Russell Simonsen: Want to land at the top of future employers’ hiring lists? Start learning Spanish
The U.S. currently has the world’s fourth-largest population of native Spanish speakers, with nearly 42 million people. By 2060, it will probably have the second largest.
The recent spike in border crossings and the expiration of the emergency policy Title 42 have once again sparked discussions about immigration. These talks often center on political, economic and humanitarian issues, but one topic tends to receive less attention: the linguistic effect.
The U.S. currently has the world’s fourth-largest population of native Spanish speakers, with nearly 42 million people speaking the language at home. By 2060, it will probably have the second largest, behind only Mexico. This language shift stems from a projected 3% increase in the number of foreign-born people in the United States over the next few decades, which translates to roughly 21 million more people, most of whom will be Spanish speakers. If you’ve been on the fence about learning Spanish, now is the time to start.
The proliferation of Spanish in the U.S. has been evident for some years in the workforce. The number of job postings aimed at Spanish-English bilinguals more than doubled between 2010 and 2015. The need for bilingualism has been particularly apparent in healthcare. In 2015, nearly one-fourth of the health insurer Humana’s job postings targeted bilingual employees. Forty percent of the company’s job postings for registered nurses listed bilingualism as a desired skill. Nursing is expected to experience its own boom in the coming years, with nurse practitioner projected to be the fastest-growing occupation in the U.S. between 2021 and 2031. Recent hiring trends in the field indicate that Spanish language skills will be highly desirable for these positions.
There is also good news for Spanish-English bilinguals who plan to work outside of healthcare. Bank of America targeted bilinguals in more than one-third of its job listings in 2015. H&R Block sought bilingual employees in almost a quarter of its recruiting ads. Employers’ need for fluent bilinguals has been so great that the job site Indeed recently ranked translation as the fifth most in-demand skill in the workforce.
But while all signs point to the need for more Spanish-English bilinguals in the workforce, the number of students enrolled in Spanish classes in U.S. universities has been steadily declining. Enrollments in Spanish decreased by over 17 % between 2009 and 2016 and preliminary data suggest another steep decline in the years since. This shows a clear disconnect between the need for more people in the U.S. who can speak Spanish and the number of people formally studying the language at the college level.
It is not clear why students have been moving away from studying foreign languages in higher education, but the perceived market value of college majors may play a role. The first large decline in language enrollments this century occurred after the 2008 financial crisis. The unpredictability of the last few years may have motivated more students to pursue majors that are more likely to lead to high entry-level pay upon graduation, such as health, STEM and business.
I have no delusions of convincing a large number of college students to switch majors from pre-med or finance to Spanish. However, many students have already figured out a happy medium that maximizes their appeal to future employers: the double major. At Ohio State University, approximately 60% of those getting a degree in Spanish are double majors. Many of these students have the advantage of pursuing a main career path with high entry-level pay and gaining the Spanish proficiency and intercultural knowledge that employers increasingly seek. Additionally, foreign language majors typically develop excellent communication skills, which are highly coveted by employers.
As the number of Spanish speakers in the U.S. continues to rise, Spanish-English bilinguals will be highly competitive candidates on the job market. College graduates with a Spanish degree will be able to confidently apply to jobs that list bilingualism as a desirable skill in addition to those that don’t, a luxury that monolingual English speakers will not have.
The Spanish language boom in the U.S. may have already begun, but it will become more apparent over the next several decades, especially in the workforce. College students can put themselves a step ahead by learning the language now.
Russell Simonsen is an assistant professor of Spanish at Miami University.
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