Suffolk: Chamber calls for language learning support to boost exports

SUFFOLK Chamber of Commerce is calling for more support to help firms access foreign language training and exposure to international companies on the back of new figures on exports.

A survey of more than 8,000 businesses by the British Chambers of Commerce shows that exporting activity is continuing to increase.

But the findings also suggest that providing firms with more training in foreign languages and increasing their exposure to international companies would encourage more business owners to export.

“Exporting is good for Suffolk and good for Britain,” said John Dugmore, chief executive of Suffolk Chamber. “Therefore it is right that we should encourage current and future business owners to develop the necessary skills to trade overseas.

“It is good news to see the percentage of firms exporting in the national chamber survey has increased from 22% in January 2011 to 32% in January 2012.”

Suffolk Chamber members include large and medium sized exporters with the team leading the Suffolk International Trade Group which runs after-hours events for peer-to-peer export networking and access to free local export support services information.

Knowledge of other languages is an important skill for exporters, with 61% of non-exporters that are likely to consider trading internationally considering a lack of language skills as a barrier to doing so.

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However, of those business owners that claim some language knowledge, very few can speak well enough to conduct deals in international markets. French is the most commonly spoken language, with 73% of business owners claiming some knowledge.

“As a chamber we believe re-establishing foreign languages as core subjects within the UK national curriculum and in workplace training would mean that the next generation of business owners are ‘born global’ with language skills,” added Mr Dugmore.

“Businesses could also be helped in training staff in new languages, if the government offered additional financial incentives such as tax credits for small and medium-sized businesses that make a significant investment in language training.”

Businesses that do export are more likely to have stronger social connections with overseas markets. When asked what led them to export, the top three reasons cited by current exporters were: collaboration with overseas partners (71%); a chance enquiry from outside the UK (57%); and previous work experience abroad (52%).

Those business owners that have lived abroad are more likely to export. 11% of current exporters have lived aboard for five years or more.

“We are already the sixth largest trading nation on earth, and the third largest service exporter,” said David Redhead, chairman of the chamber’s International Trade Group and managing director of BSP, based at Great Blakenham, near Ipswich.

“To really secure our future as a leading exporter we need to help companies take advantage of new markets. Giving businesses the opportunity to forge links with international firms, develop employees’ language skills, and providing compulsory education in languages for young people will transform many of the great businesses we have in the UK into success stories overseas.”