The Importance of English-Language Proficiency in Colombia’s Economic and Business Development

Given the demand for Business English classes in Bogotá, it’s obvious that language proficiency is a desired skill both for employees and employers.  

A growing demand for English proficiency at work is accompanied by increasing foreign investment in Bogotá.  As foreign conceptions of Colombia’s reality shy away from a country riddled by drug production and violence, multinationals are noting Colombia’s potential.  Between 2007 and 2012, 101 companies with foreign capital contributed an average of $432 million USD in investments in Bogotá, generating more than 12,500 jobs.  In 2014, Invest in Bogotá facilitated an investment of $230 million USD from 38 foreign companies, generating nearly 2,000 jobs.  

Foreign investment obviously demands foreign language skills.  But, analysis of global IELTS test scores (General Training) and Colombian IELTS test scores (General Training) reveals that Colombia’s language skills need development if the country wishes to attract more foreign investment.  While Colombian students taking the Academic Training IELTS performed slightly better than the global average, analysis of the General Training IELTS reveals that improvements must be made in Colombia’s skilled workforce.

IELTS General Training 2013 Scores – Global Averages for Males and Female Candidates (Maximum Score: 9)
Listening Reading Writing Speaking OVERALL
Male Candidates 6.3 5.9 5.9 6.3 6.2
Female Candidates 6.2 5.8 5.9 6.3 6.1

While the global average is 6.15, results in Colombia are slightly lower:

IELTS General Training 2013 Scores – Global Averages for Colombian Male and Female Candidates (Maximum Score: 9)
Listening Reading Writing Speaking OVERALL
5.7 5.7 5.7 6.0 5.8

Colombia’s IELTS scorecard show a need for improvement in all areas, specifically in listening and speaking.  A need for improvement in listening and speaking can be further seen by comparing Colombia’s results with those of all speakers of Spanish as a first language:

IELTS General Training 2013 Scores – Global Averages for Speakers of Spanish as a First Language (Maximum Score: 9)
Listening Reading Writing Speaking OVERALL
6.1 6.1 5.9 6.3 6.5

A need for improvement in English language proficiency in Colombia is obvious, but what implications does this have for the workforce and for foreign investment?

Screen Shot 2015-05-13 at 10.59.13 AMIn their 2014 report, the Graduate Management Admissions Council found that communication skills rank as the most important skills for new-hires in the eyes of their prospective employers.  With more than 600 employers from 44 countries in virtually all sectors participating in the survey, results indicate the obvious need for confident and skillful communication in countries and businesses across the globe.

Five skill sets were evaluated: Communication, Teamwork, Technical Skills, Leadership and Managerial Skills.  On average, the 600 participating employers ranked communication skills being the most important skill.  Moreover, according to the results, employers see communication skills  twice as important as managerial skills.

Within the five skill sets, the GMAC evaluated five sub-skills:

Source: 2014 GMAC Corporate Recruiters Survey

The survey asked employers to rank these sub-skills by importance.  Results clearly indicate the importance of solid communication skills:

Source: 2014 GMAC Corporate Recruiters Survey

All top-four most sought-after skills for new-hires fall within the realm of communication, with speaking and listening skills ranking as most-important of all skills.  These two skills, however, are the skills in which the Colombian workforce needs most improvement, according to analysis of 2013 IELTS General Training results.  Written communication and presentation skills closely follow at third and fourth most-important, respectively.

The top-ranking importance of communication skills is not limited to one industry, but viewed as being most important in all industries except for manufacturing.  It is interesting to note that manufacturing is the only global industry which ranks managerial skills as more valuable than communication skills.

The table below categorizes sub-skills from different categories by their importance in various industries.  Those skills shaded in purple are communication sub-skills:

Source: 2014 GMAC Corporate Recruiters Survey

Source: 2014 GMAC Corporate Recruiters Survey

The need for proficient and confident communication is unarguable, especially after careful analysis of the GMAC 2014 Corporate Recruiters Survey.  But, when these results are analyzed in light of Colombia’s English language proficiency, it is obvious that development in Colombia’s business climate requires development in education, particularly English language proficiency in the Colombian skilled workforce.


IELTS Analysis of 2013 Scores

GMAC 2014 Corporate Recruiters Survey Report

Invest in Bogotá

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