure projects in countries like China, Indonesia and East Timor or a culturally diverse workforce.

“A not-for-profit may have a head office in Switzerland and participate in global campaigns. Local government employees, whether developing a community campaign for a particular cultural group or hosting a delegation from a sister city require an understanding of different cultures.”

Ms Fitch said what companies wanted more than anything from prospective PR employees was evidence they could work with other cultures.

“A graduate can’t be expected to know everything about all the countries and cultures they might encounter in their careers, but showing a capacity for sensitivity and a willingness to adapt is vital,” she said.

Industry perceptions of intercultural competence in Singapore and Perth’ can be found in Public Relations Review. The study has helped inform a new unit in Murdoch’s curriculum: Public Relations in Society, now on offer.

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