English for Employment – English Language Learning in Technical and Professional Education

Cover report

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English language proficiency is increasingly important in the workplace and can have a determinative effect on the job opportunities and professional growth of today’s workers. In studies and surveys of employers throughout Latin America, they consistently identify English as one of the most important and highly-demanded skills. English language instruction at the primary and secondary levels has expanded significantly in the past couple of decades, with many Latin American countries now requiring the subject in their national curricula and setting clear standards and benchmarks. Although there is still much progress to be made in meeting these goals, national education ministries have made it clear that English instruction is an important subject of study for students throughout the public education system.

What is less examined is English language learning in Latin America with the specific aim of preparing young people to enter the workforce. In other words, to what extent is English incorporated into the curriculum for technical and professional education? Do students learn general English skills, or are they studying English for specific purposes; that is a more technical English that relates directly to their field of study? And finally, to what extent does this instruction align with the demands of the labor market and the specific English skills and abilities that employers seek when making decisions about who to hire and promote?

This report looks at English language instruction at the technical and professional education levels in six Latin American countries: Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, and Uruguay. In each country, it considers the legal and regulatory framework for English instruction in technical and professional institutions; to what extent English instruction focuses explicitly on improving students’ preparation for the labor market; and, finally, the gaps and challenges that exist between labor market demands for English language proficiency, specifically in the tourism and hospitality sector, and the skills that students actually have when they begin seeking employment.

Key recommendations:

  1. Create relevant, specialized curricula and learning objectives for English proficiency in technical and professional education;
  2. Develop training or certification opportunities for teachers to certify their language and content knowledge simultaneously;
  3. Assess students’ English abilities—both their general fluency and their content-specific skills;
  4. Strengthen dual education and internship programs to provide students with opportunities to build necessary English skills, and to give employers space for feedback;
  5. Build public-private partnerships in strategic sectors to develop initiatives focused on English for employment.

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