A very interesting interview was published in this past spring's issue of Innovations Magazine by Educational Testing Service (ETS). In it, Carlos Lenck, Director of Human Capital at the Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) branch in Chile, clearly explains the value of English in a global context.
PwC strategy in combining company support with employee investment in learning is also worth taking a look at as a potential model.The company is quite generous in their financial contribution but even employers with smaller human resource development budgets could put similar support into place on a reduced scale.
You will see that, like over 10,000 other companies around the world, PwC has chosen the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) to reliably assess whether employees have reached their goals.
They have set a high score mark to aim for, appropriate given that achieving that score is optional and that the purpose is to encourage and reward learning. In cases in which employers want to use TOEIC in hiring or promotion, however; they will want to look at what English levels are needed for specific jobs. Here in the U.S., considering job responsibilities is necessary to comply with EEOC regulations but doing so also makes sense and fully uses TOEIC's capabilities in allowing an easy match between scores and individual workplace communication needs.
Here is the interview with Mr. Lenck:
Q: Why is English-language proficiency so important in Spanish-speaking Chile?
C.L.: We live in a globalized world in which information, business and commerce constantly flow across national borders. That is very true for PwC in Chile. We serve business owners, executives and technicians whose colleagues at global headquarters and around the world communicate in English. Many of our clients are audited in English and have English-speaking representatives here. Many of the reports they send to their headquarters must be in English. PwC, therefore, must provide services in English.
When a person joins our organization in Chile, he or she will actually be working for two companies: a small one serving Latin America and Spanish-speaking countries, and a global enterprise with 170,000 employees. Our employees are members of a borderless business universe in which English is a common language. English-language proficiency also allows our employees to take advantage of the benefits offered by a company whose official language is English.
Q: What incentives do you provide employees to learn English?
C.L.: We offer English-language learning programs the day an employee starts on the job. We pay for 60 percent of the cost of English-language studies in a voluntary program available to all employees. We do not offer 100 percent financing because we believe the value that someone assigns to an activity is higher when he or she has a personal financial commitment. And English-language proficiency is a skill that people want to have.
Q: Do employees who speak English earn more than those who don’t?
C.L.: Yes. Everyone who joins PwC takes an English-language proficiency test, which marks the beginning of their language study. They continue in the study program as long as necessary to accomplish the goals they set for themselves.
When someone scores 750 or above on the TOEIC® test, he or she will earn an “English bonus,” which for an assistant translates into 25 percent of his or her salary, and for a supervisor or manager equals 20 percent of salary.
Q: What is the “immersion abroad” program?
C.L.: The “icing on the cake” is the incentive to study and learn English abroad. Employees with good performance records can undertake a six-month program in an English-speaking country. They earn their salaries during that period and we finance 50 percent of the travel costs and course fees. For the first four months, the employee lives with a local, English-speaking family close to the university or institute where their courses are conducted. For the last two months, they live on campus and are expected to be self-sufficient, as any student would be. They also participate in weekend trips to live the other language and immerse themselves in the culture.
Q: What other advantages for an employee are associated with English competency?
C.L.: We recognize the bilingual difference and value professionals and administrative staff with bilingual skills. The latter, for example, could get a 40 percent salary differential for being able to communicate in English. At PwC, you do need English-language skills, among others skills, for career advancement.
Q: Are you apprehensive about training people who may later leave the company?
C.L.: Experience shows that people who have worked here leave with a positive attitude about PwC. That person becomes a potential client.
Reproduced from Innovations Magazine, Spring 2012.